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Pick your Dickens carefully

  • Jul 12, 2012
If you are a casual reader of Dickens and want an introduction to his short fiction, this is a good edition.  But if you are a serious fan and have read some of his less known works like Sketches by Boz or the Christmas stories, then you may be find that there is duplication in this collection of "short fiction."  

Actually both parts of that phrase are at least in some respect deceitful.  Some of the selections here are stories embedded in Dickens' earlier novels like The Pickwick Papers, lifted out here to stand alone.  Others are essays of observations about London life from Sketches by Boz that while enhanced by Dickens' imaginative descriptive phrases are certainly more than fiction.  

With those provisos up front, some of these selections are very good, as Dickens is freed from the constraints of long-form fiction written in months long serializations, and able to apply his powerful humor and inimitable skill to the subjects at hand.  Particularly powerful are two accounts of travel, "A Flight" and "Refreshments for Travelers" that are as perfectly pertinent to the unglamorous rigors of air travel in 2012 as they were to steam ship and train travel in Dickens' day!  They are laugh out loud funny with the instant shock of recognition of the situations and emotions that stressful travel present to the traveler on a regular basis.

And in condensed form, what can seem maudlin or pandering in the novels can pack a powerful emotional punch in these short pieces.  Of note on that line are the two parts of "Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions," an account of an itinerant auctioneer (think 19th century Pawn Stars on wheels) who meets and adopts a deaf and dumb girl during his travels across country.    These little emotional tales of love and twists of fate can stand with the best of short-story specialists like O. Henry and Poe.  

But then, isn't Dickens usually the best, always the Inimitable?

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July 12, 2012
Sounds like good stuff!
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney’s clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.

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