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1. New York Public Library Launches Holiday-Themed Pop-Up Exhibit

NYPL Holiday LionThe New York Public Library has opened a pop-up exhibit called “A Writer’s Christmas: Dickens & More.”

This program was organized to celebrate the holiday season. Some of the items being displayed include a Christmas card from James Joyce, a Christmas-themed book by T. S. Eliot, and ceramic figurines associated with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

According to the press release, visitors will only be able to see this exhibit at the McGraw Rotunda inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The closing date has been scheduled for Jan. 04, 2016.

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2. Charles West and Florence Nightingale: Children’s healthcare in context

At the dawn of the children’s hospital movement in Europe and the West (best epitomised and exemplified by the opening of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (GOSH) on 14 February 1852), the plight of sick children was precarious at all levels of society. After a long campaign by Dr Charles West, Great Ormond Street hospital was the first establishment to provide in-patient beds specifically for children in England.

The post Charles West and Florence Nightingale: Children’s healthcare in context appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Which Great Expectations character are you?

The characters in Great Expectations are a rather lively bunch; even Orlick, who is (arguably) one of the most foul characters in the book, has a deal of depth that makes us love to hate him. Throughout this season's reading group, have you ever wondered which of Dickens's characters you're most like?

The post Which Great Expectations character are you? appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Discussion questions for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

We're just over a fortnight away from the end of our third season of the Oxford World's Classics Reading Group. It's still not too late to join us as we follow the story of young Pip and his great expectations. If you're already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text.

The post Discussion questions for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Holiday Book Favorites with Sherri L. Smith, Author of The Toymaker’s Apprentice

Sherri L. Smith, author of The Toymaker's Apprentice, selected these five holiday book favorites.

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6. Dickens’ fascination with London [map]

At the height of his career - during the time he was writing Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend - Dickens wrote a series of sketches, mostly set in London, which he collected as The Uncommercial Traveller. The persona of the 'Uncommercial' allowed Dickens to unify his series of occasional articles by linking them through a shared narrator.

The post Dickens’ fascination with London [map] appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. Penguin Young Readers Group & Ruta Sepetys Host the Out of the Easy Essay Contest

Out of the EasyYoung adult author Ruta Sepetys and her publisher, Penguin Young Readers Group, will host the 3rd annual Out of the Easy essay content. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money towards the college of his or her choice.

Eligibility is limited to high school students in the 11th and 12th grade. Participants must write a three-page piece in response to this Charles Dickens quote: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Follow this link to learn more about all the rules. A submission deadline has been set for May 30th.

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8. My Writing and Reading Life: Simon Nicholson

Simon Nicholson writes for Nick Jr. including such shows as Tickety Tock, Bob the Builder, and Zack and Quack, as well as for BBC children’s programming.

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9. Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 3: Great Expectations

When a mysterious benefaction takes Young Pip from the Kent marshes to London, his prospects of advancement improve greatly. Yet Pip finds he is haunted by figures from his past: the escaped convict Magwitch; the time-withered Miss Havisham and her proud and beautiful ward Estella; his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe. In time, Pip uncovers not just the origins of his great expectations but the mystery of his own heart.

The post Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 3: Great Expectations appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. What Is It? Fables & Parables For All Readers

Today I thought I’d take a closer look at the differences between fables and parables and come up with some recommendations for readers of all ages who enjoy a little learning with their leisure. A fable is: a short story that conveys a moral to the reader, typically with animals as characters. A parable is: a short story designed […]

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11. Miss Havisham takes on the London Gentleman: An OWC audio guide to Great Expectations

Perhaps Dickens's best-loved work, Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a young man with few prospects for advancement until a mysterious benefactor allows him to escape the Kent marshes for a more promising life in London.

The post Miss Havisham takes on the London Gentleman: An OWC audio guide to Great Expectations appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. Tilda Swinton Shares Summer Reading List

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13. All the Year Round, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, 1859–1861

When, in 1859, Dickens decided to publish a statement in the press about his personal affairs he expected that Bradbury and Evans would run it in Punch, which they also published. He was furious when they, very reasonably, declined to insert ‘statements on a domestic and painful subject in the inappropriate columns of a comic miscellany’ (Patten, 262). He therefore determined to break with them completely and to return to his old publishers Chapman and Hall.

The post All the Year Round, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, 1859–1861 appeared first on OUPblog.

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14. The public life of Charles Dickens

Our Oxford World's Classics reading group, in its third season, has chosen Dickens's Great Expectations for discussion. In addition to analyzing that a work for its literary depth, it is just as important to consider an author's life and the context in which the work was written.

The post The public life of Charles Dickens appeared first on OUPblog.

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15. Guilty

I’m a little over 80% of the way through David Copperfield. I give you a percentage because I am reading it on my Kindle and I have no idea what this looks like in terms of the print book. I am enjoying the book very much but I have come to a place where I feel guilty.

