Dickens! Mwah! discussion

I am possibly insane

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message 1: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments I suddenly decided the other day to finish reading all of Dickens' work before I turn twenty.

I turn twenty in March.

And I have nine novels left to read.

I need some serious encouragement! I'm thinking of reading Nicholas Nickleby next. I'm not looking forward to reading Dombey and Son at a march as it's quite sizey and it generally takes me a month or so to read a novel of that length. I'm not going to read all the essays just yet, or any of the non-fiction. I think that would be absolutely impossible. But I still think I'm crazy.

Anybody attempted anything like this before?

message 2: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 12 comments Awesome! You can totally do it!

My parents did this when they were first married--they decided to read all of Dickens. My mother started with Great Expectations and my father started with Sketches by Boz.

Guess who won ;)

message 3: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments I like your ambition, but I am seriously going to encourage you NOT to do this. I have read all of Dickens's novels, but I did it over a period of 20 years.

And other than Great Expectations which was my first, I read all of the others in the order they were written. This really added something special for me, and in a way made me feel that I was growing older alongside Dickens.

Dickens is without doubt one of the greatest writers of all time. I esteem his work and find his later books deeply moving. You should savour him, not rush him.

message 4: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 12 comments That's a really intriguing way of reading Dickens, Stas. I definitely appreciate some of his novels, especially David Copperfield, more now that I'm older and therefore less embarrassed about my own youthful naivete. For years, I had trouble reading that scene with the waiter.

I have to say, though, that there's something very nice about dipping into any novelist repeatedly over time. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 12, shortly after discovering that I was named for one of the main characters; I ripped through all of Austen in about six months. What I appreciated in Austen as a 12 year old and what I appreciate in her now at 28 has changed radically and I think that transformation in me as a reader is as much a part of my love for Austen (and Dickens) as the novels themselves.

I'm curious what other people think--are there Dickens novels that you read as a child/teen/young adult that you wish you had kept until later? Or novels that you read when younger (and continue to read), but towards which you now have a totally different attitude or opinion?

Just as a side note, Stas, your reading schedule totally reminds me of Desmond, from Lost ;)

message 5: by Natalie (new)

Natalie | 19 comments Mod
I've been in love with Dickens for 6 years now, but I still haven't read all of his books (college mandates my reading for me, and I am unfortunately not an English major). I agree that he should be savored, not rushed.

I might be intrigued to try and read him that quickly AFTER having read them once already. But you don't want to tarnish that first priceless experience.

Just as a note: I think Nicholas Nickleby is probably my least favorite Dickens. The writing is fabulous, of course, but he was still pretty new at the whole novel thing, and didn't quite have his character or plot development together.

I really liked Dombey and Son. I'm halfway through Old Curiousity Shop right now, and its excellent.

But I can tell you that Our Mutual Friend alone would probably take at least a month. Whew, that's a dense book.

I'm so glad I have all you other Dickens lovers. :)

message 6: by Stas' (last edited Dec 03, 2008 10:30PM) (new)

Stas' | 19 comments Darcy,

You make a great point: Faith can always re-read at leisure. However I think that Natalie's comment about not tarnishing that first reading experience is one well worth giving a great deal of thought to as well.

I am not a re-reader of books in general, but do intent to read much of Dickens again. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is one of the few books I have ever read more than once, and it was well worth it.

I started reading Dickens in my mid 20s, being more of an SF, Crime and C20 Lit kind of person. I only read Great Expectations because I had to teach it, but from the first sentence I was completely hooked in.

I must give Lost another go, I gave up on it a while back and keep thinking it is something to pick up on again.

message 7: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments I'm still planning on reading all his work. I don't think that I'll be rushing it particularly - I read pretty much non-stop anyway (I have a chronic illness so I don't work or anything and have little else to do), the only difference will be that I will be reading all Dickens as opposed to what I usually do which is read Dickens and then a few non-Dickens and then come back to Dickens again. I shan't be rushing the novels any more than I would usually and I certainly shan't be skipping anything. I will definitely come back to re-read things later on in my life - after all, I'm not even twenty and shall hopefully have many more years to appreciate Dickens' work.

I figured that if I read 50 pages a day, I shall finish in good time and I don't think that's a rush at all..? That's only a couple of hours a day devoted to reading over the space of three months. As I said before, I read like that all the time, only with a variety of authors as opposed to just Dickens.

I might not succeed I guess, but I really want to give this a try.

message 8: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 12 comments Perhaps this is just a major difference in reading styles? I reread books a lot, but I know people who have never reread a book.

G. H. Lewes--George Eliot's partner--studied Victorian reading habits. He was fascinated with episodes of "sleep-reading" and argued that alert readers could potentially miss out on the emotional responses of those readers who became essentially entranced while reading. At least Faith isn't going to sleep-read through Dickens.

