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Oliver Twist & Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (thoughts)

January 21, 2010

Why review one classic when you can review two? ;) Both of these are books I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time, and have read this month thanks to audiobooks and library’s ebranch. (Seriously…what’s better than free books from the library? Free books from the library that you can download instantly at 3 in the morning! lol) I’ve decided that for a change of pace, I’ll be talking about this books via letters to the authors. Since I read Oliver Twist first, we’ll start there!

Dear Mr. Dickens,
I know that you were wildly popular in your day. And that you’re still quite popular as far as classic authors are concerned. So I felt guilty for considering you one of my least favourite writers. Especially when I thought about the books by you I’ve actually read. Sure, I’ve made three unsuccessful attempts to get through The Pickwick Papers. But that was your first novel, and sometimes authors need time to mature. And yes, I do loathe Great Expectations, but it’s not really your fault that I moved between 9th and 10th grade and had to read it twice for two different high school teachers. Nor is it your fault that I was compared to Estella so frequently. After all, I loved A Tale of Two Cities when I read it at 13! And I read Hard Times with my mom the same year, and I remember it being rather amusing. So, I decided to give you another shot (encouraged by the Our Mutual Read Challenge) and after being warned off Nicholas Nickleby, settled for Oliver Twist.

But oh Mr. Dickens. Why must you write such one dimensional characters who are so obviously tools for you to get your social concerns across?! Why must you write ridiculously convoluted plots that rely on so many unbelievable coincidences no matter how hard I try to enjoy them, I find myself rolling my eyes instead?! Why did someone decide to pay you by the word you publish yourself and thus had no editor (thanks to CB for correcting me), which leads to ridiculously long-winded passages devoid of any descriptive beauty?! As you might be able to surmise, Mr. Dickens, I was not a fan of Oliver Twist. I think it’s very good that you wanted to call attention to the horrible lives of the poor, especially orphans, to your Victorian readers. But when Mr. Collins wanted to draw attention to the unfair legitimacy laws, he wrote No Name, a book with an awesome plot and rich characters. When Mrs. Gaskell wanted to draw attention to the plight of unwed mothers, she wrote Ruth, which wasn’t perfect, but did at least have an interesting plot and characters that were mildly fleshed out, including a couple that felt quite genuine. My point is: social conscience is no excuse for bad writing.

Now, I’m partly prejudiced because your descriptions of those poor orphans made me really upset. I resent authors who manipulate my emotions so shamelessly, and I’m extra-sensitive to any account of neglect/evil towards children, so my frequent bouts of tears probably worsened the novel for me. And I will admit you have a flare for the comic: a few scenes, especially those between Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney, had me laughing hysterically. Oh, and Nancy is a wonderful character! And the scene with Bill Sykes, after he’s committed a certain dastardly deed, while not feeling at all realistic, had a majestic power to it that made me love it.

So, due to these few diamonds in the heap of coal that was Oliver Twist as a whole, I have decided to give you more chance. I intend to reread A Tale of Two Cities, and if I love it as much as I did when I was younger, I will be prepared to read one other novel by you. (If my readers have any suggestions, I would be grateful.) But at this point, I must regretfully say that you remain my least favourite Victorian novelist, and I can not understand how you become so much more famous than Mr. Collins or Mr. Trollope.

Yours, respectfully,
Eva

Dear Mr. Douglass,
I ought to have read your autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass years ago. I will admit, I shied away from it because I felt the material would be too sad. And I thought it might be dated. And I worried it would get tedious; I was under the impression this was a long book. But now that I’ve read your work, I must apologise. I was mistaken on all accounts.

While a book about the life of an American slave must of necessity include sad things, you never descend into the maudlin, and I never felt like my emotions were being unfairly manipulated. You presented your story in a tone of such matter-of-factness, that it was left to me to see just how awful it was. But I love that you didn’t pull any punches. You often expressed your outrage and anger, and you never held back from driving home a point about injustice. I was also surprised to discover that you talk about ‘sensitive’ subjects, such as slave holding men raping their slave women, with the same frankness and detail you give to other matters. While your account is never lurid, I applaud you for addressing topics that must have had the potential to outrage your audience. I understand that you wrote this book to aid the abolition movement, but it never feels like propaganda. I understand why you were such a powerful motivator in the abolitionist movement, and I respect you for the integrity, honesty, and spirit of justice that shines through in this work. I also loved your discussion of women; not once did I get the feeling that you regarded women as lesser than men. You did not portray the white slave-owning women as gentler or less responsible for their horrific crimes than the men, you did not diminish the experience of slave women at all.

