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The Dickens Project - Archives > Charles Dickens - A Life - Prologue to Chapter 3

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message 1: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
Since many if you are extremely excited, I've posted the thread for Z.


message 2: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
Carol, please repost your comments here.


message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments An auspicious beginning to the life of Charles Dickens. I enjoyed Tomalin’s prologue and how it demonstrates Dickens’s compassion for the unfortunate in real life as well as in his novels. I have already noticed how some of the characters in his novels emerged from the circumstances of his early life, and it was interesting to read about his father, John Dickens, who “developed his own habits of extravagance and debt, which nearly wrecked his son’s life and drove him to rage and despair” (chapter 1). Modeling Micawber after his father seems to provide him with a happy ending and eventual success that it seems unlikely his father will actually attain, and perhaps Dickens forgives his father through the character of Micawber. His mother, it seems, is the one who stirred his passion for the written word when she taught him to read: “Without her he might not have embarked on his own crash course of literary studies through the library of books left by his father in the little room next to his bedroom at the top of the stairs” (chapter 1). As Tomalin notes, it is quite remarkable that Fanny Dickens is so privileged, particularly over Charles. Both seem prodigies in their own right; perhaps their parents felt that Charles, being male, could make his own fortune and way in the world, whereas Fanny would need more assistance and patronage? Also, it is incredible to read about Dickens’s noteworthy self-assurance, which he infuses into David Copperfield: “What is most remarkable is the strength of the image he had of himself, his belief in his own capacities and potential, justified by everything that came after, but quite uncertain then” (chapter 2). Despite the setbacks in his early life, Dickens never wavered in his conviction about his own ability. Wow!

Moreover, the delicacy of his physical condition and the pain he experienced in his side set him up early on as a keen observer, which served him well as a writer. The following quotation brought to mind a comparison of young Dickens with little Paul Dombey: “So he grew used to watching, and being set apart from those he watched” (chapter 1). Both are precocious, and fortunately Dickens grew up and was able to make a difference in the world. In so doing, he used his early challenges as a catalyst: “The young Dickens wanted to laugh, and to make others laugh, and he took his own impoverished and uncertain background, its anxieties over etiquette, entertaining, wooing, and marriage, money problems, inheritances and culture, and poked fun at every aspect of it” (chapter 3). His experiences with the courts showed him where his ability for effecting change lay: “Dickens thought he could do more good as a writer who drew attention to abuses than in any other way, and he turned down several invitations to stand for parliament himself, and attacked the bombastic and cliché-ridden style of the typical MP with contempt. Nothing ever thrilled him about the Commons or the Lords, not the oratory, not the causes, nor the personalities of the politicians” (chapter 3). So much of this is evident in his novels. He certainly pursued the arts with vivacious passion: “Throughout all this time of work, and love, and study, and constant moving from place to place, he was pursuing another, completely different and overpowering passion: for the theatre” and “he also never lost the feeling that the theatre was in some sense his true destiny, what he understood best, what he did best and enjoyed best” (chapter 3). The cinematic quality of his writing and the fact that his novels are character-driven is explained by his theatrical aspirations, which were deeper than I realized. His ability to infuse his writing with his skills of observation and his love and knowledge of the theatre and ideas for social reform have made him an immortal literary figure and make reading his biography yet more thrilling!


message 4: by Carol (last edited Feb 08, 2014 06:59PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) I learned some "quirky" things.

Charles Dickens was . . .


. . . an obsessive-compulsive person.
In the prologue, it states that when we went to the hotel, he said, "Of course I arranged both the room and my luggage before I go to bed." He also combed his hair 100 times a day. Being able to juggle all his different writing works at the same time, requires detailed schedules, and physical determination to meet all the deadlines.

. . . passionately interested in prisons and in asylums.
He wanted to see the places where the rejects of society were kept.

. . . happiest eating his favorite fruit, RASPBERRIES,
served without cream, and he was also fond of dates.

. . . born on February 7, 1812, the second of eight children
to John Dickens and Elizabeth Dickens.

. . . walking by Gad’s Hill Place, in Higham, Kent, as a 9-year-old,
he was enchanted with it, and decided one day to live in there.
He purchased it in 1856. http://www.discovergravesham.co.uk/hi...

. . . diagnosed himself with mild epilepsy based on symptoms with surprising medical accuracy. He also gave three of his main characters— Monks from Oliver Twist, Guster from Bleak House, and Bradley Headstone of Our Mutual Friend—the same medical condition.