At least until she gets to Barnaby Rudge ;)

If you want to do it and you have the time, then you should go for it, Faith. But I also agree with Stas and Natalie--savoring Dickens (even on a reread) is a really rewarding experience.

message 9: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments Enjoy your reading Faith, and please share your feelings/observations when you have a chance

message 10: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments I shall do. I'm coming up to halfway through Nicholas Nickleby which I'm quite enjoying - more so than I thought I would do actually. I think that the characters of Kate and Nicholas are quite interesting - despite being the normal Dickens youths, moral and blameless, they both speak their minds and Nicholas at least is quite rash and arrogant. I do vaguely know the plot as I saw a film version some years ago and it's all coming back to me as I read and I feel a little spoilt by that - it'll teach me never to watch literary adaptations until I've read the novel!

Believe it or not, I'm not finding myself rushed at all, I'm reading at quite a leisurely pace and really really enjoying my reading more than I have done for a while. I guess this was the push I needed.

message 11: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments I agree about not watching adaptations before having read the book. Still with a writer whose stories are so complex, there are always some surprises in the original text.

I agree about his early protagonists being moral and blameless, but as you so rightly point out, Nicholas does have some flaws and in his later novels Dickens explores his characters in much greater depth.

Side note, I hope you are using the Penguin Classics editions for your reading. Their intro articles and footnotes are tremendous. And no I don't work for them!

message 12: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments I actually think that Nicholas is a well-rounded character, much more so than some of his later heroes such as Pip. But then I tend to look on the Dickens heroes, or many of them, as mere narrators of their own stories, their purpose being primarily to witness the events unfolding around them.

Most of the editions I have are Wordsworth Classics - they're much much cheaper. I can buy four Wordsworths for the price of one Penguin. And I think their notes are generally quite thorough although the ones in Nicholas Nickleby are not the best.

message 13: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments It is the text of the book that is important and I totally get why you would go with Wordsworth for the price. Where I live in Australia the Penguin editions, while more expensive than the Wordsworth are till cheaper than you would pay for most paperbacks.

I think that the point you make about the heroes being narrators is crucial to an appreciation of what Dickens does in his first person stories. They are the lens through which we can experience the richness of his imagination.

message 14: by Natalie (new)

Natalie | 19 comments Mod
One thing about introductions.... NEVER READ THEM BEFORE THE BOOK! They always have spoilers. :( I'm still in Old Curiosity Shop, and since I peeked at the intro before, I know how it ends. :( Lame!

message 15: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments I agree with Natalie about the introductions. Best left until after you have finished. I do find the footnotes useful though throughout the text as they explain some of the 19th Century terminology, cultural references etc. Dickens really was a person of his time and liked to allude to current events, fads etc.

message 16: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments I doubt if I'm going to finish before my birthday (8th March) as I've only read two novels since I last posted on this board, but I'm really enjoying just focusing on Dickens. I finished Barnaby Rudge last night which I did very much enjoy despite reading some pretty bad reviews, and I'm just starting on A Tale of Two Cities which should be good, especially seeing as they're relatively similar in subject matter.

RE: Introductions - I have to practically close my eyes whilst flicking through the pages of the book because I have a habit of lighting on something I don't want to know. Also, in Barnaby Rudge and in Little Dorrit I learnt some of the biggest 'secrets' of the novel by reading one or two entries in the Dramatis Personæ. I went back and read the ones for Barnaby Rudge last night after finishing the book and lo and behold they did have the entirety of the novel there in the character descriptions. Nothing is sacred!

message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (ruthef) | 14 comments I see nothing wrong with having a goal of reading all Dickens by the time you are 20. I don't think its any worse or any more commendable than any other thing a person may choose to do. It will be fun to look back when you are older and say that you did it. At age 50, I still have not read every Dickens book. What I enjoy is occassionally picking one up and rediscovering how much I love his writing. I have my favorites and sometimes choose to re-read one rather than find a new one. It has been about 5 years since I decided I wanted to read more of the "classics" of literature--Dickens included. Because I intermix them, I figure it will be at least ten more years before I finish all his work. As someone else wrote, there is a sense of growing up or aging alongside Dickens---although I haven't read his books in order by any means. However, I do notice that with age, my appreciation and understanding of the works change as I mature. I would encourage anyone reading Dickens at a young age, to reintroduce themselves as they grow older because they will discover new things that they didn't notice before as they mature. I also encourage youth to become familiar with the history of the time period--get to know about the foods, the fashions and so on. The books become even more alive the more you understand what things looked like, how things tasted and perhaps even how things smelled. Can you imagine without modern laundry, dirty streets, horse drawn carriages and so on...what daily life must have been like?

message 18: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments Ruth,

Your comments about immersing yourself in the history of the era really resonated with me. That is why I read the Penguin Editions because the footnotes give details about the world that Dickens lived in, including slang terms and references to the fads of the day.

The Victorian era is a fascinating time that is an obsession not only with people who love period writing, but even with contemporary writers of science fiction, because it is truly the beginning of the technological age.

It was also a time of barbaric cruelty and neglect of the poor and disabled; something we all know Dickens felt very strongly about and tried to do something about both in his writing and other avenues.

