This summer will see the publication of Stephen Jarvis's novel Death and Mr. Pickwick, which will attempt to answer the old question of just how much of The Pickwick Papers was Dickens's and how much was original illustrator Robert Seymour's. Blogger Martin Rundkvist, who's reading an advance copy, gives his thoughts on what he's read so far.
"He was born on a Friday, on the same day as his young hero David Copperfield, and for ever afterwards Friday became for him a day of omen. Whether like his young hero he was born just before midnight, when the tide was in, is not recorded; but this strange association between himself and his fictional characters is one that he carried with him always. He said once, during a speech in memory of Shakespeare's birthday, that: 'We meet on this day to celebrate the birthday of a vast army of living men and women who will live for ever with an actuality greater than that of the men and women whose external forms we see around us . . .' He was thinking here of Hamlet and Lear, of Macbeth and Prospero, but is it not also true that in this small front bedroom in Portsmouth, in the presence of a surgeon and a monthly nurse, there was born on this February day Pecksniff and Scrooge, Oliver Twist and Sairey Gamp, Samuel Pickwick and Nicholas Nickleby, Pip and David Copperfield, Miss Havisham and Little Nell, the Artful Dodger and Wackford Squeers, Thomas Gradgrind and Little Dorrit, Sydney Carton and Paul Dombey, Fagin and Edwin Drood, Uriah Heep and Wilkins Micawber, Quilp and Sam Weller, Barnaby Rudge and Bill Sikes, Tiny Tim and Tommy Traddles, all of them tumbling out into the light?"
Carlo DeVito's new book about the writing of A Christmas Carol is unquestionably well-researched and full of fascinating details about the origin of Scrooge's and Marley's names, the relationships with family members that inspired some of the characters, Dickens's haunting fear of poverty and the Scrooge-like tendencies he had to fight in himself, the Malthusian ideology that he was trying to combat, and much more.
The latest entry in Orford's "Charles Dickens on . . ." series. Knowing how fiercely Dickens fought for the poor all his life, one would expect a consistently fiery tone throughout this essay collection. This turns out, surprisingly, not to be the case.
The first group of essays, about the high-profile case of Bartholomew Drouet (who owned a school where more than 150 children died of cholera under "appalling conditions"), is suitably fiery -- indeed, I think it's some of the best writing Dickens ever did. But just at the end, when we learn that Drouet got off scot-free and one would expect Dickens to boil over with rage, he instead writes quietly and matter-of-factly, as if almost too weary for words anymore. The effect is far more sobering than any outraged eloquence he could have possibly come up with.
In other essays he studies different facets of poverty: the "shabby-genteel," the begging-letter writers who plague him as a known philanthropist, the tramps, residents of the workhouse, and residents of his own Urania Cottage. Sometimes he shows genuine sympathy, but any group or individual that he finds more colorful than pitiable is fair game for his wit. He goes even further with the begging-letter writers; they come in for a full share of his wrath, as he blames them for taking bread out of the mouths of the genuinely poor: "The begging-letters flying about by every post, made it perfectly manifest, that a set of lazy vagabonds were interposed between the general desire to do something to relieve the sickness and misery under which the poor were suffering, and the suffering poor themselves. . . . The writers are public robbers; and we who support them are parties to their depredations. . . . Let us give all we can; let us give more than ever. Let us do all we can; let us do more than ever. But let us give, and do, with a high purpose; not to endow the scum of the earth, to its own greater corruption, with the offals of our duty."
In his general attitude toward poverty, in fact, Dickens comes across as far more nuanced, knowing, and thoughtful than most modern writers on the subject. Which, indeed, one probably should have expected all along.
The Murder of Patience Brooke by J. C. Briggs, published as an e-book in 2012, will be released in paperback in November. It's the first in the Charles Dickens and Superintendent Jones Investigate series, featuring Dickens as an amateur sleuth. More information can be found at the author's page. Has anyone here had a chance to read the e-version? If so, what did you think?