Thursday, July 20, 2017

Orwell on Dickens


In Orwell’s essay collection Dickens, Dali & Others, published in 1946, Orwell wrote a long piece called “Charles Dickens.”  It contains some of my favorite observations about Dickens, many of them concerning David Copperfield.  What do you think of the following?

·     “No one, at any rate no English writer, has written better about childhood than Dickens…no novelist has shown the same power of entering into the child’s point of view.”  In referring to the early chapters of Copperfield’s life with the Murdstones, he says, “Dickens has been able to stand both inside and outside the child’s mind, in such a way that the same scene can be wild burlesque or sinister reality, according to the age at which one reads it.”  I think this explains the gloom I felt reading the first part of the novel, immediately after finishing Born Bright.  C. Nicole Mason’s true story showed a similar power of presenting hard reality as a child would experience it.  

·       According to Orwell, Dickens identifies himself more with the middle class than with the proletariat: “In David Copperfield…the class-issue does not seem to strike him as paramount.  It is a law of Victorian novels that sexual misdeeds must not go unpunished...but neither Dickens, nor old Peggotty…seems to feel that Steerforth has added to his offence by being the son of rich parents.”  How do you see Dickens on the class issue?

·       About Dickens’s style of writing, he asserts, “The thing that cannot be imitated is his fertility of invention, which is invention …of phrase and concrete details. The outstanding, unmistakable mark of Dickens’s writing is the unnecessary detail.”  He gives as an example a line from the Pickwick Papers: “…the family were at dinner – baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it….”  As Orwell notes, the reader doesn’t need to know that the potatoes were under the mutton.  The detail is merely “…a florid little squiggle on the edge of the page; only, it is by just these squiggles that the special Dickens atmosphere is created.”  Do you agree?  Can you find ‘florid little squiggles’ anywhere in David Copperfield?

Dickens, Dali & Others / George Orwell
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1946

In the library at: 824 ORW


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