You see earlier in the book David met and fell in love with Dora. Dora is an affectionate airhead and so completely the wrong woman for David. But youth and love and youth in love don’t always make the best choices. And so David marries her in spite me repeatedly telling him not to. It is so frustrating when characters do not obey one’s wishes! And of course the marriage is a disaster, though David doesn’t realize it at first while in the clutches of newlywed bliss. But as time goes on and Dora refuses to act anything other than a child, he regrets his choice. He loves her still, but he wishes he had someone with sense with whom he could actually talk about things.

While David continues to love Dora in spite of all, she is nails on a chalkboard to me and I just want to slap her. Hard. I, of course, know exactly who David should marry. And so I have been reading and hoping that maybe something will happen to Dora. I thought she could die in childbirth and that would be just fine.

Then we are told she has a baby, but the baby was sickly and dies very soon after birth. Dora, however, never quite recovers and she begins a slow decline. I almost cheered. Dora’s going to die and David can marry the right person, hooray! And then I felt really, really guilty. As Dora goes downhill she makes me feel worse and worse for wishing her dead. For in her decline she remains cheerful, sunny, and affectionate which shows she has some strength of character in there after all. In my wish for her demise I am no better than the wicked Uriah Heep!

If Dora’s death turns out to be an affecting scene that brings tears to my eyes I am not sure if that will mean I can be forgiven for wishing her ill or that I am being punished for it by being made to cry in public (this being my commute book I am always in public while reading it). Perhaps I should start carrying a handkerchief I can throw over my face like they do in the book. No one will know what I am doing under that handkerchief! I might even frighten enough people that the transit police will show up to talk to me. Wouldn’t that be exciting? They’d haul me off for a psych eval if I tell them I am upset over my book. Would serve me right I guess for wishing Dora dead.

Filed under: Books, Charles Dickens, In Progress

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16. David Copperfield

Tristram Shandy still being in my not long ago reading memory I could not help but compare the opening of that book to David Copperfield.

A memory refresher in case it has been a while since you read either book or in case you have never read them at all.

Tristram Shandy begins:

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.

And David Copperfield:

I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

Both books are coming of age stories written from the perspective of a later date and both books begin at the beginning only it takes Tristram nearly half to book to actually get born where David does it in the first sentence. Both books are more about character than plot and filled with digressions. But the whole point of Tristram is the digression and Copperfield always comes back to a main progression toward a firm conclusion. Tristram ends with a joke and loose ends flying everywhere, while Copperfield ends with everything wrapped up and tied with a neat little bow. I’ve no further comparisons to make or brilliant observations, I only wanted to remark how fascinating literature is that you can have the same basic story told in two completely different ways.

What I found really interesting about David Copperfield is how all the characters come in pairs except for David, he is left alone until late in the book. There are the brother and sister Murdstones, Dr. Strong and Mrs. Strong, Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Uriah Heep and his mother, David’s aunt and Mr. Dick, Steerforth and his butler Littimer. Everybody has somebody except David who goes from pairing to pairing, learning from each while being cared for or hated.

I would have thought that in all these relational pairings David would have learned something about pairing up himself, but alas, he makes the same mistake his father made and chooses a “child-wife.” When he gets a second chance he makes the correct choice but he had to learn the hard way.

In spite of its length and lack of real drama, David Copperfield moves along pretty well without bogging down at all. It does bog down though. The last 15% of the book dragged as David went on his European tour to get over his grief at losing Dora and as Dickens felt compelled to tie up all the ends. The wrapping up went on and on and on as characters died, got put in jail, or shipped out to Australia. Australia solved a lot of problems for Dickens in this book. Need to get rid of a thief? Send him to Australia! Need a fresh start? Go to Australia! It actually got to be kind of funny. It’s a good thing Dickens had so many characters to dispose of, which was probably the problem in the first place. Nonetheless, good book. And if you like Dickens you are sure to enjoy David Copperfield.

Filed under: Books, Charles Dickens, Reviews

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17. A Child's History of England (1854)

A Child's History of England. Charles Dickens. 1851-1853.  390 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

What a treat to discover Charles Dickens' A Child's History of England. I enjoyed Dickens style. I liked the action and characterization. It was also rich in description. Here's the first sentence,
"In the old days, a long, long while ago, before Our Saviour was born on earth and lay asleep in a manger, these Islands were in the same place, and the stormy sea roared round them, just as it roars now. But the sea was not alive, then, with great ships and brave sailors, sailing to and from all parts of the world. It was very lonely. The Islands lay solitary, in the great expanse of water. The foaming waves dashed against their cliffs, and the bleak winds blew over their forests; but the winds and waves brought no adventurers to land upon the Islands, and the savage Islanders knew nothing of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world knew nothing of them."
Not that every sentence is that scripted or forced. The book itself is very readable. The chapters are rarely--if ever--boring. That being said, some chapters are more exciting than others.

I recently read Jane Austen's History of England. Dickens is definitely partial and prejudiced in his historical approach as well, even, if his book tries (with varying success) to carry more authority and substance. While I think Austen approached her work in fun with a good amount of playfulness, Dickens takes his subject much more seriously. While one can entertain doubts that Austen truly means every word she wrote in A History of England, Dickens opinions, which are even harsher in some ways, sound genuine enough. For better or worse. I don't have a problem with historians having opinions, and being passionate about the subject. But it's always nice to know that they know it's all so very subjective. Dickens and I would definitely disagree in places!!! Especially when he includes women in his history. And especially about Richard III!

