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Claire

Who loves Dickens?

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I know that Dickens is one of the big names of English literature and all that - but whenever he comes up in conversation the only response I hear is people saying, "I know he's supposed to be good.....but I find him really, really hard going"

 

I'd love to hear from those who do genuinely enjoy reading him. What are the rest of us missing out on? Why is he such a good read?

 

Have tastes changed, so he's temporarily out of favour? Anyone else struggle with him?

 

I tend to get stuck after a couple of pages and give up, I'm afraid. Though somehow, I made it all the way through "Great Expectations" and I really enjoyed it - especially the first half with the convict and the moorland and the grave yard. It was wonderful stuff - so why do I struggle with the rest of his novels so much?

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I enjoy Dickens, and have done since I was a teenager. These days, I try and read or re-read at least one Dickens novel every year or so. This year's selection is going to be Our Mutual Friend, which I haven't read before.

 

You're right - they can be hard going. I remember the first time I tried to read Bleak House, it took me months. I only persevered because it was a set text for SYS English. But I've read it voluntarily since, several times, and even enjoyed it. Part of the problem is, I think that they were written for people who had a lot more time on their hands for long books, or who were reading it as a serial - one issue a month for something like 18 months.

 

Why not try one of the shorter ones? Oliver Twist say, and Nicholas Nickleby's a good one too.

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I know that Dickens is one of the big names of English literature and all that - but whenever he comes up in conversation the only response I hear is people saying, "I know he's supposed to be good.....but I find him really, really hard going"

 

I'd love to hear from those who do genuinely enjoy reading him. What are the rest of us missing out on? Why is he such a good read?

 

Have tastes changed, so he's temporarily out of favour? Anyone else struggle with him?

 

I tend to get stuck after a couple of pages and give up, I'm afraid. Though somehow, I made it all the way through "Great Expectations" and I really enjoyed it - especially the first half with the convict and the moorland and the grave yard. It was wonderful stuff - so why do I struggle with the rest of his novels so much?

 

 

I loved Dickens between 1998 and 2003! That is, between reading one of his novels for the first time and having to seriously study lots of them for the first time... I'm just getting to a 'place' where I can think about picking up David Copperfield (my favourite) again without having cold sweats and flash backs to some rather traumatic seminars!

 

My opinion is that the unsayable truth is that Dickens' novel openings are rubbish (apart from Great Expectations and David Copperfield), and you really have to get over the hump of chapter 3 before you feel like you're getting anywhere. Its a bit like Big Brother (sorry, I'm very good at making mental associations between inappropriate things...), the first 3 weeks are usually rubbish. I wonder if the best way to read them is in short installments, as they were written to be read. There is a new BBC adaptation of Bleak House which will be shown in short segments, to try to imitate the original:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/3333511.stm.

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Claire, I know exactly what you mean. I have to confess that I have never read a Dickens! The only one I ever attempted was Tale of Two Cities when I was at school.

 

I really couldn't get into it, and must say it is the only book that I never finished when studying O and A-level English. How I managed to write any essays about it, I am not sure. (I had never been interested in Jane Austen until I read Mansfield Park for A-Level. I initially struggled with it, and now Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors that I frequently re-read.)

 

He is one of those authors that I feel very guilty that I haven't read. Is there an "easy" Dickens book to start with?

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He is one of those authors that I feel very guilty that I haven't read. Is there an "easy" Dickens book to start with?

 

I'd maybe go for Great Expectations, as the story really grabs you (well, it did me!) from page 1. Any other ideas? Must spread the word...

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I can't honestly say 'I love Dickens', as it's years since I read any.

 

I used to enjoy his books very much at one time, so much so that many years ago I treated myself to a set of the complete works; 35 Centennial Edition hardback volumes in green leather (or leather-look) with 'gold' tooling.

 

Unfortunately, they were so beautiful that I didn't want to handle them and make them scruffy, so I've never read them :o , but because I had the lot at home I've never gone out and borrowed any, or bought them in paperback so that I could actually read them...how daft is that?

 

Anyway, as a suggested Dickens 'taster', how about one or two of his Christmas books? 'A Christmas Carol', of course, or 'The Chimes', or 'The Cricket On The Hearth'. All nice and short :P

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I feel that I can write as a Dickens lover, having just finished re-reading Chuzzlewit (which is not one of the better ones). I agree with 'Romance Obsessed' upthread that the opening chapters can be a problem - he tends to weigh in with a mock-florid comedic style which doesn't go well with those used to modern literature. Once the story gets going and the characters are established you're well away - and you find yourself thinking in Dickensian prose, which is fun.

Anyway, I'd recommend 'David Copperfield' for beginners - a reasonably homely story with wonderful characters and the sentiment somewhat better-judged than some of the others.

