Charles Dickens was a 19th century British writer - he would say English writer, I'm sure - who mostly wrote about life in the early part of that century. He wrote fiction, to be sure, but fiction that was set against the background of the reality of the times in which he lived. One can learn a lot about what life was like for those who lived back then by reading Dickens' descriptions - descriptions of the sometimes squalid lives of the poor or common people of the first part of that century.
I have loved reading since I was a child. I can't remember a time when I wasn't reading some book or other, and I can't remember when I first discovered Charles Dickens. I remember studying David Copperfield as a requirement in school, but that wasn't the first.
Like many others in this age of instant communication, I have fallen into the lazy trap of watching "books" in the cinema, or on TV. For example, every Christmas I watch the TV versions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with the Alastair Sim version being my favorite I think. After many times of watching it, one gets to almost be able to say the dialog by heart.
Although I watch it on TV every Christmas, in its many renditions, it has been years and years since I actually read the words Charles Dickens wrote. I did dig it out the other day and began reading it, and was immediately reminded of how the movie versions don't do Dickens' writing justice. If you have been guilty of this lazy habit of watching instead of reading, I would recommend you pick up the book again.
What makes an author successful? Famous? We've talked about what makes certain books "classics," but, in my mind, it is almost totally the author's powers of description that make him good, great, or classically great. Of course, one needs an interesting story to begin with, but the telling of that story will determine mediocrity or greatness, in my opinion. Nobody describes better than Charles Dickens.
When I was a child, I always read books far over my head, so to speak. Books written for children never interested me. Of course that meant I needed to always have a dictionary nearby, and it had to be used with nearly every paragraph. Today, I am older and perhaps even wiser, but I still need my dictionary when I read Dickens. I don't mind.
We all know the story of Dickens' A Christmas Carol by heart. It is the story of the meaning of Christmas and how an old man lost his way by forgetting what life is really all about. And then, as Paul Simon might say, he was given another shot at redemption.
To watch the old story unfold on TV is one thing. But to read Dickens describe the story, well... that is something else again.
Part of the reason I still need my dictionary to read Dickens in the flesh is because the story was written a long time ago and people spoke differently in the 19th century. Another reason is because Dickens was British and used British phrases and idioms, some foreign to an American eye. But, mainly, I need a dictionary because Dickens' vocabulary is simply so much more extensive than mine.
I know some of you reading this are also analysts, and I know some of you are also interested in literature. As I began reading A Christmas Carol, and looking up words, just as I had done as a child, and trying to sort out his underlying meanings, it occurred to me that perhaps you would enjoy doing some of that right along with me. If so, what follows might even be a little bit fun for some of you. Let's do some together.
Stave I: Marley's Ghost