Monday, September 4, 2017

A Dickens Detour - The Old Curiosity Shop


It is no small thing, when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.
― Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock


The Old Curiosity Shop, the fourth published novel by Charles Dickens was first released in serial form from April 1840 until January 1841 and then all together in a book format in 1841 by Chapman & Hall of London.

It first appeared in the weekly publication, Master Humphrey’s Clock along with various short stories and essays which Dickens wrote and edited. It became evident, however, by the 7th edition that the present day public - all avid Dickens readers - were solely attracted to the publication by the ongoing The Old Curiosity Shop. During the publication life of Master Humphrey’s Clock, two novels originated as short stories that developed into novels — The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.

For who can wonder that man should feel a vague belief in tales of disembodied spirits wandering through those places which they once dearly affected, when he himself, scarcely less separated from his old world than they, is for ever lingering upon past emotions and bygone times, and hovering, the ghost of his former self, about the places and people that warmed his heart of old?
― Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock


The publication Master Humphrey’s Clock opened with an introductory frame story which featured Master Humphrey — a lonely bachelor living in London, who acts as a narrator, describing himself and his close group of friends and their love of telling stories. Master Humphrey wrote and then hid his manuscripts in an old grandfather clock in a chimney corner of his house. He decided one day to start a club with his small circle of friends in which they would each be involved in reading their manuscripts aloud. Some of the stories from the club Master Humphrey’s Clock and the mirror club from Humphrey’s kitchen - Mr. Weller’s Watch - brought back characters from The Pickwick Papers. Two such characters included Mr. Pickwick, the hero of The Pickwick Papers and his much beloved manservant, Sam Weller, along with Master Humphrey’s maid and a barber.

To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
― Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock

The Old Curiosity Shop follows the life of the beautiful young orphan Nell Trent and her maternal grandfather, who live in an old “olds and ends” antique shop in London and is thought to have been set around the time of the mid-1820s.

“Very interesting and cleverly written.…”
― Queen Victoria


In reading any novel by Charles Dickens it is possible to glean an intense and well-drawn glimpse into the life and the times in which he lived. References abound and it is worth stopping to savor and investigate them. There are clear and interesting allusions to foods and drinks of the day, popular songs, literature of the time, scandals of the day, and social and political commentary - primarily regarding the plight of the poor.

Thus violent deeds live after men upon the earth, and traces of war and bloodshed will survive in mournful shapes long after those who worked the desolation are but atoms of earth themselves.
― Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop


As with Oliver Twist, Dickens played with contrasting characters surrounding a lonely & innocent child. In the book preface he said;

“I had it always in my fancy to surround the lonely figure of the child with grotesque and wild, but not impossible companions, and to gather about her innocent face and pure intentions, associates as strange and uncongenial as the grim objects that are about her bed when her history is first foreshadowed.”


Although dearly loved by her grandfather, Nell leads a solitary existence surrounded by very few acquaintances and companions. Her grandfather’s efforts to stave off poverty lead to dire consequences and one of the most evil villains created by Dickens.



Lawyers are shy of meddling with the Law on their own account: knowing it to be an edged tool of uncertain application, very expensive in the working, and rather remarkable for its properties of close shaving than for its always shaving the right person.
― Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop

In typical form, Charles Dickens introduces a wide variety of strongly contrasting characters both good and bad. There is a plotting brother, a malicious moneylender and a simple and true friend to Nell. It has been said that there is a fairy tale quality to The Old Curiosity Shop which sets it apart from all of the other Dickens novels.

If there were no bad people there would be no good lawyers.
― Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop


This novel became so popular on both sides of the Atlantic that avid readers in New York stormed the wharf when the ship arrived in 1841 bearing the final installment. Any Harry Potter fans among us will certainly be reminded of the excitement that accompanied the release of the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows and the highly anticipated conclusion of Harry’s fate in the fight against Voldemort…. the guarded pallets of the books awaiting release and the midnight book release parties.

Time has left many varied and lasting responses to The Old Curiosity Shop — Oscar Wilde ridiculed its sentimentality, Algernon Swinburne soundly condemned Nell, and Irish leader Daniel O’Connell burst into tears at the finale and threw the book out of the window of the train in which he was traveling.

