Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dickens, Pt II

Shocked by the disparaging comments heaped by some readers upon Mr Charles Dickens, I now resolve to attempt, if such a thing be possible, to persuade my loyal readership that Dickens is a writer whose reputation is well-deserved, that his books are worth the time and effort they take to read, that he has relevance to contemporary life, and, at a minimum, that he is funny.  The passage below is from The Pickwick Papers.  It will tie in to another passage, which I plan to post tomorrow, on a similar subject.

Some Account of Eatanswill; of the State of Parties therein; and of the Election of a Member to serve in Parliament for that ancient, loyal, and patriotic Borough
We will frankly acknowledge that, up to the period of our being first immersed in the voluminous papers of the Pickwick Club, we had never heard of Eatanswill; we will with equal candour admit that we have in vain searched for proof of the actual existence of such a place at the present day. Knowing the deep reliance to be placed on every note and statement of Mr. Pickwick’s, and not presuming to set up our recollection against the recorded declarations of that great man, we have consulted every authority, bearing upon the subject, to which we could possibly refer. We have traced every name in schedules A and B, without meeting with that of Eatanswill; we have minutely examined every corner of the pocket county maps issued for the benefit of society by our distinguished publishers, and the same result has attended our investigation. We are therefore led to believe that Mr. Pickwick, with that anxious desire to abstain from giving offence to any, and with those delicate feelings for which all who knew him well know he was so eminently remarkable, purposely substituted a fictitious designation, for the real name of the place in which his observations were made. We are confirmed in this belief by a little circumstance, apparently slight and trivial in itself, but when considered in this point of view, not undeserving of notice. In Mr. Pickwick’s note–book, we can just trace an entry of the fact, that the places of himself and followers were booked by the Norwich coach; but this entry was afterwards lined through, as if for the purpose of concealing even the direction in which the borough is situated. We will not, therefore, hazard a guess upon the subject, but will at once proceed with this history, content with the materials which its characters have provided for us.
It appears, then, that the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of the two great parties that divided the town—the Blues and the Buffs. Now the Blues lost no opportunity of opposing the Buffs, and the Buffs lost no opportunity of opposing the Blues; and the consequence was, that whenever the Buffs and Blues met together at public meeting, town–hall, fair, or market, disputes and high words arose between them. With these dissensions it is almost superfluous to say that everything in Eatanswill was made a party question. If the Buffs proposed to new skylight the market–place, the Blues got up public meetings, and denounced the proceeding; if the Blues proposed the erection of an additional pump in the High Street, the Buffs rose as one man and stood aghast at the enormity. There were Blue shops and Buff shops, Blue inns and Buff inns—there was a Blue aisle and a Buff aisle in the very church itself.
Of course it was essentially and indispensably necessary that each of these powerful parties should have its chosen organ and representative: and, accordingly, there were two newspapers in the town—the Eatanswill Gazette and the Eatanswill Independent; the former advocating Blue principles, and the latter conducted on grounds decidedly Buff. Fine newspapers they were. Such leading articles, and such spirited attacks!—‘Our worthless contemporary, the Gazette’—‘That disgraceful and dastardly journal, the Independent’—‘That false and scurrilous print, theIndependent’—‘That vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette;’ these, and other spirit–stirring denunciations, were strewn plentifully over the columns of each, in every number, and excited feelings of the most intense delight and indignation in the bosoms of the townspeople.
Mr. Pickwick, with his usual foresight and sagacity, had chosen a peculiarly desirable moment for his visit to the borough. Never was such a contest known. The Honourable Samuel Slumkey, of Slumkey Hall, was the Blue candidate; and Horatio Fizkin, Esq., of Fizkin Lodge, near Eatanswill, had been prevailed upon by his friends to stand forward on the Buff interest. The Gazette warned the electors of Eatanswill that the eyes not only of England, but of the whole civilised world, were upon them; and the Independent imperatively demanded to know, whether the constituency of Eatanswill were the grand fellows they had always taken them for, or base and servile tools, undeserving alike of the name of Englishmen and the blessings of freedom. Never had such a commotion agitated the town before.


Barbara Carlson said...

Too much throat clearing and use of semi-colons (to repeat his point in yet another similar sentence like some boring ear worm) for me. Yes, he points out people are petty and the hatred of The Other prevails even in small towns, but in his hands, it's just not that funny to me.

If I want small town observational humour, I will read -- or listen to -- Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories written with truly funny subtlety and much affection.

Sorry, unconvinced.

And if I'm going to read more, I need assurance that you have watched all three parts (~7 min. each) of the Six to Eight Black Men by David Sedaris. When I said I "laughed like a drain" at it, I want to take that back --
I wept with laughter.

Katherine said...

I love Dickens because he, along with Melville and Hawthorne, were unapologetic about trying to produce commercial fiction. I feel that in contemporary lit culture there is a tendency to assume that commercial and bad are the same.

They are not.

I would also like to pass a law that prohibits the use of the word "lyrical" to describe fiction, when what is really meant is "self consciously literary, in a way that is effective."

But that's fuel for a whole other rant, and I won't shanghai your blog comment thread with my own petty agenda. Any more than usual, anyway.

ANCIANT said...

I've only read a few articles by Sedaris, in the New Yorker. They've never done much for me. I don't remember them well enough to offer an informed criticism, but I think maybe it's his tone that sets me off? Sort of the typical East Coast "people who don't live on the coasts and aren't gay are so quaint!" kind of thing that the New Yorker trades in. (I went to Georgia and I didn't get lynched! kind of stuff). But, as I say, it's been a while and I may be totally wrong. Hard as that is to imagine.

Barbara Carlson said...

Just watch the 3-part Sedaris (reading) video with visuals and just see!