Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Stupid Question: Dickens Edition

I have a question, and it’s going to mean that you need to think back a little bit, and not just back into the early chapters of Anna Karenina (although quickly find your place in Part One, Chapter 11.)  We need to think back several authors.

That’s right, I’m calling on your Dickens knowledge.  Although he’s likely the first guy I’ll run to after we’ve finished the WEM  list I’ve only read Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and I don’t think either of them are the answer to my question.  Here’s what I’m wondering:

When Levin is explaining to Oblonsky that he is afraid of virtueless women, his friend, who does not share the same fear, replies, “It is all very well for you to talk like that – just like the character in Dickens who used to fling all embarrassing questions over his right shoulder.  But denying facts is no answer.”

Which Dickens novel?  Which character?


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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A Tale of Two Writers

Long before I knew Harri got a letter from Chaz I was thinking that the two should really strike up a dialog, I mean, they have so much in common.

First of all, both authors are writing to elicit social change.  Dickens is working to bring awareness of the dismal situation of the poor to his fellow Londoners, and Stowe is obviously working to abolish slavery.  They have chosen literature as their medium.

Both authors rely heavily on humor to carry their message.  I didn’t see this coming with HBS.  For some reason, I always assumed Uncle Tom’s Cabin was nothing more than a dark, sad tale, I didn’t expect to read hillarious scenes like the one with Sam and Andy leading Haley on a wild goose chase down a nonexistent road.  It reminded me a little bit of Fagin’s gang, but with a moralistically superior cause for raising a ruckus.

Both authors utilize sarcasm in their writing, as well.  The narrator’s voice in Dicken’s work drips with the stuff, while HBS is more apt to reserve her sarcasm for specific characters’ dialogs.  My favorite example of this sort of writing is, well, practically every single sentence St Clare speaks in response to his wife.  Even Stowe can’t help but let a little snarkiness out at Marie.  Here’s a bit where the Omnicient Royal We has just given us a full page of hope that the African people will become the highest and noblest kingdom as a result of God’s chastening, and then she turns her attention to the mistress of the house:

Was this what Marie St. Clare was thinking of, as she stood gorgeously dressed, on the verandah, on Sunday morning, clasping a diamond bracelet on her slender wrist?  Most likely it was.  Or, if it wasn’t that, it was something else; for Marie patronized good things, and she was going now, in full force – diamonds, silk, and lace, and jewels, and all, – to a fashionalbe church, to be very religious.  Marie always made a point to be very pious on Sundays.

All these little hints at similarities between the two writers were nothing compared to what I encountered in the last five chapters.  Granted, Stowe didn’t depict Tom’s murder with the gory detail that we encountered in Nancy’s death, but the remainder of the story was completed much like Oliver Twist.  Long lost relatives came out of the woodwork.  There was an end to all the misfortune and bad timing that had plagued the characters thus far.  No story was left hanging, and futures were hopeful on the horizon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of happy endings, but both books tied up all the loose ends almost too perfectly.  Really, George’s sister just happened to be in the cabin next door?  Rose is Oliver’s aunt?  Quimbo and Sambo were both converted at Tom’s death?  Topsy becomes a missionary?  Oliver gets to live with Brownlow?

Stowe obviously admired Dicken’s work, and it shows in her own writing.  A bit of research on the connection between the two told me that she initiated their professional friendship by sending him a lavender copy of UTC.  She was an amazingly bold woman, wasn’t she?  Apparently their professional relationship continued for years, although he remained somewhat critical of the book.

Maybe she should have sent him a blue copy instead.


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What the Dickens?

I’m reading the Modern Library Classic version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (nope, no volumes) and in the back, there are commentaries from Stowe’s contemporaries.  The first is a letter from Charles Dickens to Mrs. Stowe.

I hope she was totally geeked when she got the letter.  I would have been, dear mother, had I received a letter from this master of social satire.

