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.