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I read Bleak House at school for my A' levels many years ago and I really enjoyed it but I have only read a couple of others since. They are on my reading list for when I have finished my degree and don't have to spend as much time reading text books (yawn). I think they are the kinds of books that I would like to read in the winter, tucked up cosy in front of the fire.

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Is there an "easy" Dickens book to start with?

 

I would definitely go with Great Expectations - it really is a fantastic book and if you kind of 'forget' that it is Dickens you might not have the weight of expecting to find it hard, complex or heavy. I do like Dickens, but it was Great Expectations that got me into him and I find with Dickens you really have to submerge yourself into the plot and characters like no other books, to get the most out of them.

 

Give GE a go and enjoy it!

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I struggle with Dickens as well and I always think he is someone I should read as he is such a big influence over other writers.

 

I recently found a Dickens Reader in a charity shop which is wonderful. I think it a 1950s schoolbook that has extracts only from some of Dickens' books along with some comments about the storyline. I read the chapter on The Pickwick Papers and found it really funny, but when I tried to read the full version I came unstuck.

 

My opinion is that the unsayable truth is that Dickens' novel openings are rubbish (apart from Great Expectations and David Copperfield), and you really have to get over the hump of chapter 3 before you feel like you're getting anywhere.

 

I'm really glad you said this Romance Obssessed, I think I will have to go back and re-visit, see if I like the books any better after Chapter 3!

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Since Claire started this thread I have been reading 'The Chimes', as a respite from 'The Magical Maze', (the current BGO Book Group choice).

 

It is years since I read any Dickens, and I am rediscovering the reason I have enjoyed reading him in the past. That is, the depth of his writing, achieved by the layering of his descriptions and his wonderful use of simile and metaphor. His characters stand before you in three dimensions, and you see both their physical attributes and their personalities .

 

However, I think it is the richness of his prose that gives the modern reader problems with his books. With a TV trained, golfish-like attention span it is difficult to get to the end of his interminable sentences! :D

 

I am finding that by the time I have worked my way through the maze of clauses and sub-clauses to the end of a sentence I have forgotten how it started :o

 

Some of this will be due to failing memory because of my advancing years, and some to reading it in bed, but mostly, I think it is because i have been reading fast-paced 'get on with the action' modern novels almost exclusively for the past 10 years or so.

 

I wonder if I have lost the ability to really enjoy reading Dickens?

 

Are there any unabridged audio versions of his books available? I could 'hear' the words in my head as I read (in the voice of Simon Callow, he seems to have made that part his own!). It would be so much easier if someone else had sorted out those sentences first.

 

As a further thought, perhaps if we got some proper instruction in grammar, punctuation and sentence construction in school we would find Dickens' prose less of an obstacle course!

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Are there any unabridged audio versions of his books available? I could 'hear' the words in my head as I read (in the voice of Simon Callow, he seems to have made that part his own!). It would be so much easier if someone else had sorted out those sentences first.

My boyfriend never reads fiction (his name on here is 'Nonfictionreader' - says it all really!) but while he was doing his finals last year I thought he could do with some relief so I bought him an audio book of Great Expectations which he loved. I'm sure there were loads of different books available...

 

I can't vouch for it myself as I can't concentrate on audio books, my mind tends to wander if I'm not being stimulated visually as well!

 

On DIckens in general, I think what Romance Obsessed says about the first 3 chapters definitely rings true. I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop just now, and have been for ages as I keep picking up other things and reading them instead! HOwever I'm now on chapter.....hmmm well I just checked and I'm on chapter 16 and have only just started getting into it....maybe it takes a little longer with some books!

 

Think he's worth reading though, just hard to get into initially. I think it's a matter of getting used to the complexity of his language as well though, and that could be partly why you only start getting into it after a few chapters, not necessarily that his opening chapters are that bad....

 

My favourite's Bleak House so far, although I'm not sure how that's happend as I had to read it in the space of a week (while doing a part time job and attending lecturess) for uni. I finished it and broke down in tears of exhaustion! Have since re-read it though and loved it. Sorry I'm making no sense on here, I'm just typing as I think so sorry this is so garbled. It's too hot to concentrate properly. :o

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My boyfriend never reads fiction (his name on here is 'Nonfictionreader' - says it all really!) but while he was doing his finals last year I thought he could do with some relief so I bought him an audio book of Great Expectations which he loved. I'm sure there were loads of different books available...

 

I can't vouch for it myself as I can't concentrate on audio books, my mind tends to wander if I'm not being stimulated visually as well!