Moreover, you know how to tell a good story. Your narrative is much shorter than I expected it to be (around 100 pages in hard copy), and it never slows down for a moment. You really conjured up each scene you describe, and I felt like I was there with you experiencing things. Moreover, when you turn your hand to allegory in an appendix, and vividly expose the hypocrisy of Christians who are also slave-holders, you showed that you excel in more than one style of writing.

I fully intend to read My Bondage and My Freedom this year, and you led such an interesting life that I plan to seek out a biography of you as well. I am so happy to have discovered such a marvelous new-to-me classic author (and must thank the Black Classics Challenge for the extra nudge), and I wish that I could have known you. For if you lived your life with the same spirit that you wrote about it, you were a true gentleman.

Yours, sincerely,
Eva

Back to my readers: have you read either of these authors? What do you think of them?

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74 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 5:51 am

    I love Charles Dickens, but I also love your letter!

    • January 22, 2010 1:16 pm

      Well, I’m glad you can appreciate me being mean to a fave author! ;)

  2. January 21, 2010 6:02 am

    I love the way you did this review via letter! Funny AND insightful!

    I must say Dickens is a bit of a British institution so I can’t bear to say a bad word about him…except to say that I do think, as I sometimes find with Wilkie Collins, that the way his books were written for serial publication does affect the quality of the writing and the plot adversely in places. But I do still love his books, most of the time. In my opinion the best Dickens is Our Mutual Friend – it’s a lot darker than his other books and has a great plot. Please give it a go before giving up on him entirely!

    I read Frederick Douglass at university on my American Literature course and I was so moved by it – I think that was the first time it hit home to me what slavery was like. We read it alongside Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and I was so fascinated by the topic of slavery and the attitudes towards it – we don’t learn about American history in much detail in UK schools so it was my first real exposure to that period of America’s past.

    • January 22, 2010 1:17 pm

      Thanks Rachel! I lived in England for seven years, so I get the British institution thing. ;)

      Did y’all study slavery in the West Indies in school? I’m teasing you…just have to point out that Americans aren’t the only one with slaves in their past! ;)

  3. January 21, 2010 6:09 am

    I’ve always thought that I should probably read more Dickens. I remember vastly preferring my child’s abridged version of Great Expectations to the real book when I read it, but I know I liked A Tale of Two Cities when I got older. I’ve always wanted to reread that one. Unlike you I did like Oliver Twist, but I read it so long ago I can’t remember why!

    I read Douglass’s narrative in college along with Olaudah Equiano’s and I was fascinated by both of them even though I was uncomfortable with the acts described.

    • January 22, 2010 1:18 pm

      lol; I wish I’d read the abridgement instead! I really want to read the Olaudah Equiano; I’ll have to ILL it though, because my library doesn’t just have it.

  4. January 21, 2010 6:16 am

    Oh I love these reviews. Great way to put your thoughts out there. I’ve only read one Dickens novel, Great Expectations and it was for a class so I didn’t get much enjoyment out of it.

    Strangely though, I just downloaded ebooks of both Frederick Douglass’ autobiographies and I’m looking forward to reading them now. I always had an idea in my head that they might be fascinating.

    • January 22, 2010 1:24 pm

      Thanks Michelle! I hope you enjoy Douglass. :)

  5. January 21, 2010 6:43 am

    I’ve read The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. It’s fascinating the strength he had to survive. I haven’t read Oliver Twist by Dickens. The little I know about Oliver Twist makes me think you have really hit on something. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • January 22, 2010 1:24 pm

      I know; the part when he’s talking about how he doesn’t know his birthday, and why he never really knew his mother, had me in tears. And that’s just at the beginning. :/

  6. January 21, 2010 6:47 am

    What a great format!

    I’m with you on Dickens. I love the Victorians, but Dickens…meh. I did love Great Expectations, but I tended to like the books I studied in school. I’m weird like that. And I LOVED Bleak House. It’s the only Dickens book I even own. But David Copperfield seemed overly maudlin, and A Tale of Two Cities proved to be an excellent cure for insomnia every time I tried to read it (and we’re talking attempts that were several years apart.) I do want to read Our Mutual Friend because several people have said it would be a good choice, given which Dickens novels I do enjoy.

