. . . Well, only figuratively. (But it makes a good post title, doesn't it?) I'm referring to an article by Frances Wilson in the New Statesmanabout "vampiric writers" -- a vampiric writer being one who "one who sinks his, or her, fangs into the flesh of another writer, and in so doing gives him or her a second life as a fictional figure." Wilson argues that Stephen Jarvis does this to Charles Dickens in his novel Death and Mr. Pickwick, accusing Jarvis of both "demonising" and "dehumanising" Dickens.
Well, I've sent for a review copy of Jarvis's novel, so we shall see . . .
"In 1847, an English cleaning woman was extremely excited to learn that the boy lodging in her employer’s house was 'the son of the man that put together Dombey' — that is, the son of Charles Dickens. The woman could neither read nor write, but she lived above a snuff shop where, on the first Monday of every month, a community of friends would gather to read aloud the latest installment of 'Dombey and Son,' which had begun serialization on Oct. 1, 1846. By that time, the monthly installments of Dickens’s novels — which started with 'The Pickwick Papers' in 1836 — were such a staple of British culture that an illiterate woman with no access to the actual book knew the author’s work intimately."
Hillary Kelly, The Washington Post
Read the rest of Kelly's article -- which focuses on the technique and the possible future of serialization -- here. And here's a discussion question: If illiterate cleaning ladies were huge fans of Dickens back when he was writing, why is it that literate and educated high schoolers have such trouble understanding him today? Is it just that the uneducated people of his own time understood the cultural references better? Or is there more to it? (The common phenomenon of high schoolers hating Dickens at first sight came up again in conversation recently, which is why it's on my mind.)
Mr. Pickwick's faithful servant has been getting a bit of media attention lately. In The Paris Review, Nina Martyris writes about how the creation of this character became a turning point in Dickens's life and career, while at the blog SleuthSayers, Stephen Jarvis (author of Death and Mr. Pickwick) argues that Sam was originally illustrator Robert Seymour's idea. (H/T The Buzfuz)
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.
The first Bi-Annual Dickens Conference will be held in Salem, Massachusetts, this Friday through Sunday, hosted by the North Boston branch of the Dickens Fellowship. "Pickwickian Endeavors" is the name of this year's conference. Information is here and here.
Clive Baugh's essay "Twenty of Dickens's Most Memorable Characters" is a couple years old, but I just now came across it, and it's so good I had to share it. In addition to his thoughtful take on characters from various Dickens's novels, there are also lots of great illustrations, many of which I'd never seen before.