Tuesday, July 25, 2017


In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, there was an intriguing article on the Opinion page by playwright, essayist and screenwriter David Mamet: Charles Dickens Makes Me Want to Throw Up.  Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, et al.) says of Dickens's characters that they "...are cardboard cutouts...mechanicals."  Dickens's prose is "...turgid and, less forgivable, tortured."  

Anne Rice was quick to rebut Mamet on her Facebook page, and there was a lot of back and forth on Twitter.   But what do YOU think?  Is Mamet right?  Comment below, please!


  1. First off, David Mamet seems to be bent on saying outrageous things in order to attract attention and, perhaps, to feel "relevant." While I have enjoyed aspects of his plays over the years, the truth is that Mamet's liberal use of profanity--again, to show that he's "relevant" and "hip"--has usually seemed to me to be gratuitous. He would say that's how the people in his plays talk, and perhaps that's true--but does his stylized dialogue create well-rounded characters or, well, cardboard cutouts? Perhaps Mamet is too postmodern/ironic to be moved by the emotional content in so much of Dickens. Anyone who can not be moved by Mr Peggotty's devotion to Em'ly, or young David's vulnerability and abandonment when his mother marries Murdstone--well, I don't get it. And what about the comedy? Uriah Heep's writhing and Mr Micawber's bombast? Of course Dickens uses caricature: that's an essential part of his art. But look what he does with those caricatures! Betsy, Mr. Dick, Peggotty, Ham... As for the quality of the prose: no, a contemporary writer cannot write like Dickens; it would be ridiculous. But I find the sweeping sentences, with all their rhetorical flourishes, to be absolutely beautiful. Just because symphonic music has moved well beyond the style of Beethoven, should we no longer listen to Beethoven and call him turgid and tortured? Poor Mamet: to get attention resorting to sheer malarkey. Well, at least he didn't use profanity.

  2. Yes, I was tempted to make the observation about using excessive profanity and lack of imagination. But your critique is far more nuanced and eloquent!

  3. Dickens's wonderful writing often is more ornate than that used in today's fiction, but his “euphuistic” style of lengthy, intricately balanced sentences that tend to show his sophistication, is no longer a regular feature of our diction (unfortunately?). However, his sentences, especially when used in argument, often feel spot-on and fitting, as, for example, when they address subjects like the inability of the poor to hope for justice and equality.