As we read this 3rd installment in our Dickens Detour reading plan, let us know what your conclusions are as you read The Old Curiosity Shop. We will be discussing this book during our 2017 Autumn Book Lunch to take place on Saturday, October 28th, 2017.




“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”
― Charles Dickens




A DICKENS DETOUR

April 2017
The Pickwick Papers 
Published as a Monthly serial
April 1836 to November 1837

July 2017
The Adventures of Oliver Twist
Published as a Monthly serial 
in Bentley’s Miscellany
February 1837 to April 1839

October 2017
The Old Curiosity Shop
Published as a Weekly serial 
in Master Humphrey’s Clock
April 1840 to November 1841

January 2018
Little Dorrit
Published as a Monthly serial
December 1855 to June 1857


Monday, June 5, 2017

A Dickens Detour - Oliver Twist

“Please, sir, I want some more.” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 




Little Oliver Twist has remained a unique character for literature and was particularly uncommon for a Dickens character.  In Charles Dickens’ second published novel, Oliver Twist, he took a poor, helpless and friendless young orphan and through his experiences, revealed the desperate and impoverished criminal underworld of his day through the vivid characters who abused and exploited the most vulnerable in humanity.  Dickens painted the characters in Oliver Twist with an unsentimental hand for his day and time.

“The sun,--the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man--burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Oliver’s inherent innocence that continues to survive throughout his trials is a small light of hope within the darkness surrounding him.  As onlookers we become alternately anxious, then relieved, then on tenterhooks once more with his moments of comfort and his subsequent recapture within the elements of crime and want.  But somehow Oliver’s tender heart prevails through everything.  With little Oliver, Charles Dickens had the intention of showing “the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last”.  What companions would try him best?

“The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up for ever on my best affections. Deep affliction has only made them stronger; it ought, I think, for it should refine our nature.” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

The Adventures of Oliver Twist was first published under the title of  Oliver Twist or The Parish Boy’s Progress, By Boz as a serial in the pages of Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837 to April 1839 and then in three volumes in 1838.  The publication of this novel overlapped with Dicken’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers for nine months and overlapped Dickens’ third work Nicholas Nickleby by a similar nine months.

It was a momentous time for the young man, Charles Dickens.  The publication of Oliver Twist began just one month after Dickens’ first child was born, Charles Culliford Boz Dickens, which was sadly soon followed by an untimely loss in May of 1837 when Dickens’ beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth suddenly passed away after a night at the theatre. Mary was 17 years old, lived with Charles and Catherine Dickens and was a favorite in their household. The family was devastated and Dickens missed the June installment of Oliver Twist as well as The Pickwick Papers.  This was the only time in Dickens’ career that he ever missed a publication installment.
“It is because I think so much of warm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Dickens fought for many of his social concerns through his writing.  He greatly opposed the New Poor Law of 1834 with the middle-class Victorian attitudes that empowered it, and clearly voiced his views through Oliver’s experiences. Oliver Twist originally began as one of Dicken’s “Mudfog” sketches, published in Bentley’s Miscellany depicting Oliver’s birth and upbringing in a poorhouse.  It was an effort by Dickens to speak out against the New Poor Law.  As he wrote Oliver Twist into a novel, he chose the coarse, the criminal, the low and the degraded of London’s population and Dickens knew that when Oliver Twist was published, readers of his time would be shocked and most likely disapproving of the type of characters that he highlighted in his book.

“Some people are nobody's enemies but their own” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

When the New Poor Law of 1834 was introduced, it was originally welcomed by some as a way to reduce the gradually building cost of looking after the poor.  It was an Act of Parliament that replaced earlier legislation that had come to be deemed inefficient  and purposed to take beggars off the streets and encourage poor people to work hard to support themselves. This system intended to change the poverty relief system in England and Wales by only providing relief within workhouse settings. These workhouse systems were ultimately aimed to deter people who would prefer to receive some form of assistance instead of working to provide a living for themselves and their families.  Workhouse conditions were purposefully designed to be such that only the truly destitute could bear to face them.  Even at the time, many Victorians saw workhouses as merely prisons for the poor.