. . . determined to write a SHORT novel for Christmas, despite what the publishers and his fans wanted. Dickens published it with his money and considered it a financial loss. It is still a Christmas classic on both sides of the Atlantic, has never been out of print since its first press run. It was such a runaway hit, that Dickens’ use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” in the novella, was soon replaced in England “Happy Christmas” as the most popular holiday greeting.

. . . fond of peculiar nicknames for his ten children;
including the monikers “Boz,” “Plorn” and "Skittles." Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens lived from 1845 – 1912, and while those who grew up with the shiny red bags of candy might be more tantalized by a boy named after Skittles.

. . . a National Hero in the Staplehurst Rail Crash (6/9/1865)
Ten people were killed and forty were injured. Dickens was hailed as a hero for his efforts in rescuing the wounded. After saving several victims of the crash, he climbed back into a teetering carriage to save his working manuscript of the novel Our Mutual Friend. Dickens and his mistress, actress Ellen Ternan, were both passengers in the train wreck.

. . . the first famous writer to give public readings of his writing; and his first reading was
A Christmas Carol. Instead of reading extracts, he performed them, which made a very special version. He tore the pages out of an original book, and stuck them into a new, large leafed, blank paged book. Then he filleted the text, cutting out descriptive scenes to create a performance script. He added stage directions for himself all over the text. (Copy called a prompt copy.)

. . . in America for a reading tour on Christmas, 1867, including a prompt copy. It was held in a church in Brooklyn. The line was a mile long and people camped out overnight in the snow to get a ticket.

. . . totally in love with his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, who died in his home at age 17. Dickens was numb with grief, and took from her a finger, a ring, that he wore for the rest of his life. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/art...

. . . trouble sleeping. He took long walks at night through the streets of London and was joined by his close friend, Wilkie Collins. http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things...

. . . the first author to question the piracy of his works. During his tour of the United States in 1842, he fruitlessly attempted to urge the merits of international copyright, while American publishers gleefully printed his bestsellers without giving him a nickel.

. . . living in his country home, Gad's Hill, Dickens discovered a fake bookcase that concealed a secret door.

. . . an animal lover -- especially his pet raven, Grip, and when it died, he had the bird stuffed and mounted in his study. A talking raven in one of Dickens’s lesser-known works, Barnaby Rudge, was the inspiration for Poe’s The Raven.


message 5: by Carol (last edited Feb 08, 2014 06:06PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) PART ONE

CH 1: The Sins of the Father
and CH 2: A London Education

What I thought was so odd was that Charles Dickens parents put his sister's "education" (piano lessons) before Charles "education." Isn't this the Victoria period? Wasn't it during the reign of Queen Victoria, that a woman's place was considered to be in the home?!

"He (Charles) could not help but be aware of the contrast between his position and hers, and of their parents' readiness to pay handsome fees for her education and nothing for his. It is such a reversal of the usual family situations, where only the education of the boys is taken seriously."

His mother tried to bring in money, but her "school" never amounted to anything. Where is Mr. Dickens on this?! Who wears the pants in this family!? Next thing we learn that Mr. Lament, owner of a small boot and shoe blacking business, offers to Mrs. Dickens' son the opportunity to make six shillings a week. He also offers Charles to give him school lessons during lunch. "Really, not quite enough time to really get involved in your studies."

"No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been 20 years of age, distinguished at grammar school, and going to Cambridge."


The contrast between the blacking job in the factory; and the idea of Cambridge University is startling because it suggests how strong his hope and self belief had been, even though no one in his family had attended a university.

While Charles works at Warren's Blacking Factory, his father is arrested for a debt of £40. He must raise the money to avoid being committed to prison. Charles is unsuccessful and his father is committed to the Marchalsea Prison. John Dickens applies for his retirement from the Naval Pay Office, in an effort to avoid invoking the Insolvent Debtors Act. Most of the family's household had been sold or pawned. The Gower Street house was left and Elizabeth, with four small children, moves into John's prison room.

Also this broke my heart -- "One Sunday night he told his father how much he hated being separated from the family ALL week, with nothing to return to each evening but "a miserable blank." It was the FIRST TIME he had said anything about what he felt, and TEARS CAME INTO HIS EYES as he spoke. Seeing his distress, his father responded, and another lodging was found for him close to the prison where a kindly landlord with a gentle wife gave him a room.

Why can't he join his parents and siblings in the debtor's prison? Is it because that anyone who is in debtor's prison, is not allowed out unless the debt. is paid.

Charles becomes a lodger with Mrs. Roylance "long known to our family". He must use his six shillings per week wage from the Blacking Factory to pay for his lodging and meals.