Imagine what it would have been like as she sat there with her seven children- strike that – she wouldn’t be sitting, not with seven children, no, there would be a lot of hurryscurryation.  She probably sent the middlest child out to get the mail, who then got so excited about the introductory Lincoln Log pamphlet that arrived that he left the rest of the mail on the front porch chair, and it wasn’t until one of the twins accidentally pushed his way out the screen door that she saw the abandoned pile of envelopes lying there, only to adeptly scoop them into into the pocket of her apron.   It wouldn’t have been until later that evening, after the final bits of laundry were folded, the last fork had been washed and dried, and all fourteen eyes were closed in sleep, that Harriet dared to untie her apron strings.  I’m sure that at first the appearance of the stack of unopened mail left her sighing with the knowledge that there was yet one more task to do, but as soon as the foreign postage caught her eye her interest was surely rejuvenated.  I bet she tore that letter open, squealed with delight, read it aloud eight times to her husband, and then flew to her writing desk to send a quick message to her sister and best writing friends.

This is the instagram photo of Charlie writing his letter to Harriet, don’t you think?

Sorry, sometimes I get a little caught up in thinking about how this simple Christian mother made such a huge difference in our society with the simple use of powerful words, and it gets my romantic expectations all piqued.

Anyway, back to Charles Dickens.  This is a portion of what he wrote to my new BFF Harriet:

I have read [Uncle Tom’s Cabin} with the deepest interest and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed.
If I might suggest a fault in what has so charmed me, it would be that you . . .

Okay, this is the part I’m going to skip, folks, because if Harri (can I call her that?) is anything like me, this is the part that kept her awake at night, and possibly brought her to tears, and left her husband saying things like, “Honey, remember that part where he talks about how much he admires your book?  Really, he used the word ‘inspired.’   I think he likes you.”  Let’s just say that Dickens thought she went overboard with her kindness of slaves.  Your husband is right, Har, his criticism is actually a compliment.  Okay, back to the letter:

Your book is worthy of any head and any heart that ever inspired a book.  I am much your debtor, and I thank you most fervently and sincerely.

Forget the squealing, I might have just fainted right over.  Charles Dickens thought she was cool.  So cool.  But I believe it, because I saw the similarities between the two.  But that, my friends, will have to wait until tomorrow, because I’m still a little swooney from reading that letter from Chuck.  I always did like that guy.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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This wrap-up will need a big bow.

I hope you’re not still stuck in Pride and Prejudice?  If so, I’m sorry, it’s my fault.  I never wrote wrap-up posts for PP, or Oliver Twist, or Jane Eyre.  What?  You didn’t know we were finished with JE?  We are.  See, the little pictures of the books changed in our sidebar.  Don’t worry, that just happened yesterday, you haven’t missed tons.  But, I am so, so sorry.

Please accept this meager post as closure on all three novels and permission to carry on.

Pride and Prejudice

We actually wrapped up Austen’s romance twice – once with the officially sanctioned WEM questions, hereafter called “The Questions,” and once on a delightfully snowy evening with hot tea, lots of books, and some Accomplished Young Women.

In our first session Jeannette wowed us with her discovery that the opening sentence “It is a truth, universally acknowledged . . .” echoed a rhetorical question by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France, which was a play on Thomas Jefferson’s line, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” By which all three authors are sounding societal revolutions by calling to attention something their audiences actually do not acknowledge as truths.  Who knew?  Jeannette.  Well, Jeannette and the book Why Jane Austen?

In our second, more casual, get-together the married among us quizzed the unmarried among us about their views on possible future Mr. Darcy’s in their own lives.  Okay, fine, it was just me pushing the awkward conversation.  Sorry about that, girls.

Oliver Twist

After talk of gruel potlucks and a pickpocket training session we finally decided to once again gather around excessive amounts of cheese and chocolate to tackle The Questions.

Dickens’ use of setting to delineate between good and bad, his richly descriptive writing, and neat and tidy connections between all of the characters were all topics of discussion.  We also focused a lot of our attention on Oliver’s passive deliverance from evil, a theme that appealed to our Christian souls.  And you know those great foils that Jeannette mentioned in her latest posts about JE?  Well, I didn’t know the proper literary term for it, but I tried to draw a few.  Try these on for size:
Fagin as a foil for Mr. Brownlow
Monks for Rose Maylie
The Artful Dodger for Oliver

We agreed that we loved Dicken’s descriptive writing, and found it odd that this richly narrative work had made it’s way to the stage, before it was even completely published.  Even Dickens himself did a one man show of Nancy’s murder that overtook him to the point that some of his friends felt it drew him nearer to death.  I think Christine summed it up well when she said, “Let’s not go see Dickens when he comes to town.”