 

On DIckens in general, I think what Romance Obsessed says about the first 3 chapters definitely rings true. I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop just now, and have been for ages as I keep picking up other things and reading them instead! HOwever I'm now on chapter.....hmmm well I just checked and I'm on chapter 16 and have only just started getting into it....maybe it takes a little longer with some books!

 

Think he's worth reading though, just hard to get into initially. I think it's a matter of getting used to the complexity of his language as well though, and that could be partly why you only start getting into it after a few chapters, not necessarily that his opening chapters are that bad....

 

My favourite's Bleak House so far, although I'm not sure how that's happend as I had to read it in the space of a week (while doing a part time job and attending lecturess) for uni. I finished it and broke down in tears of exhaustion! Have since re-read it though and loved it. Sorry I'm making no sense on here, I'm just typing as I think so sorry this is so garbled. It's too hot to concentrate properly. :o

 

LOL, my boyfriend should have got that name too! He always has his head in a book about flowers or grasses. I got him to read 'Little House in the Big Woods' by saying it was 'about sustainability' but he gave up half way through!:rolleyes:

 

Ahem, back to Dickens, I hope the 'three chapters and you're in' thing works for you, I'd be interested to see if it works!

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I love Dickens - Nicholas Nickleby is my favourit book. The way he uses language and the surreal names and charicatures are fantastic in his classics. I re-read Christmas Carol every December. The 1 book I did not like was A Tale of Two Cities

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I think the names are one of the things I struggle with, to be honest. To me, it makes the characters seem like characatures, rather than more "real" portrayals, so I find it harder to take them and their doings seriously. I guess it comes down to personal preference.

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Have just picked up my first Dickens - 'A Christmas Carol' I'm up to the Ghost of Christmas Present and enjoying it so far.

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I have just finished 'The Chimes'. It was possibly not the best story with which to re-acquaint myself with Dickens, as there is a long section in the middle where the 'hero' is shown various scenes of a possible future (based on his own gloomy prognostications)...or maybe it is an indigestion-induced nightmare? :rolleyes:

 

'The Chimes' was Dickens' Christmas offering for the year following the popular tale of 'A Christmas Carol', and I think he got carried away with the idea of a visitation from spirits revealing a dire future, and bringing about a repentence in his central character. It worked well in 'A C.C.', but I found it quite tedious in 'The Chimes' :(

 

There was enough story either side of the ghosty bit to remind me of the things I enjoyed about Dickens, so I won't let it put me off trying more. :P

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I had to read Great Expectations for my coursework for English Literature. I was excited about this as I felt that I would enjoy it. However I found the 2nd half of the book extremely hard to get into and had to force myself to finish the book. For my coursework we only had to focus on the chapters with Miss Havisham in it but next year I will have to study the whole book in depth and I am dreading it.

 

I will however read other Dickens books as he is an author that I would like to enjoy. Has anyone any suggestions about which one to start with?

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Dickens is great in which to immerse oneself - he remains one of this country's finest, most evocative and darkly-satirical novelists 150-or-so years on. The murky characters are caricatures - there's no question about that. They function in the same way as those from a Hogarth painting, so if you feel horror, dread or even revulsion, then they've succeeded...

 

(To start? Hmm, perhaps 'The Old Curiosity Shop'..?)

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Hazel, I have taken you up on the recommendation and bought my first Dickens novel! Great Expectations came home with me on Saturday and is next on my list to read once I have finished My Sister's Keeper (don't think that will take me too long).

 

I will let you know what I think :)

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Dickens truly is a giant among our novelists and was the first 'classic' writer I came to when I was doing O-Levels (Blimey - makes me sound ancient. O-Levels went out with the Old Queen didn't they, Gawd Bless 'Er). He electrified me then with what I first saw to be possible with the novel, but I fear that is also part of what makes him difficult today.

 

The biggest obstacle is of course the language and complexity, as has been well outlined already in this thread, but it is also the whole nature of the concept. We are used today to a naturalistic approach to writing; even if it is more fanciful it is 'magic realism' and so grounded firmly in the familiar with aspects that diverge in a given fashion. Dickens' whole novelistic fabric is constructed in such a way that it inhabits a unique territory, suspended midway between reality and the imagination. This is most obviously apparent in the names: Mr M'Choakumchild, the Veneerings, Wackford Squeers - we're in little doubt what these people are like before we read anything else about them. Often you find there are more of these significant names than you imagine; take the frequently mentioned Great Expectations and Estella (from 'stella', meaning 'star': cold, bright, entrancing but untouchable) or Miss Havisham (having is a sham - her wealth brings her nothing). Follow this line through to the incredible density of interconnections between seemingly unconnected characters and events or the enormous contrivance of some of the situations and you find a novelistic landscape that is a little alien to us today. Yet it's this very aspect that appeals to me, seemingly making the most of the possibilities of the novel, since it exists within the mind.

