The play A Perfect Likeness, which imagines a meeting between Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll, will premiere Thursday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Thanks to The Buzfuz for the tip.) Also, the new musical Peggoty's Boy, based on David Copperfield, will have its world premiere in Cheltenham, England, next Thursday.
"At its best fiction is not opposed to or inconsistent with real life, but rather its defense and articulation. And whether by calling our attention to the varied sorts of people we already know without noticing, or by sounding out our own inner selves with whom we have neglected to become acquainted, Charles Dickens shows himself to be a high practitioner of this advocacy. And it is in David Copperfield that he reaches the height of his practice."
"Now, there are (if I can speak in hushed tones for a moment) those who do not like Dickens at all. There are some who look askance at the buffoonery and high spirits and wish for something more refined. 'If those people are ever refined it will be by fire' is Chesterton’s response, but he does acknowledge that Dickens poses some special problems for modern critics. There is something in his writing that is out of temper with our times, a sense that a critical apparatus which can seize upon Thackeray or Eliot with a firm grip will somehow slip and grasp emptiness when applied to Dickens. Chesterton noted this already a century ago, and ascribed it to the powerful simplicity of Dickens’ genius:
Dickens has greatly suffered with the critics precisely through this stunning simplicity in his best work. The critic is called upon to describe his sensations while enjoying Mantalini and Micawber, and he can no more describe them than he can describe a blow in the face. Thus Dickens, in this self-conscious, analytical and descriptive age, loses both ways. He is doubly unfitted for the best modern criticism. His bad work is below that criticism. His good work is above it."
Many of the book’s admirers detect an artistic falling off as David passes from childhood into manhood. And while I don’t myself see any slackening of brilliance up through the final page, David’s harrowing early years are unforgettably vivid. Everywhere the boy turns, he meets singular souls. Dickens rivals Shakespeare in his fascination with nature’s sheer prodigality in creating so heterogeneous a troupe under the heading Homo sapiens. A passion for human peculiarity fortifies most of Dickens’s fiction, but it shows special potency when filtered through the eyes of the boy David, who is such a scrupulous, fervent interpreter of the world. He has to be. For him, a grasping of diverse personal motivations isn’t merely a satisfying of curiosity. It’s a necessity. David’s future, his deliverance from the forces determined to annihilate him, depends on his ability to construe character.
Martin Chuzzlewit is one of Dickens' lesser-known, or at least lesser-read, novels. I first read it a few years ago in my campaign to read everything Dickensian I could get my hands on, and despite its reputation, I was surprised to find I enjoyed it very much, and it quickly became one of my favorite of Dickens' early works! Recently, I stumbled across the 1994 BBC miniseries on YouTube, and decided to give it a go too, even though it was nearly six hours long. And in my opinion, it turned out to be one of the best Dickensian adaptations I've seen so far.
At a recent London celebration of gin in literature (because why not?), punch inspired by Mr. Micawber was served. Richard Godwin provides a lively writeup of the evening in the London Evening Standard.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a fun story about Carleton College's marathon reading of David Copperfield, in honor of the bicentennial. Seventy-five people, including students, professors, and the college president, read aloud for 37 hours. Sounds like a good time was had by all!