I've got a MESS of books to cover, so there'll be more book review posts in the coming days. The review copies never stop coming -- not that I'm complaining, mind you!
- Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples, with Sketches of Young Ladies, by Charles Dickens and Edward Caswall (reprinted by Oxford University Press, 2012).
In 1837, Edward Caswall, using the same publisher and illustrator as the highly successful young Charles Dickens, had a hit with the satirical essay collection Sketches of Young Ladies, describing varying types of ladies: The Romantic Young Lady, The Mysterious Young Lady, The Matter-of-Fact Young Lady, and so forth. Six months later -- as if he weren't busy enough simultaneously writing The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist -- Dickens published an anonymous sequel to this volume, titled Sketches of Young Gentlemen. Two years later he followed it up with Sketches of Young Couples. All three volumes are offered here, with "Phiz's" original illustrations. Caswall's contribution is quite funny, but Dickens, as you might expect, digs more deeply into his characters (giving them names, expanding their amount of dialogue, and so forth) and so extracts even more amusement from them. As Paul Schlicke observes in his introduction, "The contrasts between Caswall's work and Dickens's highlight the ability of Boz to evoke the distinctiveness of a character in a few swift strokes."
The first thing I did when I opened this volume was to check to make sure the Hamlet passage from Great Expectations was there. And it was, so I was happy. But of course that's not all this little volume (third in the Charles Dickens on . . . series) has to offer! As Pete Orford writes in his introduction, "Whether lampooning its more ridiculous aspects, or championing the sublime, Dickens never loses his enthusiasm for theatre," and this collection of reviews, reflections, and sketches on theatrical subjects reflects that enthusiasm faithfully. As Dickens insists in the essay "The Amusements of the People," sounding very like Hard Times' Mr. Sleary, "We believe these people have a right to be amused." And no one was ever more dedicated to standing up for that right.
The point of this new edition of Pictures from Italy, according to the flier that came with it, is to allow Livia Signorini's pointillistic illustrations, many of which are done in a sort of collage style (mostly black and white, though there are a couple in color), to create "a brilliant contemporary dialogue with his work -- a reading of history, time and change -- which renews our sense of his enduring vision." Well, maybe, but unfortunately they felt it necessary for their purposes to abridge the book, chopping out some of my favorite passages in the process. With all due respect to Signorini, the addition of the illustrations just isn't worth losing so many of Dickens's words. Perhaps I just don't have a very well-developed appreciation of brilliant contemporary dialogues, but in my opinion, you'd be better off sticking with the Penguin Classics edition of this one.
(Review copies of Sketches of Young Gentlemen . . . and Pictures from Italy came from their respective publishers. Charles Dickens on Theatre was obtained from Amazon.)