Charles Dickens

Classics Challenge April: Cover art

I missed November Autumn’s Classic challenge questions for Feb and March, and I felt bad about it. Total *fail* honestly. I kept meaning to post my reply to her great prompts but somehow the time to sit at the computer for a significant period never came along. That is the hardest thing about blogging for me, finding that stretch of time where I am willing, able, and really want to sit at the computer for hours. And it does take hours. I am not a post and go person. It’s all or nothing up in here with the nothing winning by far!

Ah well, bygones. I am here to answer her April prompt which is:

What are your first impressions as you look at the cover?
Does the book cover have an aspect that reflects the character, setting, or plot of the novel?

I just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities. It was slow going at first but I am glad I stuck with it (thanks ladies who encouraged me!) because the book did turn out to be great. The last 100 pages were a whirlwind! And Carton! Carton!! When he and the young girl were holding hands, comforting each other, so poignant. I was holding back the tears on the last page.
And I loved Madame Defarge! I know she is horribly wicked but she was the most developed and interesting character, I thought, until the rest of the characters came to life in the last 150 pages.

I read the Barnes and Noble edition which has the painting Storming the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houel on the cover

My first impression of the cover is that it is an obvious choice since it depicts the fall of the Bastille, a Paris prison, an event that helped kick off the Revolution. I think the chaos that Dickens tried to capture in the book is well illustrated in the painting. The entrance in the center of the painting looks like the gate to Hell and Dickens’ account of the revolution makes you feel that the French peasants were in a living Hell and once they had enough, they reached up and drug the rich down into Hell with them. The Bastille’s broken down walls capture literally and figuratively how French society fell. The smoke in the image reminds me of this line from the book

There could have been no such Revolution, if all laws, forms, and ceremonies, had not first been so monstrously abused, that the suicidal vengeance of the Revolution was to scatter them all to the winds.

Something that makes this painting a particularly apt cover for The Tale of Two Cities is that the storming of the Bastille was, in a way, rather senseless. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille, four forgers, two “lunatics”, and a “deviant” friend of the Marques De Sade. Yet 98 revolutionaries, aka Bastille attackers, gave their life tearing it down. Of course taking over the Bastille and destroying it symbolized the destruction of the old ways, of royal and rich tyranny. But did it do much quantifiable good? I think Dickens wants us to ask that of the whole Revolution. It may have been an uprising of “the People” but did it really do any Good for those same people…

Charles Dickens reading survey

Jillian from A Room of One’s Own has a wonderful Charles Dickens reading questionnaire in honor of Chuck’s 200th birthday. (Does anyone ever called Charles Dickens “Chuck”? No, alright.) I’ve read quite a bit of Dickens but I’ve only posted about him once on this blog, so I decided to take this questionnaire as an opportunity for a tidy sum up.

How were you first introduced to Charles Dickens?

  • I first read Dickens as a teenager. We were not assigned it in school, I guess I just picked it up at the library. When I was about 16 or so I wanted to read The Classics but I didn’t know what the classics were exactly lol. This was in the olden times, before the inter webs. ;) I remember looking for a list in a book of must read books but I don’t think I ever found one. Of course the smart thing to have done would have been to just ask the librarian! But I was not that clever, so I ended up just reading a couple Charles Dickens titles, some Jane Austen, and a little Oscar Wilde.

 

Which Charles Dickens novels and stories have you read? Which are your favorites?

  • Nicholas Nickleby
  • David Copperfield
  • Oliver Twist
  • Great Expectations
  • Hard Times
  • Bleak House

My favorites are Great Expectations because of the gothic element and Bleak House because of the characters and mystery

What are your favorite Charles Dickens quotes (up to three)?

It’s been a year since I last read Dickens and when I did read the above titles, I didn’t bookmark any of the pages or copy down any of my favorite quotes. Stupid me!! So here are a few quotes that illustrate what I love about Dickens. The first quote shows how he casually slips in humor, his subtly always cracks me up. The second shows not only his sense of humor but also how great he is at picking out those little traditions in society and family that we are all familiar with but maybe do not realize how universal they are. The last quote is a long one, I know sorry, but I had to include the whole thing because I think we sometimes forget how amazing Dickens is at creating a scene. It’s so easy to get caught up in his crazy characters, humor, and melodrama; sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the vividness of the world he creates.

From Nicholas Nickleby:

The proprietor, in a low voice, bade Sir Mulberry good day. Sir Mulberry, in the same tone, bade the proprietor go to the devil, and turned to speak with his friends

 

From Bleak House

It is the old girl’s birthday, and that is the greatest holiday and reddest-letter day in Mr. Bagnet’s calendar. The auspicious event is always commemorated according to certain forms settled and prescribed by Mr. Bagnet some years since. Mr. Bagnet, being deeply convinced that to have a pair of fowls for dinner is to attain the highest pitch of imperial luxury, invariably goes forth himself very early in the morning of this day to buy a pair; he is, as invariably, taken in by the vendor and installed in the possession of the oldest inhabitants of any coop in Europe. Returning with these triumphs of toughness tied up in a clean blue and white cotton handkerchief (essential to the arrangements), he in a casual manner invites Mrs. Bagnet to declare at breakfast what she would like for dinner. Mrs. Bagnet, by a coincidence never known to fail, replying fowls, Mr. Bagnet instantly produces his bundle from a place of concealment amidst general amazement and rejoicing. He further requires that the old girl shall do nothing all day long but sit in her very best gown and be served by himself and the young people. As he is not illustrious for his cookery, this may be supposed to be a matter of state rather than enjoyment on the old girl’s part, but she keeps her state with all imaginable cheerfulness.