The poor would consent to be housed in workhouses where they were clothed and fed under the responsibility of a Board of Guardians.  Children received some schooling and all able-bodied workhouse paupers were required to work for several hours a day. Workhouses varied in size but were often a self-contained and often self-supporting system.  They could include basic living areas such as dormitories for sleeping with men and women separated, a dining hall and possibly dayroom for the elderly, but they might also have their own laundry, bakery, vegetable gardens, infirmaries and schoolrooms for the children.

When a person’s circumstances resulted in entering a workhouse, their possessions were severely limited and might only include their uniform and bed. Uniforms  were generally made of coarse materials designed to be sturdy and long-lasting.  Comfort was not a part of the design. Men wore jackets of strong “Fernought” cloth, trousers, striped cotton shirts, a cloth cap and shoes.  Women and girls wore gowns made from a coarse fabric made of silk, often combined with mohair or wool and stiffened with gum, calico shifts, petticoats of Linsey-Woolsey material, gingham dresses, day caps, worsted stockings and woven slippers.

“What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once - a parish child - the orphan of a workhouse - the humble, half-starved drudge - to be cuffed and buffeted through the world - despised by all, and pitied by none.”
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

A workhouse diet was formulated with minute detail. The Poor Law Commissioners issued sample dietary tables for use in union workhouses itemizing food, drink and amounts of each with very limited inclusions of meat. The main food staple was bread and it had often had various foods added with each meal such as gruel or porridge at breakfast. Water used for boiling any dinner meat became “broth” and could have such items added as onions or turnips to make a mid-day soup.  But ingredients and food variations were strictly and universally limited.

One of the more difficult results of being sent to the workhouse was that you were ultimately separated from your husband, wife or children.  The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act routinely split up families - deliberately keeping husband and wives apart so that there was no possibility of more children coming to the family.  In addition, children were often kept separately from their parents to try to “improve” them and turn them into “better people”.

“Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist


In his novel, Oliver Twist, Dickens carried the major classic Victorian themes of injustice, bleak & brutal poverty and sinister characters. But the often-followed tendency of the time was to paint robbers and thieves as romantic characters and their lives as filled with adventure; living in picturesque caverns and winning the beautiful heroine.  In Oliver Twist, Dickens endeavored to paint a raw reality of the day by creating characters that more accurately  represented the desperate lives that teemed in the back alleys of London.  He aimed to uncover the misery and suffering that pushed so many into lives of crime and fostered the abuse of the innocent.  In short - Dickens meant to convey through his writing, his belief that poverty ultimately leads to crime.

In Dickens’ Preface To The Third Edition, 1841 of Oliver Twist, he said:
“It appeared to me that to draw a knot of such associates in crime as really do exist; to paint them in all their deformity, in all their wretchedness, in all the squalid poverty of their lives; to show them as the really are, for ever skulking uneasily through the dirtiest paths of life, with the great, black, ghastly gallows closing up their prospects, turn them where they may; it appeared to me that to do this, would be to attempt a something which was greatly needed, and which would be a service to society.”


“People like us don't go out at night cause people like them see us for what we are” 
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist


Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is the second read in our new Dickens Detour reading plan. This is a fairly long read so you might pick up a copy and get started. We will be discussing this great book during our Summer Book Lunch to take place on Saturday, July 29th, 2017.



“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” 
~ Charles Dickens





A DICKENS DETOUR

April 2017
The Pickwick Papers 
Published as a Monthly serial
April 1836 to November 1837

July 2017
The Adventures of Oliver Twist
Published as a Monthly serial 
in Bentley’s Miscellany
February 1837 to April 1839

October 2017
The Old Curiosity Shop
Published as a Weekly serial 
in Master Humphrey’s Clock
April 1840 to November 1841

January 2018
Little Dorrit
Published as a Monthly serial
December 1855 to June 1857


Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Dickens Detour - The Pickwick Papers

 

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fictional articles. He gave lectures, was a prolific letter writer and edited a weekly journal for 20 years. Because of his personal experiences in early life he was a dedicated campaigner for children’s rights, education, and social reforms including his stance as an outspoken proponent for copyright law and protection of intellectual property.  But he was most celebrated for his pioneering of the narrative serial novel.
Lawyers hold that there are two kinds of particularly bad witnesses--a reluctant witness, and a too-willing witness. 
~ The Pickwick Papers