  • Begins around the time of the Romans, ends around 1688 Revolution
  • Covers centuries of stories and legends and facts
  • Mainly focuses on royalty
  • Seeks to explain big subjects simply
  • Written with emphasis on characters and personalities
  • Shows the subjectivity of history
Hengist and Horsa drove out the Picts and Scots; and Vortigern, being grateful to them for that service, made no opposition to their settling themselves in that part of England which is called the Isle of Thanet, or to their inviting over more of their countrymen to join them. But Hengist had a beautiful daughter named Rowena; and when, at a feast, she filled a golden goblet to the brim with wine, and gave it to Vortigern, saying in a sweet voice, ‘Dear King, thy health!’ the King fell in love with her. My opinion is, that the cunning Hengist meant him to do so, in order that the Saxons might have greater influence with him; and that the fair Rowena came to that feast, golden goblet and all, on purpose.
But the Duke showed so little inclination to do so now, that he proposed to Canute to marry his sister, the widow of The Unready; who, being but a showy flower, and caring for nothing so much as becoming a queen again, left her children and was wedded to him.
The King’s brother, Robert of Normandy, seeming quite content to be only Duke of that country; and the King’s other brother, Fine-Scholar, being quiet enough with his five thousand pounds in a chest; the King flattered himself, we may suppose, with the hope of an easy reign. But easy reigns were difficult to have in those days. [The King was William II]
Although King Stephen was, for the time in which he lived, a humane and moderate man, with many excellent qualities; and although nothing worse is known of him than his usurpation of the Crown, which he probably excused to himself by the consideration that King Henry the First was a usurper too — which was no excuse at all; the people of England suffered more in these dread nineteen years, than at any former period even of their suffering history. In the division of the nobility between the two rival claimants of the Crown, and in the growth of what is called the Feudal System (which made the peasants the born vassals and mere slaves of the Barons), every Noble had his strong Castle, where he reigned the cruel king of all the neighbouring people. Accordingly, he perpetrated whatever cruelties he chose. And never were worse cruelties committed upon earth than in wretched England in those nineteen years. The writers who were living then describe them fearfully. They say that the castles were filled with devils rather than with men; that the peasants, men and women, were put into dungeons for their gold and silver, were tortured with fire and smoke, were hung up by the thumbs, were hung up by the heels with great weights to their heads, were torn with jagged irons, killed with hunger, broken to death in narrow chests filled with sharp-pointed stones, murdered in countless fiendish ways. In England there was no corn, no meat, no cheese, no butter, there were no tilled lands, no harvests. Ashes of burnt towns, and dreary wastes, were all that the traveller, fearful of the robbers who prowled abroad at all hours, would see in a long day’s journey; and from sunrise until night, he would not come upon a home. The clergy sometimes suffered, and heavily too, from pillage, but many of them had castles of their own, and fought in helmet and armour like the barons, and drew lots with other fighting men for their share of booty. The Pope (or Bishop of Rome), on King Stephen’s resisting his ambition, laid England under an Interdict at one period of this reign; which means that he allowed no service to be performed in the churches, no couples to be married, no bells to be rung, no dead bodies to be buried. Any man having the power to refuse these things, no matter whether he were called a Pope or a Poulterer, would, of course, have the power of afflicting numbers of innocent people. That nothing might be wanting to the miseries of King Stephen’s time, the Pope threw in this contribution to the public store — not very like the widow’s contribution, as I think, when Our Saviour sat in Jerusalem over-against the Treasury, ‘and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.’
He had four sons. Henry, now aged eighteen — his secret crowning of whom had given such offence to Thomas à Becket. Richard, aged sixteen; Geoffrey, fifteen; and John, his favourite, a young boy whom the courtiers named Lackland, because he had no inheritance, but to whom the King meant to give the Lordship of Ireland. All these misguided boys, in their turn, were unnatural sons to him, and unnatural brothers to each other. Prince Henry, stimulated by the French King, and by his bad mother, Queen Eleanor, began the undutiful history, First, he demanded that his young wife, Margaret, the French King’s daughter, should be crowned as well as he. His father, the King, consented, and it was done. It was no sooner done, than he demanded to have a part of his father’s dominions, during his father’s life. This being refused, he made off from his father in the night, with his bad heart full of bitterness, and took refuge at the French King’s Court. Within a day or two, his brothers Richard and Geoffrey followed. Their mother tried to join them — escaping in man’s clothes — but she was seized by King Henry’s men, and immured in prison, where she lay, deservedly, for sixteen years. [Henry II and his children]
Nothing can make war otherwise than horrible.
Ah! happy had it been for the Maid of Orleans, if she had resumed her rustic dress that day, and had gone home to the little chapel and the wild hills, and had forgotten all these things, and had been a good man’s wife, and had heard no stranger voices than the voices of little children!