Jane Eyre

Jane is our most recently completed novel, and I’ll admit it was such a page turner that we’ve actually been done for a while.  But there were also so many things to write about, that the blog kept rolling out JE posts, even though Jane and Rochester have been happily married for some time now.

We did fear that our enjoyment of Jane might have kept us from giving it the full scholarly dissection required by our DIY Master’s Degree, but The Questions kept us in line and forced us to put on our thinking caps.  We identified motifs (weather, fire and cold), analyzed the need for Brontë’s neatly constructed conclusion, and contrasted Jane’s individual determination in contrast to Oliver’s reliance on others.

Christine raised some wonderful additional questions, that she has posed to you here as well.  Please weigh in, we value your opinion.

In Conclusion

I hope you can forgive me for not wrapping up these novels earlier.  My recent encounters with Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale have me thinking a lot about penance, so I wanted to get this written before I was made to wear a giant “P” on my chest for “Procrastinator.”  In the future I’ll try to do better, but if you see those sidebar links change and haven’t yet read a wrap-up post, feel free to come after me with paper, scissors, and tape in hand.


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Look Out, Mickey Mouse

Dicken’s 200th birthday has been bringing the Dickensonians out of the woodwork lately, but none are quite as absurd as this one that I heard about on NPR’s show “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!”

I can’t even begin to do the story justice, but they did.  Take a listen.  The Dicken’s section begins at 4:12.

And in case you have a hard time believing anything they say over on my all-time favorite radio show, here’s a link to the actual website.

I see a field trip in our future.


Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Oliver Twist


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Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!
Happy Birthday to you!

Are ya one? Are ya two? Are ya three? Are ya….
Excuse me.  What did you say?
You said that you are 200 years old today?!

Wow! That’s going to be a lot of candles.

Readers, take a moment today to celebrate this master author.  Perhaps you’ll have a cup of English tea.  Perhaps you’ll make this delightful recipe for gruel.  Either way, you can quote this famous Dickens line and say, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

True Dickens devotees will want to visit Dickens 2012.

Dickens 2012 is an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Dickens that marks the bicentenary of his birth.

Why all the fuss for a man who died in 1870? 

As William Makepeace Thackeray rightly said, ” The power of [Dickens] is so amazing, that the reader at once becomes his captive, and must follow him withersoever he leads.”

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens! 
Thank you for your captivating stories.



Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Oliver Twist


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Renaming Oliver Twist

You’ve finished Oliver Twist?  Great!

But for those of us following the WEM guidelines, we still have an assignment.  Remember when I said that I was required to take notes?  Keep a character list?  Fold down corners?  Look up definitions of words?  All of those things are suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in her section titled “How to Read a Novel”.  Upon completion of the latest classic, I grab three things: my copy of the novel, my journal, and my copy of WEM.  I then do my best to answer the thoughtful questions Bauer has crafted.  One of the things she asks me to do is to give the novel a new title and subtitle.

“Now give your book a title that mentions the main character, and a subtitle that tells how that character is affected by the book’s main events.” WEM pg. 70

Here’s my attempt at titling Dickens’ sad story:

Oliver Twist: an innocent orphan is abused and manipulated by evil characters and, finally, rescued from his sad life by kind, wealthy people who are related to him.

It’s rather wordy and not very catchy.  But check this out.  According to the WEM synopsis for Oliver Twist, the book “was originally subittled The Parish Boy’s Progress in a satirical play on Bunyan’s title.  Christian is a grown man who can pursue his own destiny, but Oliver Twist is entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers.”

Whoa!  The classic novels are so intertwined!  Remember the Don Quixote references?  And way back when we started Oliver, I felt Dickens was making allusions to  Pilgrim’s Progress .  It makes me wonder what we’ll find in Jane Eyre.

Blog friends, here’s an assignment for you.  I’d love to read your attempts at renaming Oliver Twist in the comments section.


