Notes on Dickens 3
Dickens’s first chapters contain much of his best writing. Immediately arresting, full of matter, and almost Joycean in their use of exciting linguistic novelties, they establish at once, in a very short space, the mood of the novel and the voice of its narrator: at once dark, cynical, ironic, and yet fundamentally ludic, irresistibly dragging the reader in to the Dickensian world. In his later more carefully plotted and structured works, they contain the seeds of themes that grow throughout the rest of the book.
Their effect and purpose was to establish the novel firmly in the imagination of his reader, so that they would come back for more, thus ensuring the commercial success of the weekly or monthly serialisation. In their concentration of vision and voice, Dickens’s first chapters demonstrate the skills of a master craftsman who was born to write.
Their potency and power must come surely from the agony of indecision and writer’s block that accompanied the start of every new novel. At first, ideas start to cluster around him, motes of new books in the dirty air, miseries of older growth. Soon, he is in a wandering-unsettled-restless uncontrollable state of being... I sit down to work, do nothing get up, walk about a dozen miles, come back and sit down again next day, again do nothing and get up, go down a Railroad, find a place where I resolve to stay for a month, come home next morning, go strolling about for hours and hours, reject all engagements to have time to myself, get tired of myself and yet can’t come out of myself to be pleasant to anybody else…
Eventually, after all this suppression, like a geyser, the novel arrives in a kind of spurt of language, and he’s at his desk for 9 hours a day writing madly.
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Night is generally my time for walking. In the summer I often leave home early in the morning, and roam about fields and lanes all day, or even escape for days or weeks together; but, saving in the country, I seldom go out until after dark, though, Heaven be thanked, I love its light and feel the cheerfulness it sheds upon the earth, as much as any creature living.
As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit Family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest.
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor
sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As
much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from
the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine
lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,
making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as
full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for
the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses,
scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,
jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill
temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of
thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding
since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits
to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points
tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in
southern France then, than at any other time, before or since.
Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the
fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had
become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance
by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white
streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which
verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly
staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of
grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air
barely moved their faint leaves.
It was the best of times, 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 incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct
the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present
period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its
being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree
of comparison only.
Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great
arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little
basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in
front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown
while he was very new.
The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts
into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier
history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would
appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following
entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor
of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his
readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity,
and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious
documents confided to him has been conducted.
An ancient English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient English
Cathedral tower be here! The well-known massive gray square tower
of its old Cathedral? How can that be here! There is no spike of
rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of
the real prospect. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has
set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan's orders for the
impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for
cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long
procession. Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and
thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew flowers. Then, follow
white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and
infinite in number and attendants. Still the Cathedral Tower rises
in the background, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure
is on the grim spike. Stay! Is the spike so low a thing as the
rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has
tumbled all awry? Some vague period of drowsy laughter must be
devoted to the consideration of this possibility.