Sir Robert Brackenbury was at that time Governor of the Tower. To him, by the hands of a messenger named John Green, did King Richard send a letter, ordering him by some means to put the two young princes to death. But Sir Robert — I hope because he had children of his own, and loved them — sent John Green back again, riding and spurring along the dusty roads, with the answer that he could not do so horrible a piece of work. The King, having frowningly considered a little, called to him Sir James Tyrrel, his master of the horse, and to him gave authority to take command of the Tower, whenever he would, for twenty-four hours, and to keep all the keys of the Tower during that space of time. Tyrrel, well knowing what was wanted, looked about him for two hardened ruffians, and chose John Dighton, one of his own grooms, and Miles Forest, who was a murderer by trade. Having secured these two assistants, he went, upon a day in August, to the Tower, showed his authority from the King, took the command for four-and-twenty hours, and obtained possession of the keys. And when the black night came he went creeping, creeping, like a guilty villain as he was, up the dark, stone winding stairs, and along the dark stone passages, until he came to the door of the room where the two young princes, having said their prayers, lay fast asleep, clasped in each other’s arms. And while he watched and listened at the door, he sent in those evil demons, John Dighton and Miles Forest, who smothered the two princes with the bed and pillows, and carried their bodies down the stairs, and buried them under a great heap of stones at the staircase foot. And when the day came, he gave up the command of the Tower, and restored the keys, and hurried away without once looking behind him; and Sir Robert Brackenbury went with fear and sadness to the princes’ room, and found the princes gone for ever.
We now come to King Henry the Eighth, whom it has been too much the fashion to call ‘Bluff King Hal,’ and ‘Burly King Harry,’ and other fine names; but whom I shall take the liberty to call, plainly, one of the most detestable villains that ever drew breath. You will be able to judge, long before we come to the end of his life, whether he deserves the character.
Her bad marriage with a worse man came to its natural end. Its natural end was not, as we shall too soon see, a natural death for her.
Henry the Eighth has been favoured by some Protestant writers, because the Reformation was achieved in his time. But the mighty merit of it lies with other men and not with him; and it can be rendered none the worse by this monster’s crimes, and none the better by any defence of them. The plain truth is, that he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England.
Mary was now crowned Queen. She was thirty-seven years of age, short and thin, wrinkled in the face, and very unhealthy. But she had a great liking for show and for bright colours, and all the ladies of her Court were magnificently dressed. She had a great liking too for old customs, without much sense in them; and she was oiled in the oldest way, and blessed in the oldest way, and done all manner of things to in the oldest way, at her coronation. I hope they did her good. She soon began to show her desire to put down the Reformed religion, and put up the unreformed one: though it was dangerous work as yet, the people being something wiser than they used to be. They even cast a shower of stones — and among them a dagger — at one of the royal chaplains who attacked the Reformed religion in a public sermon. But the Queen and her priests went steadily on.
It would seem that Philip, the Prince of Spain, was a main cause of this change in Elizabeth’s fortunes. He was not an amiable man, being, on the contrary, proud, overbearing, and gloomy; but he and the Spanish lords who came over with him, assuredly did discountenance the idea of doing any violence to the Princess. It may have been mere prudence, but we will hope it was manhood and honour. The Queen had been expecting her husband with great impatience, and at length he came, to her great joy, though he never cared much for her.
She was clever, but cunning and deceitful, and inherited much of her father’s violent temper. I mention this now, because she has been so over-praised by one party, and so over-abused by another, that it is hardly possible to understand the greater part of her reign without first understanding what kind of woman she really was... The Queen always declared in good set speeches, that she would never be married at all, but would live and die a Maiden Queen. It was a very pleasant and meritorious declaration, I suppose; but it has been puffed and trumpeted so much, that I am rather tired of it myself... It is very difficult to make out, at this distance of time, and between opposite accounts, whether Elizabeth really was a humane woman, or desired to appear so, or was fearful of shedding the blood of people of great name who were popular in the country. [About Queen Elizabeth]
‘Our cousin of Scotland’ was ugly, awkward, and shuffling both in mind and person. His tongue was much too large for his mouth, his legs were much too weak for his body, and his dull goggle-eyes stared and rolled like an idiot’s. He was cunning, covetous, wasteful, idle, drunken, greedy, dirty, cowardly, a great swearer, and the most conceited man on earth... While these events were in progress, and while his Sowship was making such an exhibition of himself, from day to day and from year to year, as is not often seen in any sty... [About King James I]
Baby Charles became King Charles the First, in the twenty-fifth year of his age. Unlike his father, he was usually amiable in his private character, and grave and dignified in his bearing; but, like his father, he had monstrously exaggerated notions of the rights of a king, and was evasive, and not to be trusted. If his word could have been relied upon, his history might have had a different end... With all my sorrow for him, I cannot agree with him that he died ‘the martyr of the people;’ for the people had been martyrs to him, and to his ideas of a King’s rights, long before.
There never were such profligate times in England as under Charles the Second. Whenever you see his portrait, with his swarthy, ill-looking face and great nose, you may fancy him in his Court at Whitehall, surrounded by some of the very worst vagabonds in the kingdom (though they were lords and ladies), drinking, gambling, indulging in vicious conversation, and committing every kind of profligate excess. It has been a fashion to call Charles the Second ‘The Merry Monarch.’ Let me try to give you a general idea of some of the merry things that were done, in the merry days when this merry gentleman sat upon his merry throne, in merry England. The first merry proceeding was — of course — to declare that he was one of the greatest, the wisest, and the noblest kings that ever shone, like the blessed sun itself, on this benighted earth. The next merry and pleasant piece of business was, for the Parliament, in the humblest manner, to give him one million two hundred thousand pounds a year, and to settle upon him for life that old disputed tonnage and poundage which had been so bravely fought for. 
King James the Second was a man so very disagreeable, that even the best of historians has favoured his brother Charles, as becoming, by comparison, quite a pleasant character.
As you can see, Dickens is very, very, very opinionated! A Child's History of England is an interesting and entertaining read for the history lover.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. On Great Expectations