    • January 22, 2010 1:25 pm

      Woot-I’m glad you’re w/ me on Dickens! I saw the adaptation of Bleak House and didn’t like it all. I don’t like dark books, in general.

  7. January 21, 2010 7:07 am

    Love the letters, Eva!

    The only thing by Dickens’ I’ve read is A Christmas Carol and, for now, that’s enough for me. Thank to your letter, though, I did add No Name and Ruth to my TBR list. Frederick Douglass’ autobiography has also been added to my list so thanks for that wonderful review.

    • January 22, 2010 1:25 pm

      You know, I’ve never read A Christmas Carol, but I’ve seen all the different movie versions! :) No Name is AWESOME. Ruth is interesting, but my fave Gaskell is Cranford!

  8. January 21, 2010 7:08 am

    Brava! I love the new look, and I love the letter review format. I’ve read both of these books (though it’s been years ago), and I had some of the same feelings you did. When it comes to Dickens, I *heart* him, which you probably guessed from my online alias. lol Anyway, I’m not sure why I love him so much because I wholeheartedly agree with you that he writes one-dimensional characters and is very obvious in just about every literary device he uses. Besides that, I loved Great Expectations, and I also adored A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school. It’s high on my “want to re-read” list this year.

    Frederick Douglass is AMAZING! When Chuck and I first got together, he wasn’t much of a reader, but now he usually has at least one book on the go. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was the first book he plucked off the shelves, and he really loved it. It’s another book I’d like to re-read, and I’ll be reading my other favorite slave narrative: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, for a class I’m teaching online this semester. I’m really looking forward to revisiting it as well.

    • January 22, 2010 1:26 pm

      Thanks Andi! I do know that you are a much bigger Dickens fan than me. ;)

      I really want to read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl soon!

  9. January 21, 2010 7:36 am

    I love this review. I love it, love it, love it.

    But I also disagree with it like crazy, as far as Dickens goes. How can a reasonable person not love Pickwick Papers!?!? It’s so much fun! ;-) I think you hit the nail on the head in your paragraph about what you did like in Oliver Twist. Dickens’ novels are so full of stuff, that if you read long enough you’re sure to find something you like, and when he’s funny, he’s very funny. I re-read David Copperfield every so often just because Mr. Macawber is so funny. That part was written for W.C. Fields, who did get to play it. And, you can call me a sucker if you want, but I love it when Dickens gets all emotional and makes me cry. He can manipulate my emotions all he wants.

    I do want to make one correction. Once he was established, Dickens owned the magazines his books were first published in. He wasn’t paid by the word. He was self-published, at least in periodical form. Book piracy was so bad in his day that he made very little money off of actual books. Most of his wealth came from speaking engagements. He made a fortune reading the Little Nell’s death scene from The Old Curiosity Shop, a book I’m sure you would hate. Really. Go with Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend, maybe Hard Times. Hard Times is very short for Dickens.

    Meantime, I need to get Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. Sounds excellent. Thanks for an excellent review.

    • January 22, 2010 1:27 pm

      Thanks CB! Every time I started Pickwick Papers, I was like “This is so hilarious. I love this.” And then after around 200 pages, I was like “Ok. I can’t take anymore.” lol

      Thanks for the correction-I fixed it in my post!

  10. January 21, 2010 7:46 am

    Absolutely fantastic. What a great way to review books.

    I didn’t realise Dickens got paid by the word, no wonder his books are like tombs. This is why I haven’t ever read any, as they are just so darn big.

    • January 22, 2010 1:31 pm

      CB tells me that that’s not true, lol. I guess it’s an urban legend!

  11. January 21, 2010 7:58 am

    I’m completely with you on Dickens – Oliver Twist was the book that put me off him in the first place. I have heard that the best of his books is David Copperfield, but I haven’t got round to it yet.

    I love, love, love Frederick Douglass! I think he was such a fantastic person. He is my total hero and I think we should put him on the $20 bill instead of Andrew Jackson (he has a good face for being on money, don’t you think?) I love him because he really knew the power of words – it shines through his autobiography – and also because he continued to work with the women’s movement after the Civil War. He said working with the women’s suffrage movement was the most rewarding thing he did in his life. :)

    • January 22, 2010 1:31 pm

      I know I already e-mailed you, but I totally wish that you were in charge of the mint! Because Douglass on our $20 bill would be SO perfect!

