Retrospect Opera is planning to make a recording of the operetta Pickwick, starring baritone Simon Butteriss.Written by Francis Burnand and Edward Solomon, the operetta was first performed in 1889. Go here to read all about the project, including how you can donate to it!
Novelist Joshua Cohen is launching a highly unusual literary project. According to the Guardian, Cohen is set to "reinterpret" The Pickwick Papers online:
"Cohen, author of the acclaimed novel Book of Numbers, will begin writing PCKWCK on 12 October at 1pm EST. Over the next five days, visitors to PCKWCK.com will be able to watch as, for five hours a day, he turns out his version of Dickens’s novel in real time.
"Browsers will also be able to offer feedback to Cohen 'that may affect the outcome of the novel', and discuss progress with the author and other readers in a chat room, said publisher Useless Press."
Go here to learn more! It sounds like Cohen is taking on a daunting task -- it's hard enough to write without (a) trying to recreate a masterpiece and (b) talking with readers and incorporating their input as you do it. But it should be fascinating to watch!
Stephen Jarvis's Death and Mr. Pickwickis not quite like any other novel I've ever read. I'll explain why in a moment.
First, I need to tell you something about the characters and plot. The novel gives a fictionalized account of the life of Robert Seymour, the first illustrator of The Pickwick Papers. Written in a rambling and episodic style, like Pickwick itself, Jarvis's book thoroughly examines not just Seymour's life, but also the myriad of influences on his life and work -- the world he grew up in, the artists whose work he saw and the writers whose work inspired his own art, his employers and relatives and friends. In particularly minute detail, he recounts everything in Seymour's life and work (for instance, a habit of drawing plump men, an interest in fishing, a meeting with a particularly gullible person) that might have any relation to anything in Pickwick.
There's a reason for this. Jarvis is trying to make the case that Pickwick really belongs to Seymour and not to Dickens. He gives us long passages with Seymour imagining the story and carefully plotting each detail of his pictures for it -- the fact that an author will be needed to provide words to go with the illustrations is almost an afterthought. And once that author is found -- 24-year-old Charles Dickens, fresh off the success of Sketches by Boz -- he will spoil everything for Seymour.
The New York Times ran a review late last week of Stephen Jarvis's novel on the creation of Pickwick. Reviewer Michael Upchurch writes:
"Jarvis echoes Dickens’s own narrative strategies by packing 'Death and Mr. Pickwick' with numerous digressions, flashbacks and tales within tales (many of them recastings of episodes found in 'The Pickwick Papers'). But Jarvis’s approach to digression is often more suffocatingly mechanical than zestily harebrained. Immediately upon being introduced, his characters, however minor, have their backgrounds explained. Most of these plodding flashbacks bring the central story to a halt."
I'm not yet to the halfway point of Death and Mr. Pickwick, so I'm not ready to write my own review. I will say only that so far, Upchurch's impressions strike me as pretty accurate.
. . . 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.)