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 24 June 2014, Maura Kelly, author of Much Ado About Loving, leads a discussion on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

By Maura Kelly

Great Expectations is arguably Charles Dickens’s finest novel – it has a more cogent, concise plot and a more authentic narrator than the other contender for that title, the sprawling masterpiece Bleak House. It may also enjoy another special distinction – Best Title for Any Novel Ever. Certainly, it might have served as the name for any of Dickens’s other novels, as the critic G. K. Chesterson has noted before me. “All of his books are full of an airy and yet ardent expectation of everything … of the next event, of the next ecstasy; of the next fulfillment of any eager human fancy,” wrote Chesterson. What’s more, it might have been used for a number of the best novels written by any author – American novels in particular. Think of The Great Gatsby, Absalom, Absalom, Invisible Man, or Revolutionary Road. The same goes for Saul Bellow’s short tour de force, Seize the Day, or that of Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle. But think too of Balzac’s novel Lost Illusions, nearly a synonym for Dickens’s phrase, or another French book, Madame Bovary. Think of all the works of Jane Austen, with the various expectations that so many characters in every one of her books have about who should marry whom. And on and on.

But think too of most life stories, most personal narratives: Might they not also be called Great Expectations? For what are our lives but our attempts to realize our dreams about what we might become, and to either castigate or console ourselves if we don’t?

Miss Havisham, Pip, and Estella, in art from the Imperial Edition of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Art by H. M. Brock. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Miss Havisham, Pip, and Estella, in art from the Imperial Edition of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Art by H. M. Brock. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In Pip, the hero of Great Expectations, we have a character who is something of a combination of a Gatsby and an Austen heroine. He is fixated on attaining romantic union that will, he believes, quiet his persistent feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy; he is also all too painfully aware that he is not of the right class to attract that person. As a youth, Pip feverishly hopes that he will miraculously come into money so that he might win the heart of his Daisy – the beautiful, haughty, wealthy Estella. If Pip were a character living in America, he might have done more than dream about getting rich quick – he might have gone the Gatsby route, or the route of any number of Horatio Alger protagonists. However, living in England as he does – where for centuries, people were either born into the aristocracy or they weren’t – Pip doesn’t do much more than fantasize. Nonetheless, thanks to the magic of Dickens’s narrative, through a turn of fate that seems quite plausible in the world of the novel, into money Pip does mysteriously come. And yet, despite his newfound wealth and status, he can’t “get the girl” – the girl who is not simply the person with the power to cure Pip of his terrible sickness of the soul, but the very same girl who inflicted him with that psychological malady when she disdained Pip as a child, calling him “coarse” and “common” and generally making it clear that she thought him beneath her.

One more story that might have been called Great Expectations is that of Elliot Rodger, the young man with a BMW, a closet full not of silk shirts but Armani sweaters, and a trove of guns who killed six college students during a shooting spree in California a couple of weeks ago. Judging from the manifesto he left behind, he did not get the girls; he was scorned by beautiful women; his life had fallen woefully short of his expectations. Who can say just how that troubled young man developed his expectations, but he was what you might call a spawn by Hollywood; his parents met on a movie set, after all. And if there is any city in the world that might be called the city of Great Expectations, Los Angeles has to be it, where the world’s most visible examples of glamorous, glittering success serve as foils to some of the most desperate characters around – the red-eyed and unhinged hopefuls who have been hanging around for years or decades, hoping for the big break that never comes.

Rodger’s father seems to have had experiences on both ends of the success spectrum: Though he directed some extra shots for “The Hunger Games,” he also spent $200,000 of his own money on a documentary that sold only a “handful of tickets,” according to The New York Times. Rodger seems to have resented his father: “If only my failure of a father had made better decisions with his directing career instead wasting his money on that stupid documentary,” he wrote. And Pip, too, resents his multiple father figures – at first, at least. But unlike Rodger, Pip works through his resentment, and in doing so, finds his redemption.