  12. January 21, 2010 8:47 am

    Eva, I loved this review (including the format!) so much. I admit it – I am not a Dickens reader. I have tried over and over again to read his works, be they A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, or Great Expectations… and every time, I soon find myself overcome with dread when it comes time to read him. Because I find his prose rather painful – beautiful and evocative some times – but largely unremarkable and stolid and just not fun to read. I recently tackled (and lost!) Great Expectations again and while I made it the farthest I ever have this time, it was still not meant to be. I think I might write my reflections on what I did read because I did find portions exhilarating but I think it would have wounded my reading soul to much if I had continued on. I’m glad I’m not alone in being less than impressed with Mr. Dickens.

    Also, I found your letter to Douglass really wonderful. I stumbled across this book this morning during a perusal of the internet and mentally flagged it, so it was great to see a review from you!

    • January 22, 2010 1:32 pm

      Thanks! I think us non-Dicken people should unite! lol He’s soooooo over-rated. ;)

  13. January 21, 2010 9:34 am

    I haven’t read any of Dickens’ work in years, but I do remember enjoying it. I wonder how I’d feel about it now?

    • January 22, 2010 1:33 pm

      Interesting! I’ve never been a fan. ;)

  14. January 21, 2010 9:58 am

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your letters!

    As you know, I also enjoyed Oliver Twist. I didn’t feel manipulated. And I loved the humor that come out in the wordiness of his prose. I just like it, not love it, but I certainly look forward to reading more Dickens. I agree, though, that Collins creates more multi-dimensional characters! Even though Dickens is known for his character descriptions, they are rather flat and stereotyped. I enjoyed the book overall.

    And now i need to read Douglass!!

    • January 22, 2010 1:34 pm

      Thanks Rebecca! I just feel that him setting up all these situations with these poor innocent children felt artificial. But then, whenever an author breaks out things like cancer, abusive childhoods, etc., unless it’s handled really well, I feel like it’s manipulative. I think I’m just pick like that! ;)

  15. January 21, 2010 12:39 pm

    Amanda will be so disappointed, but I TOTALLY disagree with you about Oliver Twist AND No Name :). (And if you’re going to mention funny things, you HAVE to mention “I’ll eat my head,” which is one of my all time favorite absurd lines in literature. I say it to my kids once in a while. :P

    But, her’es the thing, to me, about Charles Dickens: Charles Dickens didn’t write about individual people in his books, is my opinion. He wrote these distillations of an idea of a person, or a class or a person, where he took the experience of being an orphan, or a self-righteous prig, or a kind rich man, or whatever, and boiled them down to the essence. The resulting person? Of course they don’t come across as a real person, but they aren’t SUPPOSED to, I don’t think . There are no Mr. Pumblechooks in the world, but nonetheless everyone has met one – or been one for a moment. Honestly, in that sense, I think Dickens is a lot like Victor Hugo – Gavroche is, much like Oliver Twist, a boiled down idea of a gamin (albeit he’s more like the Artful Dodger, but you know what I mean, I hope), sort of the quintessential soul of the Paris street, you know? Oliver Twist is the same – he’s the sort of representative spirit of the ground down orphan.

    As for the reliance on unbelievable coincidences? Yes, it’s silly – although it’s no less silly when, say, the sister in No Name just HAPPES to fall in love with the right person so that the fortune can end up in their hands again, and the sea captain HAPPENS to come across the other sister in the street so that he can take care of her. Or, say, the horrible profusion of identical twins in Shakespeare comedies. It’s fantasy playing, and I think you just sort of have to accept it for what it is, and I can totally understand it bothering you – though again, it’s such a common trope in literature, I imagine it will be difficult to avoid.

    The big difference between Oliver Twist and No Name, as social novels, for me, is that Oliver Twist is clumsy, overexuberant, and a bit maudlin at times, but I felt like he meant it. In No Name, I don’t always feel like that – and if you’re going to write a melodrama, it’s not a great place to explore the subtelty of your own doubts about an idea. Charles Dickens is ‘vulgar’ in the old high-nose lit sense of the world, and it amkes his books a bit eye-rolly at times. But, it’s also part of his strength. Dickens feels like he’s gotten his hands dirty, you know? And he feels, honeslty, like he is spending as much time talking to someone who ISN’T literary-minded as to someone who IS (though of course this doesn’t necessarily translate over the years, simply because language and convention have changed so much).

