Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In Jane Smiley's short, good biography of Charles Dickens, the single most useful part for me was when she write that it would be inappropriate from her to use a modern classification that didn't exist at the time and call Dickens manic-depressive.

What was useful for me is that she got the manic depressive idea in there.

Dickens is good, but he is a very bumpy read. So very one mood on one page and then a page later so very another mood. So realiitic feeling, even at this late date, on one page and so sentimental and corny seeming a paragraph or two later.

And, as his contemporary George Eliot pointed out, so much better at the outsides of things than the insides of people. He will describe some place, the Old Curiosity Shop, say, in detail that makes it realler as I read it than many places I've actually been. Then he describes Nell, who is beautiful and perfect and her grandfather who is a good person and a gambling addict and they are too simple to believe in when I pick up my eyes for a second and get away from Dickens' voice and his intense need to believe in his characters.

Dickens might have been better at things than people because there was a lot about himself that he didn't want to know or didn't know how to know. He just got it out by writing intensely and with what seems from here very differing quality.

Going from the detailed description of the Old Curiosity Shop at the beginning of the novel named that to the description of the two people in the Old Curiosity Shop is like falling off a cliff. The shop and its many objects, the people less textured than many cartoon character.


Nell, who is a child, is beautiful and good. Her grandfather loves her but is flawed.

He loses the store because he borrows money on it and gambles it away. The guy he borrows money from is evil, and otherwise unmotivated. Long after all money is gone and Nell and the grandfather are wandering around England, the evil guy follows them to harass them though he has not motivation.

Since Nell is beautiful, his motivation could be some kind of sexual obsession, but that absolutely isn't there. Dickens also in this book creates a world in which there is much poverty but no prostitution. The whole world has to be without prostitution to protect Nell, who is beautiful and has a gambling addict grandfather from a rather obvious outcome in a world with prostitution.

It's not that Dickens never has prostitution. If you read "Oliver Twist" with the knowledge that prostitution is something that exists, it is fairly obvious that Nancy is a prostitution and Bill Sykes is a mean guy who lives off her earnings, while also doing other bad things. If you don't know that prostitution exists, reading "Oliver Twist" probably wouldn't clue you in, but it's there.

In the "Old Curiosity Shop," with Nell's beauty and her grandfather's intense gambling emphasized again and again, prostition doesn't exist.

Nell seems like some missing part of Dickens he is trying to reach out to through intensity.