The Master

Today I finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and thereby finished a long project to read all 17 of Dickens’s novels.

Dickens is for me the essence of the novel.  I admire most of all his genius for character.  A character speaks two sentences, and you feel you know him, and could pick him out of a crowd.  It’s a mysterious skill, akin to the mystery of Shakespeare’s poetic invention.

Reading the novels together, you also get a sense of a complete world, with surprising insights into human nature, and into its most enduring features.  I was repeatedly  amused by the things that had not changed, how some of our news is not really new at all, but recognizable to the reader of fifteen decades ago.  (Random example:  there is a Bernie-Madoff-like character in Little Dorrit — shockingly like our own Madoff, except that he has the decency to feel guilty in the end.)

I’m sad that there is not another discovery before me, another Dickens novel to be read for the first time.  I have seen the arch of his genius, up to the unfinished termination.  Still:  I can always go back to the Pickwick Club, and begin again. 

3 Replies to “The Master”

  1. That’s very impressive that you’ve read all of his novels. It’s motivating me to read more of him. I once tried to do the same thing with Steinbeck, and read most of them. I read them largely in the order they were written, primarily to see his development as a writer and his philosophy. It was an informative and inspiring exercise.

  2. Thanks, Greg. If you go back to Dickens, I’d recommend David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friends as great places to start. I really find him endlessly inspiring. I mean, how did he constantly come up with these permanently-memorable characters, each one unique and a bit eccentric but somehow also real?

    I might try working through Steinbeck, if you recommend it. But I’ve got to work through my Dickens obsession first! I’m reading the short stories now, and the “minor” works, and trying to find copies of his plays.

  3. Thanks for the recommendations, Craig. I might just load one of those up on my Kindle and start in on it. It’s incredible how many of his characters still resonate with us all these decades later. He can be admired on many levels, including his pure writing ability and also the amount of positive change he brought to his society.

    If you decide you need a quick break from Dickens at some point, I’d suggest going with Of Mice and Men; it’s only about 100 pages long and is such a fine example of story construction and, like Dickens, great characterization.

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