Friday, March 11, 2005

My first Dick-ens

If you still don't know by now, I finished The Pickwick Papers.
Bouncy 2
I'm so happy not just because it took me so long to finish it but I think I found another favorite author. Isn't it wonderful when you find something that you like and knowing that there's more? In this case, you read a book that you enjoyed and find out that the author wrote other books as well.

I wonder why it took me so long considering that I enjoyed it from the beginning. The text is not particularly hard. I mean it was not a heavy drama like A Tale of Two Cities with the French Revolution setting (which I have no idea about). It's a comedy with simple subjects. It's very long with 777 pages of small typeset. But then I picked up The Yearling and I was hooked on that one so the Pickwickians was left at the backseat. After I finished The Yearling I started The Grapes of Wrath because I went to Bali at that time and I didn't want to bring the bulky Pickwick Papers. I picked it up again after I finished the Steinbeck book. And 3 months after I read the first page I reached the last page.

This is the first Dickens that I've read after The Christmas Carol, which I didn't really enjoy. With all the films, cartoons, puppet shows with various adaptations and interpretations, you just begin to not care anymore. So why did I finally read it? It was because I saw this nice illustrated HC edition at a bargain price so I just have to buy it. And since there are some nice pictures inside I might as well read it too.

I bought other Dickens' books after that like A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations but never got around to read them. I bought Great Expectations because I found a nice illustrated HC edition at a bargain price and I just have to buy it (do I sound like a broken record here? So now you know I'm a sucker for illustrated HC classics at bargain price). I bought A Tale of Two Cities because I saw this movie (I can't remember which) where a 15 yr-old black student proved that he has learned how to read by reading this particular book to his teacher. When I heard

It was the best of time, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of encredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness...
I just fell in love with it. And lo and behold I went out and bought the book. I got to the end of the first chapter before shelving this one.

So how come The Pickwick Papers interests me enough to make me read it till the end?

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I've always love literary works where the author is honest enough to depict his own people in a comic way, kind of like Jane Austen though her comic sense are more subtle.

In The Pickwick Papers we get to see London where the men can be greedy and selfish, the women's lifetime goal is to get a wedding proposal, the children are fat and lazy, and the servants are not always stupid. It's about 4 distinguished gentlemen, lead by the robust and bubbly Mr Pickwick, who are sworn to observe and chronicle any interesting events around them. Their 'interesting' events includes a fight in the street where they meet the ever-charismatic Mr Sam Weller (my favourite character), Mr Pickwick's terrible predicament with his landlady, an elopement, a few misadventures with a Mr Jingle and some other smaller events. Along the way they met some very interesting and memorable characters like Mr Weller (Sam's father), two politicians and two feuding newspaper editors. Well ok, maybe they're not members of some secret society sworn to protect the location of a holy relic or even good looking men who's on the lookout for the love of their lives but with an artist like Charles Dickens behind the pen, anything will be interesting enough.

Even the chapter titles are funny.

  • How Mr Winkle, instead of shooting at the Pigeon and killing the Crow, shot at the Crow and wounded the Pigeon
  • How Mr Winkle, when he stepped out of the Frying-pan, walked gently and comfortably into the Fire
  • Illustrative, like the preceding one, of the old Proverb, that Adversity brings a Man acquainted with strange Bed-fellows. Likewise containing Mr Pickwick's extraordinary and startling announcement to Mr Samuel Weller
  • Too full of Adventure to be briefly described
Yes, these are actual chapter titles from The Pickwick Papers.

Dickens true depiction of a debtor's prison brought the comic level down a notch. Like life itself, it was not all funny and amusing with this book.

One thing that many new readers would notice about this book is that it is very 'wordy'. It is filled with long sentences making it obvious he was paid by the word. But having read a few English literature I just think it's a common style in the 1800s. Don't you think English ppl in those days do talk on and on over the simplest thing?

One thing I learned from this book is to read the introduction after reading the text. I've tried reading them so many times with other classic literature to sort of prepare myself of what I'm getting into and find out what to look out for. But I always gave up after a few pages. Even though it's called 'Introduction' it is actually more like a critical essay talking about something you haven't delve into. It doesn't help that it usually comes with a smaller typeface than the already small font for the main text.

This time around, I read the Introduction after I finish reading the book and I understood what he was trying to say. I found out that what appeals to me about this book was also the reason why this book got so famous when first published in England. Apparently, the general readers back then were quite taken with Sam Weller too. I find it amazing that a book can bring the same affect to someone half a world away 100 years in the future. One good way to define classic literature.

Malcolm Andrews, the introducer, even shared a story how his grandfather would sit in his rocking chair with a pipe in his hand and this book on his lap. It's very easy to point out the parts that "tickled him", Andrews said. Just find the pages with "powdery gray ash caught in the spine". To know which part he enjoyed more, just compare the size of the ash traces Smile.

I think I'm ready to get me some more Dickens. Maybe I'll start on Great Expectations but wait! I don't know which box this book is in. Maybe I'll go for A Tale of Two Cities then... Hmmm maybe too difficult for current state of mind. That leaves Bleak House... sounds pretty bleak to me... hmmm ok maybe I'll give Dickens a break for now. At least until I can find another of his comedies.

And I apologize for the cheesy title. I can't help it, I just had to do it.
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