Sunday, 15 December 2013

Writing - Why Dickens endures

Illustration of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

The suggested question in the title of today's blog came about because I have found yet another version of 'A Christmas Carol' that I haven't seen before. It is a musical version but whatever, the story line is the same as I suspect is the outcome (it hasn't finished yet). I have also come across 'American Scrooge', 'Scrooged' and The Muppets version. Everyone on the planet must becoming familiar with the story. I wonder if Dickens could let us know what he thinks! It made me wonder why should his writings remain so popular and while wondering that I came across an article by political philosopher John Gray. I enclose some of his thoughts on the matter.

Charles Dickens was a close observer of human nature who found endless interest in the theatre of ordinary life, says John Gray. He then recounts part of the much neglected Dickens story 'The Uncommercial Traveller'

The Uncommercial Traveller. A series of essays he began in 1860 not long after he had written A Tale of Two Cities and just before he started work on Great Expectations, these short, vivid non-fiction pieces were written at a time when he cast himself as above all a wanderer. "I am both a town traveller and a country traveller," he wrote, "and am always on the road. Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great House of Human Interest Brothers, and have a rather large collection in the fancy goods way." The stories he tells are Dickens's fancy goods, picked up while he tramped the streets.
One of the essays, Night Walks, records how he found an answer to insomnia by roaming about London, along the river, past workhouses, prisons, asylums and empty churches, returning only at daybreak. Dickens' solitary walks may have been an escape from his life at the time, which included chronic overwork, illness and death in his family and a secret relationship with a young actress, but the pieces he wrote about his wanderings reveal something enduring about the writer and the man.

Dickens enjoyed human beings as he found them, unregenerate, peculiar and incorrigibly themselves. He has been often criticised because his characters are so grotesquely exaggerated. Miserly Mr Scrooge and the boozy Mrs Gamp, ever-optimistic Mr Micawber and the faded Miss Havisham are theatrical figures, it is said, rather than plausible personalities. But the stagy quality of Dickens' characters is what makes them so humanly believable. Travelling theatres were part of the street life he had known as a child. Showing emotions being fully acted out, these street theatres revealed human beings as they feel themselves to be—creatures ruled by their sensations. It was natural for Dickens to present his characters as figures on a stage. He was himself a travelling performer, acting out his characters in readings of his books in hugely popular tours across Britain and America.

For Dickens life was a theatre of the absurd, but that was no reason to be down-hearted. For him this world was enough, and he was able to find unending interest and delight in the stories that are played out on the human stage. That's why Dickens is still so close to us, and always will be.

I quite like John Gray's summation of the enduring nature of Dickens. I would only add that the characters he created were, and still are, consistently well formed and probably based on people the great man had come across on his travels. It comes back to that much used piece of advice - write from where you're are!

As I have said a number of times before, not all of Dickens works are great. Like all writers we have our good days and bad days and I believe that when you write something that doesn't satisfy you then discard it or put it away, don't re-work it because the chances are that you won't achieve your best quality, and there is so much more still to write.
Whatever, if you are not familiar with Dickens I suggest A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Pickwick Papers as a starting point.

Thanks to Caleb Pirtle III and Stephen Woodfin for featuring my latest book on their Author's Showcase. The link is below. (You may have to copy and paste)

I have received some great feedback on this story. One comment just today was that one of my proof readers, I have two and they are willing volunteers, felt suicidal after she'd read it! No it's not that bad it just took her to places she didn't expect and it wasn't a 'happily ever after' scenario!
Try it yourselves. It's available on Amazon Kindle and It should be available from all major retailers. There are paperback versions available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.

God Bless