I’m trying to read some Christmas stories to get in the mood for the season and I’ve had this book, aptly titled Christmas Stories, waiting for me since I saw O’s postings last year, and I decided to order it immediately. It’s a lovely collection of stories, mostly from classic authors like Dickens, Gogol, Trollope, Tolstoy, Cather, etc. The Story of the Goblins Who Stole the Sexton is the first story in the collection and it goes like this …
“Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
We all know this treasured Christmas story. Scrooge, a cantankerous old bachelor who lives a solitary life and whose sole purpose is to increase his wealth, initially has a vision of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, on his doorknocker. Not one for fancy, Scrooge humbugs his daydream, but when he is visited by Marley’s ghost, which is then succeeded by three other spirits – the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge learns many lessons of what he has lost, what he has become, and his fate if he continues on his selfish and merciless path.
“The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brillancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”
It’s hardly believable but O’s 2 year read-along of the Pickwick Papers has finally come to a close and I have her to thank for finally being able to finish this 800-page marvel. We read it in installments mirroring its original release which was an enlightening experience in itself. Looking back, I enjoyed reading only 2 to 3 chapters at a time, but the space between them, for me, was too long. It’s not that I necessarily forgot what had happened, but I found that when I picked it up again, I was somewhat disengaged with the characters. It was almost like starting a book over and over again and never really getting traction. If I was to do it over, I’d read a chapter per week instead of three at once and that way hopefully remain more present in the story.
|Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons
And the book itself ….. ? I quite enjoyed Mr. Pickwick and his marvellous, and at times unbelievable, adventures. At the beginning of the book, Mr. Pickwick, founder and president of the Pickwick Club, decides that he and fellow members, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman, will leave London and travel the countryside to discover the wonderful qualities of life, each reporting to the others what they find. Their adventures lead them to saving ladies in distress, getting embroiled in circumstances they only want to avoid, courting offers of marriage, unwanted offers of marriage, interaction with criminals, jail and even love itself. Dickens imbues this novel with his own brand of humour by having an old confirmed bachelor find himself in all sorts of uncomfortable circumstances. From finding himself unexpectedly sleeping in a lady’s bed, to being sued for breach of promise of marriage, poor Pickwick finds his dignified sensibilities tried by unexpected challenges yet he always manages to respond in a measured and honourable manner that increased our respect for this lovable character.
|Mr. Pickwick’s first interview
with Sergeant Snubbin
source Wikimedia Commons
In Chapter XVI, Pickwick attempts to catch a swindler, Jingle, who is slipperier than an eel. Jingle plans to run away with an heires and by hiding in the bushes outside the girls’ boarding school, Pickwick attempts to subvert the scheme and expose the criminal. But through various misadventures and bumbles, he manages to find himself locked in a cupboard by the headmistress and the ladies of the establishment. Rescued by Sam Weller, his valet, and his friend, Mr. Wardle, Pickwick rains imprecations upon the head of the absent Jingle.
Even more amusing, was the incident of the mistaken beds. Late at night at an inn, Pickwick returns downstairs to retrieve his watch and upon returning, enters the wrong room! He is just settled into bed when a lady enters and begins her own toilette. Horrified, Pickwick reveals his presence and attempts to assure her of his mistake and innocence, but the woman is frightened senseless, and Pickwick makes a quick exit. Not wanting another repeat of the disturbing and undignified experience, Pickwick plans to sleep in the hall, but is once again rescued by Sam. The novel has so many amusing anecdotes, that is has to be read to enjoy them all. And I finally managed it!
|Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons
At the time of the writing of this first novel, Dickens was working as a roving journalist and a reporter of Parlimentary news. After his successful Sketches by Boz, Dickens was called in to write copy for certain illustrated sporting plates created by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens soon began to write the instalments before the plates were produced, therefore changing the illustrative focus of the project to storytelling and he never looked back. We all know of his illustrious writing career following The Pickwick Papers and I still have to read quite a few Dickens’ novels yet, as I’ve only completed The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Dombey and Son, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and, a long time ago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. So many great novels of his still to go. Perhaps a project for 2018 ……???
O at Behold the Stars is hosting a read-along of The Pickwick Papers beginning March 1, 2016. Now, this is not just any read-along, but a read-along with a twist. We are actually going to be reading along with the same serial publication schedule in which the book was published, which means that this read-along is going to take about a year and a half to finish. Does that sound too long? I challenge you to try it. Not only will you get the real Pickwick Papers experience, it’s not too heavy of a commitment, so it won’t interfere very much with other reads. I’ve also found it beneficial to read a bit of a book and then let it percolate in your mind; you can often get more out of it that way. In any case, I’m really excited about this read-along! Here’s the schedule:
So, if this read-along appeals to you, grab your Pickwick Papers and join us for a realistic reading experience!
“I am Cheap Jack, and my own father’s name was Willum Marigold.”
