Reading: Charles Dickens

I’ve only read one book by Charles Dickens:

  • David Copperfield (29 Mar 2009)

Somehow I’d gotten the idea that Dickens wasn’t the kind of author I would like, so I never got around to reading any of his books until just now. Much to my surprise, I found David Copperfield excellent. Steerforth is a particularly memorable character.

“It’s a bad job,” he said, when I had done; “but the sun sets every day, and people die every minute, and we mustn’t be scared by the common lot. If we failed to hold our own, because that equal foot at all men’s doors was heard knocking somewhere, every object in this world would slip from us. No! Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride over all obstacles, and win the race!”

“And win what race?” said I.

“The race that one has started in,” said he. “Ride on!”

* * *

He was in great spirits all the way; and when we parted, and I looked after him going so gallantly and airily homeward, I thought of his saying, “Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!” and wished, for the first time, that he had some worthy race to run.

Neither does Copperfield, at this point in the story, have any particular race to run. But, not sharing Steerforth’s temperamental need for heroism, he notices this lack only in his friend.


Filed under Literature

2 responses to “Reading: Charles Dickens

  1. My Dicken’s reading has evolved. As a teen, I loved him. Then I grew up enough to realize that all his characters are essentially cartoons, and I stopped liking him. Then I grew up some more and realized that one can use cartoons to say very interesting, important things. And they are fun.

  2. Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind: “. . . students today have nothing like the Dickens who gave so many of us the unforgettable Pecksniffs, Micawbers, Pips, with which we sharpened our vision, allowing us some subtlety in our distinction of human types. It is a complex set of experiences that enables one to say simply, “He is a Scrooge.” Without literature, no such observations are possible and the fine art of comparison is lost. . . . As the awareness that we owed almost exclusively to literary genius falters, people become more alike, for want of knowing they can be otherwise.”

    I think Bloom captures very well the usefulness of sufficiently subtle “cartoons” — simple and caricatured enough to be memorable and applicable to many real people we meet, but subtle and insightful enough to “sharpen our vision.” Dickens’s creations lie somewhere near the middle of a continuum with simple adjectives (“shrewd,” “cocky,” etc.) at one extreme and fully developed characters (Odysseus, Faust, Emma Bovary). Both adjectives and characters are useful in their own way, and so are the in-betweens Dickens gives us.

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