What the Dickens?!

I just finished Great Expectations, and it’s been a great lesson for me. I put off reading it for years and years, based on the fact that I know Dickens got paid by the word, and my sense that he made that system work for him, but it reminded me that I actually love Dickens.

You see, A Christmas Carol confuses me about my feelings for Dickens. I cannot watch one more adaptation of that story, I swear to you. I’m Ebenezered out, I tell you! But they made me read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and I loved it. I’m enough of an idealist to have fallen right in love with the overall protagonist of that one. And I read David Copperfield in college, and loved that, too. Dickens’s hopeful idealism (maybe he doesn’t seem hopeful to you, but if you read Thomas Hardy, another of my favorites from a few years later, Dickens is the next best thing to Pollyanna) speaks to me. Although he’s a moralizer, and there’s no way around that, I don’t disagree with the way he moralizes, and if he’s heavy-handed, he’s at least not artless about it.

I was put off by a strange film adaptation in the late 1990s, and convinced that I wasn’t interested in Great Expectations, but something told me I needed to go back and just read it, already. I’ve had the paperback on my shelves for at least 15 years, so I spent most of 2014 making myself read it. And once I got past the first scene, I didn’t really have to force myself much. I’m not sure if that would have been true either way, or if the fact that I watched a recent adaptation that really captured my imagination right about that time was what put me over the top. I’m going to go back and watch the strange adaptation and figure out what about it bothered me so (I’m normally pro-adaptation, so this is kind of a strange reaction.)

I probably won’t dive right back into Dickens right away. I tried to dive from Dickens into Flannery O’Connor (a writer about whom I’ve heard a lot that suggests I’ll like her, but of whose work I’ve read nothing) and gave myself a nasty case of whiplash (no hopeful idealism here, thankyouverymuch.) I think I might read something fluffy, as a bit of a palate cleanser.

How about you? Are you pro- or anti-Dickens? What of his should I have read that I haven’t? What are you reading? What should I read?

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