 

I love his linguistic ingenuity and he has the most incredible sense of humour. That is part of the difficulty again because since we are not Victorians we can sometimes think the verbose sections merely reflect the language use of the time. On the contrary, he knows very well that it is being a little pompous to write about drinking "a hot infusion of oriental leaves" i.e. a cup of tea, but that's part of the fun and helps create his sardonic tone.

 

The plots are brilliant and many argue for Bleak House as the world's first detective novel, although that is only one strand of a very complex book.

 

There are, to be fair, plenty of weaknesses, not least his portrayal of leading female characters, who tend to be idealised - a psychological hangover from the death of his sister-in-law who died in her teens and for whom he had dubiously strong feelings.

 

It is Dickens' darker characters that fascinate me, however. He was obsessively interested in the more unsettling regions of the human psyche and loved to explore them in his novels. Many nights he would spend walking the streets of London to observe the capital's less savoury inhabitants - read the opening of The Old Curiosity Shop, with its own monster, Quilp, to see the narrator's comments on this activity: quite revealing!

 

The arc of novels over his career do seem to grow in this fascination. The Pickwick Papers, his first novel, is very light and bubbly, the darkness only seeping through in little stories along the way that have nothing to do with the main narrative. His final completed novel, though, Our Mutual Friend, hovers a great deal in the darkness and even a lot of the comedy is black or grotesque. Perhaps that's why it's one of my favourites! (Can I keep typing just a little longer, Doctor, or is it time for the jacket yet?)

 

I can't improve on the recommended books so far. Expectations and Copperfield are good starters, though for a very brief intro you could try the classic ghost story 'The Signalman' (nothing like A Christmas Carol!) Critically, the two greatest of his novels are generally agreed to be Expectations and Bleak House.

 

An interesting comparison would then be to read Thackeray's Vanity Fair, which is another biting Victorian anatomisation of society. Thackeray couldn't stand Dickens, so see which you think is the better and set the other spinning in his literary grave.

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I like Dickens and have read quite a few, it's true you have to grit your teeth for the first 100 pages, but once you know all the characters it takes off.

 

You know that at the end everyone is going to turn out to be related to each other, but it is a wild ride along the way. Since the books are 500 pages or more it is worth the effort.

 

He is more straight-forward with language, not as pretty prose as a number of the other 19th century English writers.

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Dickens is the greatest novelist for me. I used to treat myself to a re-read of one of them every holiday, but I've read them all so many times now I'm giving them a rest. I think they cover such a wide range of emotions - something for every occasion! Pickwick Papers makes me laugh aloud. Mr Pickwick struggling with his wayward horse may not be the most sophisticated humour, but it always works for me! On the other hand, Dickens also makes me cry. The death of Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son is obvious and sentimental, but it works (the imagery of the sea while Paul gently slips away is really poignant)! I can always understand Dickens' methods, and yet they are still effective. There's also an incredibly powerful suicide scene in Little Dorrit - a scene that always reminds me of a similar section in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (and I seem to recall that Dostoevsky was a great fan of Dickens - or was it the other way round?) It's perhaps the vividness of these individual scenes that are most compelling for me. And as for Our Mutual Friend - the dark and damp of the Thames scenes is recreated by Dickens with great skill - people who make their living from pulling dead bodies from the water - and the tragic intensity of a character like Bradley Headstone who becomes more and more lunatic as the novel progresses is incredible. This really is one of the greats. And the lesser known are equally good. Barnaby Rudge is a neglected but entertaining story set in the Gordon riots. Dickens' style is not always easy for a modern reader, but the more you read, the easier it gets - and it's worth the effort.

 

So, Dickens is funny, sad, humane, compassionate. He has an eye for the grotesque and the unusual, he sees beyond the surface of a stolid Victorian social world and pokes fun at it, sometimes gently, sometimes with biting ferocity. He looks at the whole of the social spectrum with equal penetration and, in particular, makes the working classes a due subject for literature. I think his own troubled life is reflected in his fiction which makes him, for me, so much more interesting than Austen. I like and respect Austen - but I love Dickens.

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I've not read much Dickens and like others here, I do feel like I should. I have read and loved Great Expectations, failed utterly with Dombey and Son, and I've had a bookmark a third of the way through Oliver Twist since 1997! I AM going to finish it, if only because seeing it at the theatre as a child is one of my most poignant memories.

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I've always struggled with Dickens (and have never got any further than about page 3 with Great Expectations). I do remember reading Pickwick Papers and enjoying that when I was at school though. I found it the easiest to get into of all the Dickens I have tried.

 

I may have read Tale of Two Cities too, but I can't quite remember!

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