Born Charles John Huffam Dickens at No. 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsmouth, England in February of 1812 and the 2nd of 8 children, Dickens was forced to begin work at 12 years old at Warren’s Blacking Factory after his father’s poor head for finances led to his imprisonment for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. These early formative years became a taboo topic for discussion with Charles Dickens but found wonderfully creative expression in each of his literary works.
Many eyes, that have long since been closed in the grave, have looked round upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the gate of the old Marshalsea Prison for the first time: for despair seldom comes with the first severe shock of misfortune. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

At twenty-four years of age Dickens soared to fame both in Britain and internationally with his Pickwick Papers, published in 1836.  Throughout his career it was said that his creativity was rivaled only by Shakespeare.  People from all levels of society could relate to his characters - especially the underprivileged and desperate. Installments of his novels were so eagerly awaited that devoted readers in New York would crowd the docks awaiting ships arriving from England to get their hands on the next release.
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club - or The Pickwick Papers - was published in 19 monthly episodes at the end of the month from March of 1836 until November of 1837.  The first installment became available several days before Dickens married Catherine Hogarth.
A silent look of affection and regard when all other eyes are turned coldly away--the consciousness that we possess the sympathy and affection of one being when all others have deserted us--is a hold, a stay, a comfort, in the deepest affliction, which no wealth could purchase, or power bestow. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Originally Dickens was to provide text to the featured illustrations created by Robert Seymour for the comic adventures of the members of a sporting club, but Dickens redefined the work to be the Pickwick Club, named after founder and president Samuel Pickwick. The Pickwicks set out to explore life and did so on humorous and eventful journeys during which they met many quaint and bizarre characters along the way.
The Pickwick Papers became wildly popular with readers avidly waiting for each installment and Dickens’ fame became assured. There were plagiarized theatrical adaptations that appeared before the series was even completed along with merchandise that included Pickwick cigars, songbooks and china figurines. The first installment sold about 500 copies and sales for the double last installment soared to almost 40,000 copies.
Amidst the success however there were tragedies that beset both Dickens himself and the publications.  Artist Robert Seymour provided illustrations for the first 2 issues but then committed suicide.  It was believed that he was despondent over losing the importance of his first involvement with the project combined with some other setbacks in his life. He was replaced by RW Buss and then Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz).  Dickens’ relationship with Phiz would last for over 23 years.
The second tragedy occurred in May 1937 when Dickens’ beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died suddenly. Mary was 17 years old, lived with Charles and Catherine and was a favorite in their household. The family was devastated and Dickens missed the June installment of Pickwick Papers along with the installment for the second serial novel that he had begun in January of 1837 - Oliver Twist.
"There lives at least one being who can never change--one being who would be content to devote his whole existence to your happiness--who lives but in your eyes--who breathes but in your smiles--who bears the heavy burden of life itself only for you." 
~ The Pickwick Papers

Various themes were dealt with in the Pickwick Papers both serious and comical.  A condition closely related to sleep apnea - Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS) - was originally called Pickwickian Syndrome after a character in the novel with classic symptoms of the condition.  Dickens’ concern for social injustices and inequalities present in his day and time provided many instances in the Pickwick Papers revealing characters commenting on lawyers and the corruption of the legal system.

"Battledore and shuttlecock's a wery good game, vhen you ain't the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin' to be pleasant." 
~ The Pickwick Papers

The characters that Dickens featured in his Pickwick Papers have long remained memorable and beloved.  At its heart The Pickwick Papers is serious in intent but presented with intensively creative comedy.  It is a serious celebration of love and the joy and pleasure of living.
That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath. 
~ The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens is the first read in our new Dickens Detour reading plan. This is a fairly long read so you might pick up a copy and get started. We will be discussing this great book during our Spring Book Lunch to take place on Saturday, April 22nd, 2017.

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” 
~ Charles Dickens







A DICKENS DETOUR

April 2017
The Pickwick Papers 
Published as a Monthly serial
April 1836 to November 1837

July 2017
The Adventures of Oliver Twist
Published as a Monthly serial 
in Bentley’s Miscellany
February 1837 to April 1839

October 2017
The Old Curiosity Shop
Published as a Weekly serial 
in Master Humphrey’s Clock
April 1840 to November 1841

January 2018
Little Dorrit
Published as a Monthly serial

December 1855 to June 1857