On Sundays he and Fanny would visit the family in the Marshalsea. On one of these occasions, Charles broke down in tears from his despair and loneliness and so a new lodging place in Lant Street is found for him. Living closer to the prison now, he is able to have breakfast and supper with the family at the prison.


message 6: by Zulfiya (last edited Feb 08, 2014 04:24PM) (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Because this book is definitely not a novel, the discussion strategy might be slightly different. I propose to discuss the previous novels we read if we find any references, certain correlations between DC and the life of the literary maestro, and try not to comment about future reads even if some of us have already read these novels.

Please feel free to post in any form you like, but I will encourage you to ask each other questions. It will help the discussion and will create a feeling to literary togetherness.

My impressions after reading the prologue and chapters 1-3 are are not easy to delineate and define. I really enjoyed the prologue, but chapter 1 and the biggest half of the second chapter did not spark much interest. Every time I read a biography, I always wonder how much ancestry should be brought into a book. I do understand how important it is, but somehow the life of Dickens direct predecessors did not fit into the pattern of his life.

On the other hand, the allusions to his novels we have read, such as The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickleby created a nearly surrealistic feeling of pervasive, ever-encompassing intertexuality and metatexuality.

I really liked how Dickens' love of theater actually found its way in his books, those hilarious, emotional, turbulent, passionate, and hyperbolized passages that we earlier discussed are only a natural extension of his love of drama and performance on the stage. Oh, this beautiful theatricality in his writing!

What do you think about Claire Tomalin's style?
How often do you check the footnotes and references?
Do you find the paintings and the photos useful?
What passage really 'rang a bell in your mind' and said to yourself, 'Aha, this is A Christmas Carol/David Copperfield/Nicholas Nickleby/etc '?


message 7: by Zulfiya (last edited Feb 08, 2014 04:28PM) (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments P.S. Expect delays in posting for the next two weeks. :-) The biggest show on Earth right now is taking place in Sochi, and despite the ugly political regime in Russia, I am passionately Russian, and as most Russians we like literature, art, science and sport. Any ice-hockey star is often asked a question about his favorite books, and many 'literati' folks will spend sleepless nights watching international competitions. Expatriates are not an exception; on the contrary, expatriation or residency heightens and intensifies the feeling of national identity. So for the last two days books have been put on hold or have been read under the pressure of responsibility ... occasionally.:-)


message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
I ca help with links if you need me to.


message 9: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Thank you Deborah, but I will try to control my TV time:-) If I need help, I will let you know.

I have already read chapters 4 and 5:-)


message 10: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2066 comments Mod
I agree with you, Zulfiya, about the first few chapters of biographies in general being uninspiring. In this case, I was intrigued by the Upstairs/Downstairs nature of Dickens' ancestors with his grandmother being a servant and his paternal grandfather maybe someone higher up.

I really liked having the illustrations and maps, and I also think it was an excellent idea to read this after we were familiar with a lot of Dickens' work. The locations and incidents seem in a way familiar too because of what we have read. I think Tomalin is doing a pretty good job of alluding to Dickens' works without giving too much away or making it impossible to understand for non-experts.

I am enjoying the Olympics somewhat efficiently by recording the coverage, then playing it back & skipping commercials & events I am not so interested in. I did study Russian for 2 years in college specifically because of a book. I read War and Peace the summer after I graduated from high school and decided after that to learn Russian. Unfortunately I haven't kept it up but can still make out some and enjoyed seeing Tolstoy's epic prominently featured in the opening ceremony.


message 11: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments As with many of you, I've come away with details that surprised me.

1) The fact that his grandparents were in service, and that his father may have acquired his taste for finer things from exposure to the Crewe family for whom they worked.
2) I knew his father was Micawber-like and a debtor, but learner details on how that affected his mother/brother/friendships, as well as his children.
3) Great surprise that the family supported Fanny's education rather than Charles. Although, I agree with Carol's supposition that Charles may have been seen better able to attain gainful employment as a male.
4) Great surprise at how little education Charles actually received. Shocked actuality.
5) The fact that CD involved himself personally and financially in countering the abuses that he wrote about in his novels.
6) The consideration that his novels are as character driven as they are because of his great love of theater. Which also makes me wonder why he didn't eventually write plays.


message 12: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Also, I'm very curious about the biography by John Forster, who was apparently a friend of CD. Has anyone read that?

I am finding Tomalin's biography to be a delight. I'm reading on my Kindle and Kindle app, and frequently check out the footnotes. I find myself drawn to pick up this book just as frequently as the novels I'm reading this month.


message 13: by Hedi (last edited Feb 09, 2014 07:56AM) (new)

Hedi | 953 comments I liked the Prologue most of this part for the above mentioned reasons.

Even though the other chapters were not so inspiring, I think they are important to make Dickens to what he became and to what he wrote.