    Anyway, I’m not a Dickens fanboy, he’s not on my short list of people I’d canonize if I ran a church, but I do really enjoy the occaisional Oliver Twist or Great Expectations (which after all, has more or less the same failings and strengths). It’s not perfect (oh god, definitely not!), but it’s very human. :)

    • January 22, 2010 1:36 pm

      Ok, first of all, I definitely understand that Dickens was doing this stuff deliberately. But it just doesn’t work for me as a reader.

      I DON’T think that Gauvroche was nearly as one-dimensional as Artful Dodger. While Hugo relies on ‘types’ of characters, they still feel like real people to me. I care about what happens to them. Dickens never does that.

      And I *definitely* felt like Collins cared in No Name! I think the subtlety of presentation is what I love about him…there’s never a black-and-white world. I feel like Dickens insults his readers, as if to make a portrayal of the characters more nuanced would cloud the issue too much.

      So we’ll just agree to disagree! ;)

  16. January 21, 2010 12:54 pm

    Hehe I loved your letter but Great Expectations is one of my favourite books! I did read a heartbreaking biography of Catherine Dickens though, which convinced me that Dickens was an appalling man, Miss Havisham notwithstanding.

    • January 22, 2010 1:37 pm

      Really?! Wow! It’s funny how differently people react to the same books, especially classics. :D

  17. January 21, 2010 1:18 pm

    Eva, I love your letter format! It’s such a great idea, and really helps to formulate thoughts on books into more of a dialogue than a diatribe!

    I spent the summer after my freshman year in high school working through the collected works of Charles Dickens (mostly because my family owned the set and I just figured why not!) and I have to say that, out of the ones you mentioned having gone through, I found A Tale of Two Cities to be one of his best, mostly because I think he avoids the whole flat-characters-with-a-social-message thing that he seems to be championing so hard in Oliver Twist (and also quite a bit in David Copperfield). I think a lot of the issue stems from (and this is TOTALLY just my opinion, hehe) the fact that he wrote serially and thus kind of had to make sure that not only could his work be followed along the overarching plot line, but that the individual bits could be understood by new readers/those who hadn’t read the last bit in a while. Because of this, I think that his character development didn’t reach the level it could have. Which is so sad, because some of the plotlines/settings/contexts he works under are so wonderful!

    As far as the Fredrick Douglass, the only thing I can say is that I read it for my American Literature II survey course (the Reconstruction-contemporary) and didn’t like it one bit. In fact, I’m not sure I even finished it. But this may have had a lot to do with a stodgy professor who sounded like Garrison Keillor on Quaaludes. He also ruined The Sound and the Fury for me.

    • January 22, 2010 1:38 pm

      Thanks Chelsea-I’m glad you enjoyed the format!

      I’m *really* curious why you didn’t like the Douglass at all. I guess because I loved it so much, lol, I can’t imagine what the problem was!

      I love other Victorian writers who wrote serially, so I think the problem is Dickens. lol

  18. January 21, 2010 1:25 pm

    Dear Mr. Dickens

    Listen to Eva she makes a lot of sense.

    Sincerely

    Zee

    Eva I loved the format it is a great idea. Personally I find the convoluted plots in his books to be confusing and totally unnecessary. Great review!

  19. January 21, 2010 1:52 pm

    I really like how you wrote letters to the authors. What a great idea.

    I understand much of what you say about Dickens, but I would definitely second your idea of rereading Tale of Two Cities. An idea for the next Dickens read might be David Copperfield. I think it’s like a better version of Oliver Twist. Although I should admit that my discovery of Collins and Gaskell this year has really made me move Dickens down in my ranks of favorite authors.

    • January 22, 2010 1:40 pm

      I’ll keep David Copperfield in mind. :) I really hope I enjoy my reread of Tale of Two Cities!

  20. January 21, 2010 2:15 pm

    Oh I love these!! I am so far LOVING Dickens but have only read Mystery of Edwin Drood and A Christmas Carol. A Tale of Two Cities is next on my list.

    I’ve never read anything by Frederick Douglass but now I must. Thank you.

    • January 22, 2010 1:40 pm

      lol-maybe you started with the good ones! How did you get out of reading GE in school?!

  21. January 21, 2010 3:09 pm

    Re: Dickens, my recommendation is: Bleak House, Bleak House, Bleak House.

