Eco, Dickens, who else?

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Mon Feb 10 12:02:15 EST 2003

On Mon, 10 Feb 2003 09:25:41 +0000, hallieod at wrote:

>>>Not liking Dickens is a sign of a highly developed mature literary taste,
>>>in my opinion. Just because a pot boiler is 150 years old doesn't make it
>>>any less of a pot boiler.
>>I sure hope it's a sign of mature taste, because I don't think I'll ever
>>appreciate Dickens.  It feels too much like work to me.
>ARGH!  I go off to bed, exhausted from a couple of days of what has 
>become virtually running a hospital ward, and wake up to find this. 
>Melissa, I thought at least you'd be consistent in not letting people 
>dismiss writers and books this way. :-)

Geez, Hallie, you want me to fight EVERY battle?  :)  Besides, there is a
level on which Dickens can be evaluated in the same way as our modern
"potboiler" writers like, for example, John Grisham.  Believe it or not, I
don't consider it a pejorative.  Popular success is not to be laughed at.

>And just to attempt to make you feel properly guilty (assuming that 
>the fact that I like Dickens, and think the way he used popular 
>traditions of the time was great, is nowhere near enough to 
>accomplish this), I offer you a quote from the dread Leavis:
>	We may reasonably... see some Dickensian influence in 
>Conrad's use of melodrama, or what would have been melodrama in 
>Dickens; for in Conrad the end is a total significance of a 
>profoundly serious kind.  The reason for not including Dickens in the 
>line of great novelists  is implicit in this last phrase.... The 
>adult mind doesn't as a rule find in Dickens a challenge to an 
>unusual and sustained seriousness.
>Does that accomplish the task?

Doesn't that quote sort of say that Dickens isn't challenging to the adult
mind?  So I'm still justified?  :)

Okay, seriously.  What's interesting to me about the way Dickens is
perceived as a writer today is that there are so many divergent attitudes.
Uneducated people just lump him in with all those old writers of classics
and revere the name and the concept without ever reading his books--but
among educated people there's this war about "yes he's great" and "no he's
not" and what it comes down to is the fundamental assumptions you have about
literary greatness and so forth.  So I think it's as valid to refer to
Dickens as a mere writer of potboilers as it is to find his writing relevant
today.  It's more revelatory than anything else, which stance you take.

And don't worry.  I haven't read anything by Dickens since high school, and
I'm not going to dismiss him until I've given him one more shot.  Back then,
I was concerned...well, have you ever read bios of people that say
"So-and-so read _War and Peace_ when he was 8 years old" or things along
those lines?  I was unduly influenced by the idea that if I was a Genius, I
ought to be reading Genius books.  Being completely uninterested in _A Tale
of Two Cities_ made me feel depressed.  I'm less worried about it now.

Melissa Proffitt

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