28 May 2011

More on Dickens

First, to my long-suffering followers, I apologize profusely for not posting anything since February. Although not a full excuse, I will tell you that this semester has tried my patience like no other. We had two snowstorms and record cold and as a result lost a full week of classes. In addition, I had to go through a newly set-up five-year evaluation at TCU which really threw me for a loop (never fear, the outcome was ok). As a result, we never got caught up and our poor students were stressed.

Now that is all over and we are back to normal (I hope). Well, I have just finished reading David Copperfield. In previous posts I have pointed out the weakness of the good characters in Oliver Twist and Tale of Two Cities. Now David Copperfield is something else entirely. It's a wonderful novel with a variety of criminal, good, and in-between characters, all of whom are beautifully drawn. It's a deftly orchestrated symphony of hope, disappointment, growth, struggle, criminality, justice, and love. Why is this novel so superior to the other two?

I think Dickens was entirely in his element using a first-person narration and doing a wonderfully perceptive critique of British society in the middle of the 19th century. Abstracting himself and trying to see an entire period and society from a detached viewpoint as in the other two novels did not work for him as it did for Hugo, for example. But placing himself in the middle of events, in a manner Marshall McLuhan would call audio-tactile-visual, that is, in touch with the full sensorial experience, Dickens pulled off a masterpiece of insightful representation. No wonder it is deservedly beloved.

Dickens was ahead of his time in seeing the value of human beings in their character and not in the social position they were born into. It's too bad corporations view humans strictly as either consumers who enrich them by buying their products or abstracted holders of jobs in production and no more than that. How inhuman!

Many 20th-century writers have highlighted the inhumanity of people in the technological, post-modern age. I hope in my work I appeal again to the humanity of the individual against very big odds.


  1. Now, what made you change your mind? I thought David Copperfield was just as long and difficult as the others. Maybe if he wasn't paid per word, and they were more compressed, and had less than 50000000000 background characters, I'd have more fun reading them?

  2. Oh, and do you think you are more in your element in first person?

  3. I write short stories in Spanish. Some of them are in first person, some not. I attempt to vary my point of view. I haven't changed my mind about Oliver Twist or Tale of Two Cities. David Copperfield is a complete vision of characters, place, and time in a way the other two do not achieve. Copperfield is readable and holds my interest and I believe that it is through the reality of the characters. Or maybe it's just intangible: it grabbed me, whereas the other two did not. That is the power and wonder of literature.