I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
Charles Dickens – G. K. Chesterton, 1906
In 1906, novelist and man of letters Chesterton rehabbed Dickens’ fallen stock with this biography and overview of literary works. So much so that a publisher asked Chesterton to write prefaces for each of the 24 volumes to be published. So, don’t confuse this book, the literary biography, with the collection of prefaces, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens.
I enjoyed Chesterton’s insights into Dickens’ writing. He said interesting things about Dickens in the United States and the so-called optimism of Dickens. He’s spot on, for example, when he says we readers remember characters and episodes rather than plots, Like many conservatives such as Trollope and Logan Clendening, Chesterton prefers the earlier funny novels to the more serious and socially mined later novels. The only drawback to this book is the style. It relies heavily on paradox. The word play makes the reader imagine sometimes, Is he kidding? For instance: “It must have been genuinely entertaining to be married to Mr. Quilp.”
And, of course, we have the pleasure of post-moderns looking down on writers of the past. He makes of list of writers that will survive: Dickens, Bulwer Lytton, Thackeray, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot. And says:
Forty years or more have passed and some of them have slipped to a lower place. Some would now say that the highest platform is left to Thackeray and Dickens; some to Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot; some to Dickens, Thackeray, and Charlotte Brontë. I venture to offer the proposition that when more years have passed and more weeding has been effected, Dickens will dominate the whole England of the nineteenth century; he will be left on that platform alone.
Goodness, the dangers of prediction. Bulwer Lytton is now known as the writer of
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
And where is Tony Trollope in his bicentennial year? Being read more than Thackeray (but does anybody ready anything other than Vanity Fair?).
Readers into both Dickens and Chesterton should read this work of appreciation.