    But keep far away from David Copperfield which I hated.

    I like Narrative and the Life of Frederick Douglass. I started a biography / literary criticism book of him once that was quite interesting but that was a few years back and I think right before I moved, necessitating the return of that book to the library. I might have to track it down one of these days to resume it.

    • January 22, 2010 1:41 pm

      Oh dear; everyone’s giving me conflicting suggestions! lol I watched the adaptation of Bleak House last year, and loathed 90% of the plot and characters. So I’m thinking the book probably isn’t for me. ;)

      • January 23, 2010 6:04 pm

        Yeah. I adore the recent adaptation of Bleak House, so if you didn’t like that, you probably wouldn’t like the book.

  22. Jenny permalink
    January 21, 2010 3:15 pm

    Great review (as usual). I love some of Dickens and can’t get through others; I happen to dislike Great Expectations and feel meh about Oliver Twist. But Bleak House is *brilliant* — modern, dark, moving –and Our Mutual Friend is a very, very close second. I suggest you try those before giving up. (I also like Dombey and Son; it has one of the few strong women in Dickens.)

    • January 22, 2010 1:42 pm

      I’m not going for Bleak House, since I didn’t enjoy the adaptation. But *maybe* I’ll try Our Mutual Read. I’m not a fan of ‘dark’ stuff in general, though.

  23. January 21, 2010 3:34 pm

    I absolutely HATE Charles Dickens. I recently reread Great Expectations and was bored out of my mind. I still have a number of books by him left on my list, which I am not looking forward to reading.

    I do love Douglass, however. I actually love slave narratives for their honesty. Have you read Olaudah Equiano’s? His narrative is pretty fascinating as well.

    • January 22, 2010 1:49 pm

      I don’t know why you’d read more of him if you hate him! I want to read the Equiano, but this was my first slave narrative.

  24. January 21, 2010 6:27 pm

    I really like the format of your reviews this time!

    I also have never been able to like Charles Dickens… I hated Great Expectations, and tried to read a Tale of Two Cities once but could never get into it – I look forward to reading your review of rereading it, maybe if it holds up I’ll give Dickens another try.

    Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass sounds like a compelling read. I definitely want to give it a try!

    • January 22, 2010 1:50 pm

      I’m glad you liked the format Dana. :)

  25. January 21, 2010 7:36 pm

    I really like the letter format of your reviews, it’s different :) I have a 3 book collection of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, Du Bois’ The Soul of Black Fols and Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery. I intend on reading them asap.

    I haven’t read any Dickens, but I remember watching the movie Oliver Twist and not liking it so I never wanted to read the book. I really want to read Tale of Two Cities and I will give Oliver Twist and Great expectations a chance since they’re classics for a reason, right? And I don’t want to do as Twain says people do and talk about a classic never having read it.

    Thanks for these reviews! And for your GLBT recommendations. The women of Brewster Place was a good book, I didn’t love but I really liked it, Kiswana and the lesbian couple were the most interesting characters in my opinion. I liked Down to the Bone, I’d be curious to read your thoughts on it. i’m adding Passing because it’s set in harlem! in the 20s! During the Renaissance! (sorry for all the exclamations but the ’20s is one of my all time favorite periods to read about)

    • January 22, 2010 1:50 pm

      You’re SO lucky none of your teachers made you read Dickens! lol And I lurve the 20s too, so use all the exclamation points you deisre! :D

  26. January 21, 2010 9:29 pm

    Well, now I’m more than a little nervous about the number of Dickens books I have planned to read this year!

    • January 22, 2010 1:51 pm

      lol; lots of people who have left comments are Dickens fans! So don’t be too nervous. :)

  27. adevotedreader permalink
    January 21, 2010 9:38 pm

    I’ve been meaning to re-read Oliver Twist to see how it holds up, so your experience isn’t encouraging. Like yourself, I loved A Tale of Two Cities when I first read it as a kid, but have stuggled with Pickwick and Great Expectations. I loved Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend though, I wouldn’t give up on him until I’d tried those.

    • January 22, 2010 1:52 pm

      I didn’t like the BBC adaptation of Bleak House, so I doubt I’d like the book. ;) Maybe I’ll give Our Mutual Read a chance!

  28. January 21, 2010 10:18 pm

    The letter format is superb! I’ve been feeling like I want to write to Melville.
    I agree with Jenny about Frederick Douglas having a face that’s meant to be stamped on money.