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CSI London

Dickens did not hold back from describing every gory detail of Nancy’s murder and of Sikes’ reaction to the deed the following morning.

 He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir.  There had been a moan and motion of the hand/ and. with terror added to hate, he had struck and struck again.  Once he threw a rug over it; but it was worse to fancy the eyes, and imagine them moving towards him, than to see them glaring upward, as if watching the reflection of the pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on the ceiling.  He had plucked it off again.  And there was the body–mere flesh and blood, no more–but such flesh, and so much blood!  Chapter XLVIII

Dickens goes on to describe how Sikes tries to clean himself up after the ordeal.  The bloody spots on his clothing will not wash out, so he cuts them out and burns them in the fireplace.  He also burns the murder weapon: the club.  Dickens goes so far as to horrify his readers with the description of how there was some of Nancy’s hair on the end of the club.  The chapter sounds a lot like an episode of CSI.

Of the novels we’ve read so far, this is the first instance of murder.  Fight scenes in previous books (battle with Apollyon in PP and several skirmishes with DQ) are not this realistic.  Doesn’t it seem like Dickens, as an author, has crossed some sort of line?  This is extreme realism.  There is no glossing over details.  The reader is not left to imagine anything.  Dickens spells out a horrible scene quite clearly.

Later on in the chapter when Sikes is fleeing across the countryside, he is haunted by Nancy’s eyes.  I imagine that most readers are glad Sikes’ guilt is tormenting him.  Readers want him to suffer for the crime he committed.  Is this the reaction Dickens wanted?


Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Oliver Twist


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Oliver’s Chapter Headings

Did you know that Dickens was a fan of Cerventes?  It’s true.  Jeannette caught that he even used the word “quixotic” in Oliver Twist.  While most of the time, Dickens’ chapter headings are helpful,  I had flashbacks of Don Quixote when I read this one in Oliver.

Chapter XXXVI

Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in it’s place.  But it should be read notwithstanding, as a sequel to the last, and a key to one that will follow when it’s time arrives.

Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Dickens.



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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Don Quixote, Oliver Twist


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Name Game

Names are important. 

I would imagine that for an author the naming of one’s characters is vital to the telling of the story.  If I was an author I know I’d spend a long time stewing over the names of my book’s cast members.  I remember the challenge we had naming our children.  We spent months suggesting names and then ruling them out.  Hey, in our house, even Webkinz’s names are carefully-crafted.  We have a stuffed mouse named Pixie Squeaker and a stuffed pig named Isabella Mudbath.  See what I mean?  Thought-out names.

So when I got to chapter XI and met Mr. Fang, I couldn’t ignore the names in Oliver Twist any longer.  It looks like Dickens is playing a little name game.  Mr. Fang is the magistrate that deals with Oliver when he’s falsely accused of stealing Mr. Brownlow’s handkerchief.  Isn’t Dickens clever?  Mr. Fang likes to show his teeth by displaying his power in the courtroom.  When Fang asks Oliver his name and he’s too ill to respond, the official/lawyer/bailiff (what is his position anyway?) answers for Oliver and says his name is Tom White.  I like that.  White!  as in innocent or pure!

What about the names of other characters?

Remember the funeral director and his wife?  The Sowerberrys?  Sour berries?  Maybe dealing with death all the time has made their lives sour?

What about our Beadle Mr. Bumble?  For sure he is bumbling in his religious position of protecting the parish children and showing them God’s love and mercy.

In chapter XIV I met Mr. Grimwig, Brownlow’s friend.  This gentleman certainly has a “grim” disposition.

Oliver Twist.  The orphan’s journey through life is taking twists and turns.  It’s not the life anyone would want for any child.  Circumstances have twisted what should have been a beautiful, peaceful childhood.

Speaking of peaceful, I looked up the name Oliver.  It’s comes from the Olive Tree which symbolizes fruitfulness, dignity, and beauty.  Offering an olive branch signifies an offering of peace.  Hmmmm…  At this point in the novel, Oliver hasn’t experienced much peace.  I certainly hope there’s more peace to come for the orphan.

Alright, Dickens.  I’ve got my eye on you.  What other messages will you be giving us in the names of your characters?


Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Oliver Twist


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