When Pip’s biological father dies, he is adopted by his sister’s humble husband, the kindly if simple blacksmith Joe Gargery. Though Joe serves as the main source of comfort, happiness, and stability in Pip’s young life, when Estella infects Pip with shame, he becomes ashamed of Joe, too; thinking him too much a country bumpkin, Pip distances himself from Joe. He reacts in a similar way to the other father figure of the novel, Abel Magwitch. A good-hearted criminal, Magwitch bestows an honest fortune on the adult Pip out of gratitude for some help that a frightened young Pip had given him during an escape attempt he made years ago. Pip more or less recoils in horror when Magwitch explains that he’s the one who’s been funding Pip’s life as a gentleman. But Pip eventually pushes his through his feelings of mortification and revulsion in order to do the right thing. He repays Magwitch’s loving kindness with some loving kindness of his own, by helping the old convict attempt to evade capture after he returns to England despite threat of death, because he so much wants to see Pip.

Pip’s overcoming his lesser self in this way “is not a simple recovery from snobbery, but courage of a rare and fine kind,” according to critic A. E. Dyson. Scholar Sylvere Monod writes that the only reason Pip is able to propel himself to such courage is because he has been on a “groping quest … for the truth, not only about the world and the society among which he lives, but also, and more importantly, about himself.” That quest is what allows him to come to a greater acceptance of both himself, at the end of the novel, and his two adoptive fathers – men who, for all their lack of societal cache, have always done for Pip something that neither Estella nor Pip himself were able to: love Pip more or less unconditionally.

“Poor, miserable, fellow creature” : it is a phrase often repeated by humble Joe Gargery, and it helps to point to the lessons about empathy and acceptance that Pip must learn. While it likely would not have been possible for someone like Elliot Rodger to have derived much from Great Expectations, plenty of other readers – like this one – can continue to rely on it as a source of wisdom and comfort, as an inspiration for humility and a font of hilarity, as we grapple with our own feelings of doubt and worthlessness, with the disparity between our own great expectations and the disappointing realities of our lives. “This is the Dickens novel the mature and exigent are now likely to re-read most often and to find more and more in each time,” wrote British literary critic Q. D. Leavis in 1970, “perhaps because it seems to have more relevance outside its own age than any other of Dickens’s creative work.” That is as true now as it was when Great Expectations first appeared in serial form in 1860.

maura_bwMaura Kelly writes personal essays, profiles and op-eds. Her new book, Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-So-Great Gatsbys and Love in the Time of Internet Personals, is a hybrid of memoir, lit crit and advice column. She graduated from Dartmouth College and received her MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University. She started her career with jobs at The Washington Post and Slate. She has been a staff writer for Glamour, a daily dating blogger for Marie Claire and a relationships columnist for amNew York. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Daily, The New York Observer, Salon, The Guardian, The Boston Globe Magazine, Rolling Stone, More and other publications and anthologies.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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19. How Famous Creatives Spent Their Days: INFOGRAPHIC

Have you ever wondered how much time Les Miserables author Victor Hugo spent sleeping? Or how many hours 1Q84 author Haruki Murakami devotes to writing?

Podio has created an infographic called, “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People.” The image (embedded below) shows the day-to-day schedules of 26 famous creative professionals including Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, Slaughterhouse-Five author Kurt Vonnegut, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings author Maya Angelou.

Here’s more from The Huffington Post: “Whether we’re working on our latest novels, paintings or compositions and stuck in ruts, or we’re novices to the creative workspace entirely, we can all benefit from seeing how Charles Dickens, Pablo Picasso, and Mozart spent their days — even if it is just for fun.”

Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world’s greatest minds organized their days.
Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

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20. Post 450, descriptive of how the Oxford Etymologist spent part of this past August

Yes, this is Post 450. The present blog was launched on March 1, 2006 and has appeared every Wednesday ever since, rain or shine. Another short year, and the jubilant world will celebrate the great number 500.

In summer, when there are no classes, I put in my bag one thick book in German or Icelandic and one thick book in English (those in Russian are taken for granted). This past August, the German book I picked up (as a matter of fact, I read two) was particularly depressing, in consequence of which I decided to return to The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. So I checked out the original edition and plodded joyfully through all 609 pages of it. Like most linguists, I usually pay attention not only to the plot but also to the writer’s language. Although I read the Pickwick Papers when I was sixteen years old, I remembered fairly well what happened there, but I have learned a good deal about Dickens since I was a schoolboy and therefore noticed a few things that escaped me then. For example, I was amazed to discover the amount of spirits everybody consumed, not excluding Mr. Pickwick. The characters of Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway look rather sober in comparison. It was also curious to observe how true Dickens remained to some of his favorite types and situations (winsome widows entrapping silly men, swooning and weeping ladies, arch maids, henpecked husbands, misfits sent to the colonies to make good, and so forth) and to the mannerisms of his younger days, but I don’t think he ever produced an equal of Sam Weller’s touching oration in which he refused to leave his master.

A few notes on Dickens’s usage may not be wholly uninteresting to our readers, though I realize that 177 years after the appearance of that novel nothing I can say about it will be new.

A few morsels of grammar.

It will be remembered that Peggotty, David Copperfield’s nurse, pronounced the name of her nephew Ham “as a morsel of English grammar” (that is, without an ‘h). Some other morsels are also “worthy of remark,” as Dickens might say.