We have often discussed in our reads about the different characters and how Dickens invented them. However, it seems to me more and more that they (as eccentric as they might have been) existed in the one or other way.
What would have become of Dickens if he had not had that type of childhood and had stayed all his life in Portsmouth as the son of a Naval Pay Office clerk handling the payroll accounts?
I was impressed about e.g.how many times the Dickens family changed their lodgings (due to obvious reasons), how Charles was left alone in London spending his time wandering about the neighborhoods increasing his ability for observation of people, surroundings, social environments...
These images at that age imprinted themselves in his mind and maybe also in his soul and are reflected implicitly and explicitly in his novels:

- In Chatham he sees apprentices with their own songs, masks and celebrations which correspond to his descriptions of the guild in BR

- the teacher with the ruler at the Wellington Home Academy is probably the base for his teachers in NN and DC

- His enjoyment of Holbein's "Dance of Death" with all its skeletons is replicated in young Traddles drawing skeletons all the time.

- He gets lost as a child in the middle of London (on the Strand), which reminded me of poor Florence getting lost.

- A lot of events related to his father are reflected in David Copperfield's relation to the Micawber's incl. his famous quote (which surprised me a little, so it was not a morale Charles Dickens came up with, but it was actually his father, even though I doubt that he ever could live up to it - different to Mr. Micawber, who at least in the end seems to be successful.)

- His attempts in different professions, even considering the Bar is very similar to David Copperfield, though the Law did not impress him very much and he has been mocking the Law quite often in the novels we have read so far.

- His physical weakness is also reflected in several of his characters.

- His first love "Maria Beadnell" seems almost a copy of Dora incl. her little pet dog.

- He even wanders around her house/ neighborhood during the nights (similar to our 2 suitors in D&S)


message 14: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 953 comments Zulfiya wrote: "What do you think about Claire Tomalin's style?
How often do you check the footnotes and references?
Do you find the paintings and the photos useful?
What passage really 'rang a bell in your mind' and said to yourself, 'Aha, this is A Christmas Carol/David Copperfield/Nicholas Nickleby/etc '?
..."


Question 1:
Her style is awakening interest and not dull, as a biography could be. As stated I liked the Prologue more than the first 3 chapters, but I assume that this will improve again when we are focusing more on Charles than on his ancestors.

Question 2:
I must admit that I have not paid a lot of attention to the references. I have read a few of them, but some were only references to other biographies and not directly further explanations.

Question 3:
I have not looked at them in detail yet. :-(

Question 4:
see my post above
I am thinking now whether he chose deliberately the name David Copperfield (DC) vs. his own name Charles Dickens (CD).
The fact that he was sent to the blacking factory by his OWN parents (not as an orphan by a mean stepfather) and they never talked about this event later must have been rather traumatic for such a young child.


message 15: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Renee wrote: "As with many of you, I've come away with details that surprised me.

1) The fact that his grandparents were in service, and that his father may have acquired his taste for finer things from exposu..."


I was also surprised at how little education that he received.

Since I've only just started the second chapter, I don't know if he self-educated himself or later in youth (as with David Copperfield) he received a better education.

But as an educator, it confirms what I always tell my students. Teachers are important, school infrastructure is important, parents are important, but at the end of the day, the most important player in a person's education is the person themself.

Dickens has such an amazing grasp of human nature and social issues, and I think much of that comes from experience and informal education.


message 16: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 953 comments Lynnm wrote: "Renee wrote: "As with many of you, I've come away with details that surprised me.

1) The fact that his grandparents were in service, and that his father may have acquired his taste for finer thin..."


Good point, Lynn. I think he had high aspirations himself, was, therefore, (like David Copperfield) very interested in books and tried to teach himself and observe as much as possible. I think important is that despite his lack in being provided with a good formal education he never loses that interest. Other children might have done so.


message 17: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
Like many of you, I enjoyed the prologue more than the next couple of chapters, but many things resonated with me.

Here is a boy who, although taught to read my his mother, isn't really encouraged to develop further. In fact, he's basically sent out to work. His constantly moved from place to place and little or no security, both emotional and physical. Yet, somehow this boy has great confidence in his abilities and his role in life. Where did that come from? So many people would have been crushed under these challenges. CD never waivers!

Many writers give others the advice to write what they know. CD has certainly done that. Many of his characters seemed to be based on people he knew. Perhaps some of the comic quirkiness that is often found in the characters are simple exaggeration a of their behavior. One thing is certain, CD continues to see the comedy in life even in difficult situations.

