Everyone loves Charles Dickens during the holidays, yet no one seems to read him. Daniel Arizona ponders the man's literary genius ...
But despite persistent and, to my mind, niggling quarrels that Orwell picks with Dickens, he couldn't bring himself to condemn him. He went on to concede that he couldn't imagine a day when he wouldn't be reminded of a particular Dickensian scene or moment. It is this aspect of Dickens, the sheer scope of the world he created and the widescreen variety of his novels, that is his true legacy. Yes, his novels are of a piece, but when you fit the jigsaw together it’s a remarkable picture, whirling and alive. Its intricacies and moving parts far outweighing the surprise coincidences, occasional mawkishness and deus ex machina endings.
We passed several more children on the way up, whom it was difficult to avoid treading on in the dark; and as we came into Mrs. Jellyby's presence, one of the poor little things fell downstairs—down a whole flight (as it sounded to me), with a great noise.Mrs. Jellyby, whose face reflected none of the uneasiness which we could not help showing in our own faces as the dear child's head recorded its passage with a bump on every stair—Richard afterwards said he counted seven, besides one for the landing—received us with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if—I am quoting Richard again—they could see nothing nearer than Africa!...The room, which was strewn with papers and nearly filled by a great writing-table covered with similar litter, was, I must say, not only very untidy but very dirty. We were obliged to take notice of that with our sense of sight, even while, with our sense of hearing, we followed the poor child who had tumbled downstairs: I think into the back kitchen, where somebody seemed to stifle him.
Daniel Arizona is a writer based in San Francisco. Picture credit: Raymond Van Tassel