  • “…and there was a dinner which would have been cheap at half-a-crown a mouth, if any moderate number of mouths could have eat it in that time” (p. 375), and “Here Mr. Sam Weller, who had silently eat his oysters with tranquil smiles, cried ‘Hear!’ in a very loud voice” (590);
  • “…Sam having ladled out, and drank two full glasses of punch in honor of himself, returned thanks in a neat speech” (p. 400).
  • One of the footmen says: “In fact, that’s the only thing between you and I, that makes service worth entering into” (p. 398).
Mr. Pickwick Picnics by Fred Barnard, 1870s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Mr. Pickwick Picnics by Fred Barnard, 1870s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Favorite words.

Indefatigable assiduity. Not too long ago, in connection with the phrase indefatigable assiduity that occurs in the opening paragraph of the Pickwick Papers, it was pointed out in our discussion that similar phrases were common in Dickens’s days. So they were, but Dickens used their components with rare assiduity indeed.

  • “…she… would have gone off, had it not been for the indefatigable efforts of the assiduous Goodwin” (p. 183);
  • “…three or four fortunate individuals, who… were staring through it [a grating] with the same indefatigable perseverance with which…” (p. 255);
  • “‘It looks a nice warm exercise that, doesn’t it?’” he inquired of Wardle, when that gentleman was thoroughly out of breath, by reason of the indefatigable manner in which…” (p. 312);
  • “Mr. Weller communicated this secret with great glee, and winked so indefatigably after doing so, that…” (p. 346).
  • “It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connexion with, the place they so indefatigably attend” (p. 456);
  • “‘No, I don’t, Sir’, replied Mr. Weller, beginning to button with extraordinary assiduity” (p. 474);
  • “…which the fat boy… expressed his perfect understanding of, by smirking, grinning and winking, with redoubled assiduity” (582).

Another favorite word is peremptory, which turns up even more often than indefatigable. Dickens’s characters occasionally “sally forth,” “fall into a violent perspiration,” and have cadaverous faces. Villains, when attacked, already then were in the habit of saying: “You will smart for this” (here Dodson and Fogg, and later Uriah Heep). However, none of those phrases became clichés with him.

Ajar. Mrs. Cluppins testifies: “‘I was there, …when I see Mrs. Bardell’s street on the jar’.” ‘On the what?” exclaimed the little Judge. “‘Partly open, my lord’,” said Sergeant Snubbin. “‘She said on the jar’,” said the little Judge, with a cunning look. “‘It’s all the same, my lord’,” said Sergeant Snubbin. The little Judge looked doubtful, and said he’d make a note of it” (p. 361).

Odds and ends. “The cloth was laid by an occasional chairwoman.…” (p. 408). Chairwoman for charwoman is supposed to have died out by the nineteenth century. Apparently, it did not. Skates is regularly spelled skaits, and visitor appears once as visiter (perhaps a misprint). Badinage, which also occurs only once, was in 1837 still printed in italics, and the most common synonym for exclaim was ejaculate (in grammar books, as late as the end of the nineteenth century, the usual term for interjection was ejaculation). Obviously, no dirty mind objected, for in the preface Dickens expressed his conviction that “throughout the book, no incident or expression occurs which could call a blush into the most delicate cheek.” The attributive use of slang “impertinent, etc.” was not too rare, but Dickens picked it up and ran away with it: “…a man… was performing the most popular steps of a hornpipe with a slang and burlesque caricature of grace and lightness…” (p. 441). Sam Weller’s father was sure that only an alibi could save Mr. Pickwick in the trial, and he, like most of us, had ideas about word origins: “…if your governor don’t prove a alleybi, he’ll be what the Italians call reg’larly flummoxed, and that’s all about it” (p. 345).

On America.

Here is what that gentleman (I mean Mr. Weller) thought of America. He proposed a plan to smuggle Mr. Pickwick out of prison and send him overseas: “The ‘Merrikin’ gov’ment will never give him up, ven vunce they finds as he’s got money, to spend, Sammy. …and then let him come back and write a book about ’Merrikins as’ll pay all his expenses and more, if he blows ’em up enough” (p. 485). Did Dickens remember this advice while writing Martin Chuzzlewit?

Election season.

Finally, now that our election season is coming to a head, we should not ignore the experience of our predecessors. The scene is set in Eatanswill, in which two parties, the Blues and the Buffs, fight. The honorable Mr. Slunkey, a Blue candidate, seems to have greater support, but at the moment the future of the seat is undecided. He is ready to greet the populace and is advised that “nothing has been left undone… there are twenty washed men at the street door for you to shake hands with; and six children in arms that you’re to pat on the head, and inquire the age of; be particular about the children, my dear Sir,—it has always a great effect, that sort of thing.” “…and perhaps, my dear Sir—if you could… manage to kiss one of ’em, it would produce a very great impression on the crowd.” “‘Would it have as good an effect if the proposer or seconder did that?’”… “‘Why, I am afraid it wouldn’t’,” replied the agent” (pp. 128-129). The candidate kissed them all and won. Both crowds were terribly excited, and Mr. Snodgrass did not know with which to shout. “‘Shout with the largest’, replied Mr. Pickwick. “Volumes could not have said more” (p. 122).

