Eco, Chuckie D., who else?

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Mon Feb 10 17:49:35 EST 2003

On Mon, 10 Feb 2003 21:56:55 +0000, hallieod at wrote:

>Now guaranteed porn free!  Though my arguing ("discussing", please, 
>*"discussing"*) with Melissa might not be considered spam free by 
>everyone... :-)

We certainly seem to go at it at length, don't we?  Maybe we should include
advertisements as well....

>>Geez, Hallie, you want me to fight EVERY battle?  :)
>Well, don't you *want* me to?  Or, maybe don't answer that one - I 
>might sleep better if you don't. :-)  I guess it's just that I've got 
>nothing else to do.  (That is of course to be read as heavily 

I meant that YOU should fight the battle over Dickens and leave me to do
other useful things, like sort yarn and go shopping.  ;)

>>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.
>You just *might* be able to make the case that calling Dickens a 
>"pot-boiler" writer wasn't pejorative - though it'd be harder as you 
>have previously made pretty dismissive remarks about John Grisham 

I am dismissive of him as a writer to recommend to others, plus I hate most
of his books.  But as a literary phenomenon, I respect what he's doing.
Although the last book I read by him was _Skipping Christmas_ and I just
wished someone had been able to show him how to hone that book into
something wonderful.  Now I just feel sad about him.

And anyway, most of the time "potboiler" means something nasty, so I'm not
really going to defend the use of the term--just the concept, if that makes
sense.  I.e. if you call something a potboiler, it has a literal meaning
(unoriginal, full of cliches and reused images, a book grown from a template
with only cosmetic changes from all the other potboilers) and a pejorative
meaning; the name-calling is indefensible, but examining the literal meaning
and how such a text connects to the literary tradition would be all right.
I just don't know another term other than "popular novel," which is
inaccurate because you can have a popular novel that isn't a potboiler.

>  But I defy you to turn "not liking Dickens is a sign of a 
>highly developed mature literary taste" into a non-pejorative remark. 
>;-)  I'm working really hard here not to break out into a whine 
>suitable only in a child younger than 10 years of age.  "But it's not 
>FAIR!  Why did you let HER get away with calling me names and you 
>never let ME do it?"

I'm SORRY.  I'm really REALLY SORRY.  It was the last post I did that night
and I was tired and (whine) I don't always feel like defending Dickens
because basically I think he did write a lot of stuff because he was getting
paid for it and he went on and on because then he'd get paid more and
(whine) I would LOVE to believe that if I don't like Dickens it's because
I'm way mature, instead of a stupid uncivilized person.  So there.

And besides, why are you griping at me?!  Go yell at Robyn for a while.
It's *HER* opinion.  :)

>>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.
>That's interesting - I wonder if experience on this is slightly 
>different on the two sides of the Atlantic.  I think it would have 
>been hard for anyone of my generation over here to have managed not 
>to read at least one Dickens in school, which might do away with the 
>reverence-without-reading.  But our (University) Lit. courses  are so 
>focused on a more inclusive study of books which might have been 
>dismissed as "mere potboilers" a lit crit generation or so ago (_The 
>Woman in White_ and _Dracula_ being good examples) that I haven't 
>seen any of the debate you mention.  Of course, this is only my 
>experience with the Open University, which is well-known as a 
>subversive bunch of radicals. ;-)

Yeah, I'm so sure they were radicals before YOU showed up.  :)

It's actually less common in the actual university establishment than it is
among educated readers talking amongst themselves.  I haven't had to read
Dickens since high school, and I've been trying to remember if any of the
English lit courses required his study...very likely one of the senior
survey courses would have, but those are very fluid from semester to
semester, depending on who's doing the teaching.

The funny thing is, it never occurred to me until now that I went all the
way through college without reading Dickens.  I wish I had noticed this at
the time, because I would have been in a better position to ask about how he
was perceived in the Establishment.

>I probably shouldn't even ask, but what do you think that finding 
>Dickens relevant to today reveals?  I almost can't imagine anyone not 
>finding a lot of what he writes relevant, though I can easily see 
>disliking his style.

No, not relevant TO today, relevant TODAY.  As in, worth studying in itself
as you would any other literature.  I mean that I can imagine reading
Dickens in a university setting and taking him as seriously as, say, my pal
Thomas Hardy, but I can also imagine someone taking the "he was a hack, but
let's look at what made him so popular and compare it to the hacks of today"

>Lol.  I'd tend to suggest _Great Expectations_ if you want a 
>recommendation for whenever you get around to giving him one more 
>shot.  Not that I've read all of Dickens by any means, but GE is 
>probably my favourite of all the ones I've read.  And then we could 
>have a big old discussion about it! :-)

Well, that's one of the ones I've read, so it might be interesting.  I've
always wanted to read _The Old Curiosity Shop_ after reading Connie Willis's
_Bellwether_, which refers to the mania that sprang up on both sides of the
Atlantic over that book.

> Ven should be all recovered 
>by then and might be persuaded to join in (unless I'm mis-remembering 
>and you're not a Dickens fan, Ven, in which case...)  (I won't say it 
>as it might be RUDE.)

Great.  Now we have another list catchphrase with too many meanings.  :)

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