When I lived in London I often tried to imagine what Charing Cross Road would look like jammed with horse drawn carriages. The smell alone would have been an assault on the senses!

message 19: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (ruthef) | 14 comments Some time ago there was a reality television show...I think it was called something like "Life in the Manor House" or something like that. The people on the show had to live as they did in Dickens and Austen's day. I only saw it a few times, but found it fascinating!One scene the young girl wasn't allowed to wander the house without a female companion so she was stuck there most of the day--allowed only to do some stitching

message 20: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (debs1) | 4 comments I remember that show! It was really interesting. Although, they created too much melodrama -- like all the other reality shows, which I found annoying.

The concept was very cool.

message 21: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (ruthef) | 14 comments ah well, we wouldn't watch it if there wasn't drama...right?
I understand what you are saying--I tend to avoid most reality shows

message 22: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (ruthef) | 14 comments I looked on-line and found the following:


I didn't really try either of them but maybe you can find some help. I have found the more I read, the mroe I understand, so it's not too often I get stuck anymore.

message 23: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (ruthef) | 14 comments Ha ha ha.. that's funny! Can you imagine the shock!

1940s home... that would be different to see. I have seen one where they were living like settlers. Maybe it was Frontier House.

message 24: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments Cher,

I wish I had a source I could suggest for Victorian terminology, but have just relied on the Pengin editions.

I am currently reading Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue which covers the whole history of the English language, but does not cover the Victorian era in the detail you are looking for.

It's more than language, isn't it. It's references to culture and technology and food and drink etc. that do not exist in the same form any more.

message 25: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 12 comments Lee Jackson's website is very good and is especially useful for dispelling some of the myths about Victorian England. Jackson's site is much more accurate than, say, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. I know it got good reviews on Amazon, but I really wouldn't suggest this as a reference guide. Entertaining but not reliable!

I remember when I first read Pride & Prejudice I had the hardest time figuring out what "Michelmas" was. I thought it was a British version of Christmas.

message 26: by Stas' (new)

Stas' | 19 comments How are you finding Mother Tongue Cher? Years ago I read The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome words by Bryson, before he embarked on his career as a travel writer.

He mentions Dickens a few times, which is not surprising given his pre-eminence as a writer in the 19th Century.

Lee Jackson's web site looks like a lot of fun.

Hey Faith, where are you? How are you going?

message 27: by Faith (new)

Faith | 9 comments Hi, I'm sorry I didn't drop in sooner! Life got in the way of my achieving my goal, but I think I should be able to complete all Dickens' works by the end of this year - I think that's a reasonable goal, especially seeing as I have got the rather lengthy Dombey and Son out of the way.

message 28: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 12 comments I started out with the goal of reading all of Dickens' novels in 2009 and 2010. As I got into the books I found myself carried along much faster. I am on number eleven right now and then will have only these to go: _Our Mutual Friend_, _Martin Chuzzlewit_, _Great Expectations_, and _The Pickwick Papers_. Then I might start over again, reading them in the order they were written. Some things I am noticing over and over: caged birds, references to Dick Whittington, journeys.

message 29: by Hogen10 (new)

Hogen10 | 7 comments Hi Faith:

Great idea GO fo it. I read all his stuff from age 18 to about 25. I'm now 57 and nearing retirement and I just started rereading him. It's been so long that I think the works will seem new. Have fun! You can't go wrong reading great liturature.

message 30: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 12 comments Hogen10 wrote: "Hi Faith:

Great idea GO fo it. I read all his stuff from age 18 to about 25. I'm now 57 and nearing retirement and I just started rereading him. It's been so long that I think the works wi..."

This afternoon I began my thirteenth Dickens novel for the year--Our Mutual Friend. It's really rich already!

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Note to Faith, I too have been reading all of Dickens' novel, and in the order written. I had read about three-quarters of them before; but with each re-read now it has been like an entirely new experience. First, I am now 53 years old, and I read much differently now than when I was in my twenties, i.e., I pay attention and savor the details. I have also been evaluating his writing style, use of allegory, and the overall moral theme(s) contained in each novel. I have been on this little project for about 18 months now, and have interspersed it with other authors too. Overall, I much prefer Dickens' novels from about Dombey and Son on, with Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend being my favorites. I am halfway through my second reading of Our Mutual Friend right now, and it may well be his very best (as well as his last completed novel).

Another recurring element in Dickens' novels are his 'saints' (a literary friend of mine refers to them as "bodhisattvas" (enlightened souls). They are always incarnations of goodness, while at the same time they can be wildly comedic. For example, there is Pickwick, the Cheerybles, Scrooge (at the end), Mark Tapley, Tom Pinch, Cap'n Ed'ard Cuttle, John Jarndyce, and Mr. and Mrs. Boffin. Just about every one of his novels has these types of characters. I try and make a point of figuring out who they are.

All I can say is that I hope your journey through Dickens' novels has been as wonderful for you as it has for me. I know that I have this wonderful world of his characters awaiting me at any moment, just sitting on the bookshelf, ready to come back to life! Cheers! Chris

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