What the Dickens?

I’d kind of been ignoring the Dickens bicentenary fest. Somehow the press these days doesn’t know when enough is enough and if I read one more Charles Dickens may have blown his nose here in 1835 type article I shall surely scream.

But then last Thursday Mr F and I went to an excellent lecture on the artist Daniel Maclise and that got me thinking.  Maclise painted a famous portrait of a rather pretty young Dickens and the pair had a long, if somewhat abrasive, friendship. It appears they were both given to huffy silences followed by needy whining.  How easy Maclise was to get along with I have no idea but I’ve noticed a lot of people commenting on Dickens’s personality flaws.

‘He wasn’t very nice to his wife,’ they say.

Well heavens to Betsy, what’s that to do with his writing? Tolstoy can’t have been a lot of fun to be married to. And Dostoevsky must have been an absolute nightmare. My husband says he has no comment to make until he’s seen his lawyer.

So anyway, what to do to commemorate Dickens? As I recently reported, I’ve stumbled on the Ackroyd biography and will certainly read that. In addition I’ve decided to read two Dickens novels, one well-loved one and one that I’ve never managed before. The question is, what?

‘Well-loved’ is easy. A Tale of Two Cities. ‘Never managed’ is tougher. Bleak House sits on the shelf, an eternal 800 page reproach to me. I rather think it’ll have to go to Mrs Quin’s Charity Shop. The short list: Barnaby Rudge; Our Mutual Friend; Dombey and Son. I’ve given myself till tomorrow morning to decide. Then, as I have to go right by the door of Hodges Figgis bookshop, I shall put my money where my mouth is.


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