    • January 22, 2010 1:55 pm

      Oh-I hope you write Melville a letter!

  29. January 22, 2010 1:35 am

    I love these comments! People either love Dickens or hate him, don’t they? I happen to think quite highly of him — David Copperfield might be almost my favorite book ever. But I can also see how it might not be for everyone.

    As far as his characters, I think Jason stated my beliefs well in his comment. I think that they are supposed to be a bit one dimensional as they are symbols and devices — either for moving the plot or for manipulating the reader’s emotions.

    That all said, I think it’s great that you’re still trying out some of his books. :)

    • January 22, 2010 1:55 pm

      Yep-I don’t know many people who are neutral on Dickens! lol :)

  30. January 22, 2010 2:02 am

    How weird…I just finished Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass last night for my American lit class. I loved it. I think it is so cool that he cared about women’s rights so much.

    • January 22, 2010 1:56 pm

      Bookish coincidences are so much fun!

  31. January 22, 2010 3:58 am

    I read Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass my junior year of high school and loved it. I didn’t realize he had more titles. I shall definitely check them out.
    Loved your letters. Very clever. :)

    • January 22, 2010 1:56 pm

      I wish I’d first read him in high school! I’ll have to make up for lost time now. ;)

  32. January 22, 2010 6:46 am

    I ought to refrain from recommending anything as I didn’t finish A Tale of Two Cities, but loved Great Expectations (although I think Dickens spoilt it by changing the ending). I agree with you about Oliver Twist though – not his best.

    If I was going to recommend one (can’t help myself), it would be Bleak House.

    • January 22, 2010 1:58 pm

      lol! All these Bleak House recommendations! I feel bad for declining…but if I didn’t like the plot/characters in the adaptation, do you think I’d like them in the book?

  33. January 22, 2010 11:37 am

    Why have I not read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass yet?!! I think he is one of the most amazing people who has ever lived…and yet I’ve read none of his books yet. Bad me. So many places my reading is lacking.

    • January 22, 2010 1:59 pm

      My reading is lacking all over the place too! He’s definitely amazing. :)

  34. January 25, 2010 8:58 pm

    I’ll join in the chorus – I loved this post format! And Bleak House is also my favorite Dickens’, and one of my favorites period, although I can see how it’s not for everyone. I tried watching the BBC adaptation twice and got bored and fell asleep both times though, so that might not be a reason not to try it. It is full of coincidences and oddities like a man spontaneously combusting though, so you may still not like it, although I found it charming. I did enjoy David Copperfield as well, but it’s got a lot of beating you over the head stuff going on, and a bit of a meandering plot. I love A Christmas Carol and like Nicholas Nickleby, although it took me a while to finish it. It would have been better condensed. I liked Great Expectations on a reread, but not the first time in junior high. I started A Tale of Two Cities and didn’t get very far. It didn’t seem very Dickensian to me and that threw me off.

    I read Narrative during college and enjoyed it. I was also surprised by it. I thought it would be boring and dry for some reason. I think I thought it would read like a treatise or something. I’m not sure why. I ended up really enjoying it. Douglass was fascinating and inspiring.

    Oh, and on Dickens not getting paid by the word, I do think he had to stretch to fit the serial layouts though. I think he had a preset lay out he was following, and he had to stretch sometimes to fit that. Or maybe that’s just part of the urban legend about him being paid by the word. I think I was taught that in college though, so I hope that part is at least true! But maybe it’s just an excuse for people who love Dickens and don’t want people dissing him!

    • February 10, 2010 2:26 am

      Thanks! lol @ your impression of Bleak House; perhaps I won’t write the book off altogether. :)

  35. February 8, 2010 1:21 pm

    Thank you for your review of Oliver Twist! I have never been able to go through one single Dickens novel, which makes me sort of an outcast in the English-speaking world.
    About his characters being unbelievable archetypes without substance and his plots being convoluted knots of knots without rime or reason, yes, quite possibly he did it on purpose, but there are so many great Victorian novelists who are a pleasure to read: Eliot, Gaskell, Trollope, Emily Bronte…

    • February 10, 2010 2:26 am

      Don’t feel like on outcast! I’m just happy that you agree with me. :)

  36. December 16, 2010 7:31 pm

    A house is not a home

  37. December 16, 2010 8:03 pm

    There’s no smoke without fire !

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