QotD: Paid-by-the-Chapter Edition

I have never liked Dickens. Well, that’s probably not fair — I never met the guy, but then I never met Samuel Johnson either, and that hasn’t quelled my affection. But I do not like — and never have liked — his novels. Yes, I know, social import, memorable characters that have become art of the cultural inheritance, insight into the passions of the common readers of the era, voice for reform, blah, rah, woof.

No dice. I won’t say his work is spinach, but I won’t put it above lima beans. He, and the 19th-C. novelists in general (excluding Twain and sometimes Scott, and I guess MacDonald, though I prefer his shorter stuff — Hardy doesn’t count, as I think of him as ahead of his time.) just bore the heck out of me. I find Dickens insufferably prolix and hamhanded, and remember that I’m saying this as someone who likes Paradise Lost. I normally just say that it’s far too obvious he was paid by the chapter and could have used a stern editor.

All this came to mind a couple of days ago as I was having lunch with a former student who is gearing up for his Ph.D. comprehensive exams (the step before the drive to the dissertation.) He’s in the process of becoming a Victorianist, and he mentioned that he and a few of his classmates have formed a reading circle — this week, they’re doing Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? I offered my condolences, but I guess it’s an occupational hazard.

(As an aside, my distaste for this stuff didn’t stop me from using Fagin as the subject of an essay on the AP exam 31 years back. I was rhetorically savvy enough to know that my disdain for Dickens wouldn’t cut much ice with the graders. Hurrah for the canon.)

Well, my dislike for the original Chuck D. popped up again today, when I turned to James Lileks’s daily Bleat. He’s listening to an audiobook version of Edwin Drood, and offers the following, which is QotD material:

[T]here’s something about those 19th century novels that just wears on the heart like a dull stone pressing against a ventricle. The courtship rituals are tiresome and boring. All these protestations and fluttery words and fevered attempts to hold someone’s right pinky-finger. The conversations between anyone of the same class seem to take as their motto that one word shall not suffice when 75 may do, and the general effect is like being smothered with fresh bread.

And what are you reading this weekend? Me, I’m taking a crack at The Blue Star, by Fletcher Pratt. I’ll let you know what I think… eventually. In the meantime, here’s a song from a Detroit band named after Mr. Pratt:

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to QotD: Paid-by-the-Chapter Edition

  1. dave.s. says:

    Terry Teachout’s been larding his blog with Trollope quotes. They’re not bad, and he did the work of finding them.

  2. Jerome Scott says:

    It’s all good. I still hate KISS.

  3. Andrew Stevens says:

    I’m not a fan of Dickens either, but I think you’re being too hard on the 19th century novel. Consider 19th century genre fiction, for example. Not only did it lay the groundwork for everything that came after, but in many cases, it hasn’t been equaled or surpassed yet either. I’m thinking of Poe, Wells, Verne, Shelley, Stoker, Carroll, Baum, Doyle, Stevenson, even Wilde (okay, I’m actually not a big fan of Dorian Gray so perhaps I’m overrating his skill as a novelist because of his skill as a playwright). I also think you should at least deal with Austen, Melville, and Hawthorne, all of whom I’d be willing to defend.

    As for what I’m reading this weekend, curiously it’s Ivanhoe, but I see you gave its author a partial pass above.

  4. Kate P says:

    Yup. In 9th grade, I was the only kid who aced the vocab quiz one week and was exempted from being tested on the middle section of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. So I didn’t read it, and I found that I had no problem picking up the story farther down the line!

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