And so we are introduced to Doctor Marigold, bestowed with such an unusual first name for a Cheap Jack in honour of the doctor who delivered him. I did not imagine him in the appearance of the rather dandified peasant-gypsy looking gentleman on the cover to the left, but I suppose that’s beside the point. In any case, Doctor Marigold, as you know, is a Cheap Jack. For those who don’t know what a Cheap Jack is (I raise my hand), it’s a hawker who deals in bargain merchandise, anything from plates to frying pans to razors to watches to rolling pins and everything in between. Marigold has followed his father’s trade like a good son.
|Doctor Marigold 1868
source Victoria Web
Soon Marigold marries a woman who is not a bad wife by his estimation, but whoa, does she have a temper! She berates and torments her husband, and later beats their daughter, Sophy, while Marigold stands and watches. Why doesn’t he intervene? Because it causes more of a ruckus than observing, and then people suspect that he is beating his wife. Wimp.
Sophy grows up especially attached to her father and fearful of her mother — no kidding. Yet with their vagrant lifestyle, she becomes ill and passes away. One fateful day, the now childless couple come across a mother beating her tearfully pleading daughter, and with a shrill scream his wife tears away and drowns herself in the river. Good riddance.
Lonely Marigold now roams the country alone, until one day he comes across a deaf and dumb child whom he purchases and calls Sophy. They are devoted to each other for years, until, when she reaches sixteen, he decides to have her educated and puts her in an institution for two years. When he returns she is thrilled to see him, but as they resume their lives, he learns that she has acquired a suitor. Old generous Marigold decides he cannot stand in the way of their love —- although Sophy is willing to give it up to stay with her father —- and allows them to marry. The couple then move to China and five or so years later return with Marigold’s granddaughter for a reunion.
source Victoria Web
Again, Dickens is somewhat of a trial to read. On one hand, his stories engage you for being overly maudlin and nauseatingly sentimental but I can never shake the feeling that he seems to think that as long as he uses affected emotional scenes and obscurely clever sentences, he can win adherents with such contrived effort. I find it almost insulting. However, as much as the first part of the story really irritated me, I must admit, I somewhat fell for it in the end. Perhaps Dickens achieved his desired effect after all.
This short story, so far is my least favourite of my Deal Me In Challenges. We’ll see what next week brings.
Deal Me In Challenge #7 – Three of Clubs
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
Dickens was an author who had not appealed to me in my teens so, in an effort to expand my horizons, I began to follow a book group that was reading through his works chronologically. Since joining them, I have been able to read Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, and my most recent read, David Copperfield.
Fatherless, David Copperfield lives with his mother and their spunky and loveable servant, Peggotty, in quiet and amiable bliss. When his mother decides to remarry to an irascible man named Murdstone, David’s life begins an upheaval that catapults him through a variety of circumstances, both beneficial and tragic, each of his decisions mirroring his persistence, bravery, suffering and loyalty, working together to build a quiet character of strength and reliability.
The story is so vast it is impossible to write a summary that would do it justice so let’s examine some of the wonderful characters that Dickens threads throughout the narrative:
Betsy Trotwood, David’s aunt, appears to abandon him and his mother at the beginning of the story, yet when David needs her, she becomes a stabilizing force in his life and an excellent example with her dry wit and generous heart.
|Peggotty & Barkis
by Sol Etyinge Jr. 1867
(source Victorian Web)
Peggotty, his nurse, sees David as her own and often assists him in his endeavours; a cherished substitute mother.
by Frank Reynolds 1910
Mr. Peggotty, her brother, shows unwavering devotion and heart-wrenching unconditional love to his niece, Emily, after her flight with David’s nefarious schoolfriend, Steerforth, and her obvious ruin.
from 1912 edition
Mr. Micawber, a shady, bumbling fellow, appears like an odiferous fragrance throughout David’s life, and while good intentioned, only causes trouble whenever he appears; however he ends up helping to bring about a positive resolution to a quite dire circumstance at the end of the book.
|David falls for Dora
by Frank Reynolds (1910)
Even Dickens’ other female characters were likeable. In many of his novels he recurrently treats the feminine nature as sacchrine, helpless and perfect. It can get very annoying. Yet while Dora is all of these things, somehow Dickens makes her real; this time the characterization is for a purpose and works well within the story. I loved Dora, as well.
Dickens appears to emphasis the idea of constancy and the value of tradition. Copperfield’s childhood home is revisited at a few points in the novel, and his aunt Trotwood, while losing her home when her money is treacherously stolen, regains it again at the conclusion of the story. Loyalty to his friends is paramount for David, and he ensures he maintains lasting relationships with most of them throughout his lifetime. He sees good in everyone, from his child-wife who is clinging and rather dim, to his admired school chum who, while he plummets in David’s esteem after seducing Emily, is still regarded with compassion by David. There is a lasting emphasis on family, familiar houses from his past and the desire to remain close to the people, place and things that have made him who he is.
|The River by Phiz
(source Victorian Web)
David’s Aunt Trotwood wisely states: “We must meet reverses boldly, and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down, Trot!” and throughout the book her words are played out in David’s actions as he perseveres through misfortune, scandal and tragedy to become a devoted husband, a friend of whom anyone would be proud, and a successful writer in his own right.
Claimed to be autobiographical in nature, the novel was clearly dear to Dickens, his words reflecting his affection for it: ” …. like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.” A truly wonderful read!