From Great Expectations

I crossed the staircase landing, and entered the room she indicated. From that room, too, the daylight was completely excluded, and it had an airless smell that was oppressive. A fire had been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was more disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smoke which hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air — like our own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimneypiece faintly lighted the chamber: or, it would be more expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness. It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The most prominent object was a long table with a table-cloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstance of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.

I heard the mice too, rattling behind the panels, as if the same occurrence were important to their interests. But, the black beetles took no notice of the agitation, and groped about the hearth in a ponderous elderly way, as if they were short-sighted and hard of hearing, and not on terms with one another.

These crawling things had fascinated my attention and I was watching them from a distance, when Miss Havisham laid a hand upon my shoulder. In her other hand she had a crutch-headed stick on which she leaned, and she looked like the witch of the place.

`This,’ said she, pointing to the long table with her stick, `is where I will be laid when I am dead. They shall come and look at me here.’

With some vague misgiving that she might get upon the table then and there and die at once, the complete realization of the ghastly waxwork at the Fair, I shrank under her touch.

`What do you think that is?’ she asked me, again pointing with her stick; `that, where those cobwebs are?’

`I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’

`It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’

Who are your favorite Dickens heroines? and why?

  • Sadly Dickens does not offer many female characters you could call ‘heroines’. A lot of readers get very annoyed with Dickens for his lack of depth or variety in his women but it doesn’t bother me that much. He’s just not very good at it and we can’t all be good at all things. He does very much stick to the 3 stereotypical Victorian woman characters: 1- The angel of the house, 2- The kooky old maid, 3- The fallen woman
    I don’t think he is deliberately trying to be an ass about it, I just figure he does not understand women or have the ability to put himself in their shoes. My favorite heroines from his books then, are the two characters that I felt had some depth and in which he tried a little harder, they are Esther and Lady Dedlock from Bleak House. Esther starts out quite annoying actually because she is so damn humble and always talking down about herself. But further into the book, she becomes a more well rounded and interesting character. Plus it is a little interesting to read her meekness as an example of the mental prison that women were put in in Victorian times. Lady Dedlock I liked because while she may have been so cold on the surface, she was going through hell underneath.

Who are your favorite Dickens heroes? and why?

  • My favorite hero from any of Dickens books is Nicholas from Nicholas Nickleby and that is because he beats the snot out of two villains that so desperately deserve it! Most of the male leads in Dickens books, are too young and naive to stand up for themselves, or anyone else, and it can be so frustrating. It was nice to read about an older character who would not allow himself to be knocked around by anyone.
    My other favorite hero is Mr. Bucket from Bleak House. He seems like a jerk at first but his chase scene late in the book is fantastic!

Which Dickens villains do you most love to hate?

  •  Without a doubt Wackford Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby is the worst. He and his disgusting family run a boys school and he treats those poor kids, especially Smike, so poorly! Grrr hate that guy!

Which Dickens characters do you find the most funny?

  • The Brothers Cheeryble from Nicholas Nickleby because their back and forth chatter is too funny.
  • Betsy Trotwood from David Copperfield because of her “Janet! Donkeys!” fits.
  • Mr Mantalini and his fabulous mustache from Nicholas Nickleby
  • Also from N.N, the crazy ass neighbor man who throws vegetables over the fence as a marriage proposal.

(I’m adding in the following two questions to include some of my other favorite characters)

Which Dickens characters do you find the most lovable?

  • Mr. Wemmick and his father “the aged parent” from Great Expectations. I love these two and their castle so much. There is a house up the road from me that is like a little ramshackled self built castle and it always reminds me of the Wemmicks.
  • Newman Noggs from Nicholas Nickleby. I love that this poor old guy finally starts to stand up for himself.
  • Mr. Dick from David Copperfield because he is so sweet
  • The Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. I don’t know if it’s the character in the book or the character in Oliver the musical that I love so much, but either way he’s on the list.

Which Dickens characters do you find the most tragic?

  • Smike from Nicholas Nickleby. Poor Smike!! And his feelings for a girl later in the book, *cries*
  • Jo the sweeper from Bleak House. He is central to everything that happens in the story but so powerless himself
  • Oliver from Oliver Twist, of course. The whole first half of the book is so depressing! As Mr. Mantalini would say, Demd Dickens and his demd heartbreaking demd orphans!

If you could authorize a new film adaptation of one of Dickens’s novels, which would it be and why?

  • Great Expectations I’ve never seen an adaption of this so there may already be a good one  but I think it’s bound to make a great movie

If you could have lunch with Charles Dickens today, what question would you most like to ask him?

  • I’d ask his how you comes up with all his characters. Do they just pop up while he is writing the story or does he have ideas for individuals and then work them into the plot.

Which Dickens adaptation is your favorite?

  •  I haven’t seen very many but my fav would be Oliver the musical. Is there anything better than the Consider Yourself song?! I think not
  • The Nicholas Nickleby movie with Heath Ledger was also good


I spent a lot of time flipping through the books to put my survey here together and it made me realize I really want to reread some of these! Especially Bleak house and Great Expectations. What I am seriously lacking though, you might have noticed, is A Tale of Two Cities. I have not yet read that one. For some reason I suspect it is very different than Dickens’ other books. I guess I better read it and find out.