He charms and entertains wherever he goes throughout his life. After reading his love of theater and training in the theater, it make perfect sense why his audiences found his readings so enthralling. I hadn't been aware if that training before. Also it is indicated his mother was a natural storyteller. Maybe his gift of stories came from her.

I, too, was shocked at his lack of formal schooling. It makes his writing all the more impressive to know this. I really enjoyed the fact that he didn't let the power of the law or Parliment taint his opinions. Instead, he takes the opportunity to show his readers just what is wrong in these institutions,

I loved the quote from Gissing saying how popular he was. If Gissing could only see how popular he remains! Another thing that really struck me was how much pressure he must have been under to write. He was living hand to mouth and needed each publication to support his family. How can such wonderful creativity thrive under such conditions?

All in all, I'm even more impressed with CD than I was before this reading. As for the notes, I do read them. I looked at the maps prior to starting my reading. It was nice to get a sense of things, but I'm not referring back to them. Since I've not been very active with the project as I had wanted, I'm not going to reference characters or books to ensure I'm not talking about something that has not yet been read.


message 18: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments It was the salmon!"

I'm rather enjoying chapter 3, as Tomalin begins to show more of the autobiographical material Dickens used from his own life to bring life to his characters.

It struck me that Tommy Traddles is apparently the only lawyer Dickens created who truly does no wrong.

Deborah makes a great point when she says that reading about his early life makes him an even more impressive writer.


message 19: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Sarah wrote: "As Tomalin notes, it is quite remarkable that Fanny Dickens is so privileged, particularly over Charles. Both seem prodigies in their own right; perhaps their parents felt that Charles, being male, could make his own fortune and way in the world, whereas Fanny would need more assistance and patronage?"

It is indeed remarkable that a girl, a talented girl, was more privileged financially in the English household in the early nineteenth century while Charles was also very talented but in a verbal way. It might also explain why Dickens is not a misogynist. As a child, he saw that women are as talented as men, but in case of Fanny, I honestly think parents invested so much in her because they believed she was more marketable with all her accomplishments. Besides, her portrait reveals a very delicate beauty. Despite her parents' financial struggle, she could have married well.


message 20: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Carol wrote: " "No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been 20 years of age, distinguished at grammar school, and going to Cambridge."

The contrast between the blacking job in the factory; and the idea of Cambridge University is startling because it suggests how strong his hope and self belief had been, even though no one in his family had attended a university. "



Dickens was definitely an optimist when it comes to an upward mobility, and his characters (Walter from Dombey and Son or David Copperfield from the eponymous novel) often demostrate the same optimism and a desire to work hard to achieve goal that seem improbable for their peers.

And still, Dickens' hopes were very optimistic for his social rank and status, especially when his family started struggling.


message 21: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "I think Tomalin is doing a pretty good job of alluding to Dickens' works without giving too much away or making it impossible to understand for non-experts. "

She IS indeed doing a good job. Most of her spoilers are one-liners and do not disclose too much. On the other hand, if someone is familiar with the content of his novels, they come alive again, and some passage are even more significant than they were previously thought of.

P.S. Robin, I like NBC sport, but it is geared towards the American audience, and I never thought about how different it could be, but the previous Olympic Games in Vancouver made me understand that I do need Russian TV channels to get want I what. I am watching using the online streaming service of the Russian TV package. On demand video service was too expensive, so I often watch at weird hours:-) And I still watch major recaps on NBC, and the channel is actually doing a decent job when it comes to a cultural perspective.
Sport is often the only reason why I ever watch TV. For news I often rely on BBC internet radio stations, like Radio 4 or BBC world service. Besides, Radio 4 has an amazing content about arts in general and literature in particular. US channels are too politicized and biased, and Russian channels are awfully biased, and even Russia Today is way too pro-governmental despite its seeming international neutrality and British presenters:-)


message 22: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: "- He gets lost as a child in the middle of London (on the Strand), which reminded me of poor Florence getting lost."

Thank you for mentioning this one, Hedi. I so enjoyed reading about it, obviously for literary reasons, and I again re-lived the moments when little Floy was lost in London. It is one of the most memorable scenes in the novel.


message 23: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2066 comments Mod
The time when the young Dickens had to board with a woman and was so unhappy could have been the inspiration for Mrs. Pipchin, who takes in young Paul Dombey.

Dickens' self-education and love of theater reminded me of another autodidact born 3 years earlier, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln loved theater & actors and had memorized long passages of Shakespeare. It seems Dickens had the same facility.


message 24: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) Robin wrote: "Dickens' self-education and love of theater reminded me of another autodidact born 3 years earlier, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln loved theater & actors and had memorized long passages of Shakespeare. It seems Dickens had the same facility."

Thanks Robin! I missed that.


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