The Demon of Delightfulness
May 24, 2007 9:47 PM   Subscribe

An informative, gossipy and surprisingly engaging 6-page exploration of the life of Charles Dickens, including his up-and-down relationship with the U.S. press, his inexcusable behavior during his messy and very public separation from his wife, the "histrionic flair" of his performance career, and, of course, his works, including the one George Bernard Shaw called "a more seditious book than Das Kapital." Lots of interesting images, too.
posted by mediareport (17 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by mediareport at 9:50 PM on May 24, 2007

"I must fain confess that with the years I have lost much of my youthful admiration for Dickens. In saying so, it seems a little as if one were willfully heretic; but the truth must prevail. I don't know where it is exactly, but I cannot laugh and cry with him as I was wont. I seem to see all the machinery of the business too clearly, the effort is too patent. The true and lasting genius of humour does not drag you thus to boxes labelled 'pathos,' 'humour,' and show you all the mechanism of the inimitable puppets that are going to perform. How I used to laugh at Simon Tapperwit, and the Wellers, and a host more! But I can't do it now somehow; and time, it seems to me, is the true test of humour. It must be antiseptic."
- Mark Twain
posted by Roman Graves at 9:56 PM on May 24, 2007

Yeah, well, Twain hated Jane Austen, too. He could be a real stupid dick sometimes. :)
posted by mediareport at 9:57 PM on May 24, 2007

This was a time when the novel (and fiction in general) was developing. Tastes and styles were changing with enormous rapidity. What seemed new in 1860 seemed hokey and contrived to readers in 1880.

It's easy to forget that Dickens, Stowe, and (especially, above all) Austen were much more innovative in their time than they seem now.

Twain put down almost everyone, though. He had a horrendous temper and would fly into rages over the least thing. He did tolerate his neighbour Harriet Beecher Stowe, though, especially after she became what was called "feeble" back then. She had Alzheimer's and would wander into his house, the cottage where he wrote, etc. not having a clue where she was; Twain would find someone to take her back.
posted by watsondog at 10:07 PM on May 24, 2007

I don't think anything in the quote, or any others, indicates he hated Dickens. He just became disappointed.

Now Austen...hated.
posted by Roman Graves at 10:46 PM on May 24, 2007

Ah yes - Charles Dickens. The original Metallica. Always banging on about how the Americans were stealing his work. How important international copyright was. How poor he was. How he was "Bankrupt"
posted by seanyboy at 12:42 AM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Robert Graves (any relation, Roman?) was so irked by Dickens that he completely rewrote David Copperfield. Start to finish, same story, different words. And then he published it, under the title 'The Real David Copperfield'.

Graves and Twain are two writers who can make me forget just about anything. It's odd that they should both have been so wrong about Dickens.
posted by MinPin at 12:46 AM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've always had the sneaking suspicion that Dickens was overrated.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:51 AM on May 25, 2007

Great writes have to slag other great writers. It's how the operate.

/channeling Harold Bloom
posted by bardic at 1:57 AM on May 25, 2007

they even
posted by bardic at 2:31 AM on May 25, 2007

I've always had the sneaking suspicion that Dickens was overrated.

One always suspects Dickens is overrated, until one re-reads the son-of-a-bitch. His wit, energy and verbal genius are overwhelming and undeniable. So is the frequent padding, aimlessness, bathos, and flabby plotting. But "Great Expectations" (or "Great Expectorations" as we used to call it as school) puts all the virtues together into a nice, tight form. Anyone as prolific as Dickens or Twain, produces a lot of crap along with the good stuff.

As regards this site: It's too bad they didn't make it easily printable.
posted by Faze at 4:25 AM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

A friend of the family had taken him to look at the outside of St. Giles's Church with the hope of quenching a fantastical notion that had taken hold of him: young Dickens was convinced that on Sundays, the beggars of London, having cast off their weekday pretenses to blindness, lameness and other physical maladies, and freshly attired in their holiday best, were to be seen marching into the temple of their patron saint, where they would then partake of divine service.




posted by ND¢ at 6:07 AM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this. I just devoured it and remembered how much I love Dickens. I have just decided that this is to be the summer of Dickens - I'll read or re-read as many of his works as I can. I think Terry Pratchett will make a nice palate-cleanser between books.
posted by Biblio at 7:17 AM on May 25, 2007

Count me in as one of the people who still enjoy rereading Dickens. Yes, some of it can be viewed as formulaic...especially after 100+ years of writers have used the formula, but his dance with words was till an exhilarating romp with the language. It rolls off the tongue, trippingly ripples through the's good fun.
posted by dejah420 at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2007

Count me as a Dickens dissenter, and I think some of y'all are being a bit harsh on Mr. Clemens (though I recognize some playful banter there, too). To be fair, I should perhaps pick up some Dickens again, as it has been some time, but I refuse to make it A Christmas Carol. I welcome recommendations.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:13 PM on May 25, 2007

Ah, the inexcusable behaviour!

Story goes that his friend Thackeray was walking into the Garrick club and overheard that Dickens had left his wife because of he was having an affair with Georgina Hogarth. Not a word of truth to it, says Thackeray indignantly. It's with an actress.

Thus endeth the friendship.

(Well, okay, there was one more incident, but the story's not as funny. Mind you, Thackeray was far and away the more decent man. You want a life that demonstrates cheerfulness in the face of repeated adversity, go no further.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:07 PM on May 25, 2007

I think some of y'all are being a bit harsh on Mr. Clemens

Ah, I'll love him forever, for Letters From Earth alone, if nothing else. But, honestly, I'll never forgive him for ruining Huck Finn by bringing Tom Sawyer back into the story at the end. I know he'd been stuck and set it aside for years, but that was Just an awful, awful decision that completely wrecks the arc of what could have been one of the finest books ever written about a young American coming of age.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 PM on May 25, 2007

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