Dickens and Us

I think I told you I re-read David Copperfield and have gone on to Martin Chuzzlewit… I’m steeped in Dickens’ language, like, instead of saying I’ve always been on good terms with someone, I might say (or at lest think) that we’ve always rubbed along tolerably well together. It’s obnoxious.
Martin Chuzzlewit is from 1843 or thereabouts. Dickens had visited here and–he didn’t like us much. Young Martin’s experiences are the vehicle for him to express his sentiments. Some of it is very funny, like his observation that, while every American will say, and brook no denial! that their country is the greatest on earth, the nation is divided into parties and no one will hesitate to vilify members of a party not his own in the strongest terms! How almost every man Martin meets has some sort of military title. How almost every man he meets is “one of the most remarkable men in our country, sir!”

Martin is shocked and horrified by the casual acceptance of slavery. Yet I read that when the Civil War began, Dickens thought the Union was only embracing abolition “for money”(??) and he, like the rest of the English, and also the French, enthusiastically embraced the cause of the “brave planters”.

In his authorial voice, Dickens makes it clear he thinks Americans had precipitously descended from the lofty enlightenment ideals of our founders, to mere rank money-worship. The dollar!

All this strikes me funny now. The scene shifts between England and America, and surely the characters back in the Olde Countrie are primarily and supremely motivated by money, too? The elder Chuzzlewits, wealthy misers both, put me in mind of the ONE Dickens character everybody knows: Ebenezer Scrooge. The younger and less wealthy ones, Pecksniffs and Jonas Chuzzlewit, do nothing but look for people they can feel superior to, like the poor Pinches, and scheme to GET money—except, they seem to think the only way they can DO it is through marriage or inheritance. Upon my word, I see little to choose between the English and the Americans on that score, (Sorry…see what I mean….?)
The other thing I want to describe is the experience of rereading these books which i read as a teenager. About Martin Chuzzlewit, all I consciously remembered was that he goes to America with his creditably jolly manservant Mark and they find it …very rough for their taste.
But as I read on, it’s like entering a room you’ve seen in a dream. It’s like being prescient! As I read, I find I do know what’s going to happen next, and I even know the exact words the characters are going to speak.

At this,point, almost exactly halfway through, I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen in the end, which characters will marry, which will inherit…but I know I will remember, as I read on, before the plot twists are revealed.

It’s all extremely pleasurable! It’s also the first time in years I’ve read from a codex, which provides a certain sensual dimension, although it is a nuisance to have to worry about light! But, soon we shall have the candles, and the fire, and I dare say I shall be quite as contented, as if there were no such thing as an IPad in the great world!


Just think how much more fun it would be to read it from a scroll !


Well, see, a scroll would have the same disadvantage an Ebook has: you can’t just flip back to check something, remind yourself of some character’s backstory. No, the codex was a wonderful,invention, one of our best!

And I never thought I could abandon it. I was seduced away first by legal research, where you no longer have to consult 6 paperbacks, the latest a mere pamphlet, to make sure a case is current. And then, it was the ease and speed with which I could get any text I might read about or be curious about! Miraculous! Oh and then the bulk and weight of the codex….I got hooked.
My daughter, on the other hand, maybe because she grew up having to work electronically, won’t read for pleasure except from a codex. And so the world turns….