Thursday, January 21, 2010

What the Dickens?

In the course researching some new passages for my WIP, I've been reading the letters from Charles Dickens. While I can recite the majority of Jane Austen's books backwards and forwards and know her life story by heart, I know relatively little about Charles Dickens. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've actually never read a Dickens novel in full. I'm not sure why that is. I think I've always assumed they would be dry or boring or hard to read. I think that might be the assessment of the average person when presented with a novel by an author in Victorian England. (I should clarify that I'm sure no one reading this blog would consider themselves an 'average reader'.)

As I've read the letters, they bring to mind.... television. Soap operas or programs like The OC actually. The drama! The gossip! The romance and break ups!

Here's the story in brief: Our friend Charles Dickens is dating Maria. Maria and Charles have a mutual friend named Marianne, who has somehow come between them. Here are a few brief passages from the letters from Charles to Maria:

" certainly totally and entriely misunderstand my feeling with regard to her...That she (Marianne) has for some reason thrown herself in my way I could plainly see...for instance on the night of the play I could not get rid of her; God knows that I have no pleasure in speaking to her..."

"I have often said before and I say again I have borne more from you than I do believe any creature breathing ever bore from a woman before."

"I never have loved and I never can love any human creature breathing but yourself."

Has The Hills or Days of Our Lives ever had such a plot? How truly exciting! And it gets better...

Charles and Maria made up, but her parents decide Dickens was too poor for their little girl and sent her off to finishing school in France. So despite his promises that he would never love anyone else, he met and married Catherine Hogarth, who bore him ten (10!!) children. To reward this, he went off and shacked up with an actress, Nelly Ternen, who was almost thirty years his junior. In fact, there are rumors that they had a child (who died in infancy) and that he actually died at Nelly's place but was secretly transported somewhere else so no one knew.

See?!?  Drama! Sex! Intrigue!

Do you think that the Classics could shake off their staid reputations and enjoy more popularity if the 'average' reader knew of their exciting roots? Is that why we are seeing so many books that are fictionalized accounts of real people that were once consider boring (particularly Austen, Dickens, the Tudors, and so on)?


  1. Maybe. Maybe. I have a hard time with them because the language is so...flowery. And I don't like to think that much while I'm reading.

  2. I think there's certainly something to be said for telling people the 'gossipy' bits of literary history. It could hold people's interest just long enough for the books to hook them. (My personal favorite bit of Shakespearean trivia: Anne Hathaway was three months gone with child when they wed. Prior his marriage, the church records linked him with Anne Whately, not Hathaway.)