This is what I have scribbled for myself while reading the Pickwick Papers. Even if I happened to pursue my subject “with a perseverance worthy of a better cause,” I hope you have read my notes with “unruffled composure” and “unimpaired cheerfulness,” because they were “calculated to afford [you] the highest gratification.” And now that I have divested myself of all I know, I am empty and will have to go hungry, as the Big Bad Wolf said after Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother jumped out of him undigested.

Headline image credit: Mr. Pickwick addresses the club. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. A Tale of Two Cities (1854)

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]

I didn't love A Tale of Two Cities. Or should I say I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would OR even thought I would. A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a subject-driven novel. The focus, I would even say sole focus, is on the French Revolution. We meet individual characters within that setting, to make the French Revolution more personal, perhaps, but, in my opinion, Dickens characterization is not as strong in A Tale of Two Cities as it is in some of his other novels. That doesn't mean his characters are not memorable. In fact, I imagine that there are at least two or three characters in this one that are very memorable indeed. A Tale of Two Cities is also a very heavy novel thematically. It's just dark and oppressive. Dickens won't be bringing any smiles to readers in this one. Personally, I love it when Dickens makes me laugh!

The novel begins with a reunion. A daughter, Lucie Manette, learns that the father she has long presumed to be dead is, in fact, alive. His existence seems to be news to quite a few people. Lucie Manette and Mr. Jarvis Lorry travel to France from England to meet him and bring him back. The name of this section is "Recalled to Life." And it's a very fitting title, in my opinion. Lorry and Lucie never really learn the whole story, all the ugly details of the past. Seeing Lucie with her father reminded me--in a good way--of the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette.

The second book, "The Golden Thread," introduces readers to Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men become very well known to Dr. Manette and his daughter. Both men love and admire her, as you would expect. But she can only love one of them, and, her heart belongs to Charles. Of course, this is a very simple summary!

The third book is "The Track of A Storm." Let's just say, Dickens can do bleakity-bleak. This book follows Charles Darnay into France during the early days of the French Revolution. I had a hard time reading this section, because I didn't want to experience it. Darnay is NOT alone in France. And he's far from forgotten. Dr. Manette and his daughter and granddaughter are there, for one, and so is Sydney Carton. Of course, there are others as well to round out the plot.

Throughout all three sections, readers have also followed a few people from France, mainly Monsieur Defarge and his not-so-lovely wife, Madame Defarge. I'm not sure I've ever hated a character more. I am sure that I have. Probably. Still, this book made me so very angry in places!!!

I won't talk about the ending. I won't. I don't want to. I probably don't even need to. A Tale of Two Cities left me needing a comfort read as a follow-up.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Neil Gaiman Reads A Christmas Carol

35405593_gvv24v-3.inline verticalLast year, author Neil Gaiman celebrated the holiday season by reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to an audience at The New York Public Library. Follow this link to listen to the reading. (via Open Culture)

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23. The World’s Greatest Storytellers: INFOGRAPHIC

World's Greatest Storytellers

Who would you name as the world’s greatest storyteller? The team at Raconteur.net interviewed 500 authors, journalists, editors, students, media experts, and marketing professionals to try to uncover the answer to this question; the data was collected into an infographic.

The ones that made it into the top six include five British writers and one American horror master: William Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. Follow this link to view the full infographic.

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24. The works of Walter Savage Landor

Though he’s largely forgotten today, Walter Savage Landor was one of the major authors of his time—of both his times, in fact, for he was long-lived enough to produce major writing during both the Romantic and the Victorian eras. He kept writing and publishing promiscuously through his long life (he died in his ninetieth year) which puts him in a unique category. Maybe the problem is that he outlived his own reputation. Byron, Shelly and Keats all died in their twenties, and this fact somehow seals-in their importance as poets. Landor’s close friend Southey died at the beginning of the 1840s. Landor lived on, writing and publishing poetry, prose, drama, English and Latin. He forged friendships now with men like Robert Browning—who was deeply influenced by Landor’s writing—John Forster and Charles Dickens (Dickens named his second son Walter Savage Landor Dickens in his friend’s honour). His Victorian reputation was higher than his sales; but and if we’re puzzled by how completely his literary reputation was eclipsed during the 20th century in part that may simply be a function of his prolixity. Landor’s Collected Works was published between 1927 and 1936 in sixteen fat volumes; and even that capacious edition doesn’t by any means contain everything Landor published. It omits, for instance, his voluminous Latin writing—for Landor was the last English writer to produce a substantial body of work in that dead language. In late life he once said ‘I am sometimes at a loss for an English word; for a Latin—never!’

His most substantial prose writings were the Imaginary Conversations: dozens and dozens of prose dialogues between famous historical figures, and occasionally between fictionalised versions of living individuals, varying in length from a few pages each to seventy or eighty. The prose is exquisite, balanced, beautifully mannered and expressed and full of potent epigrams and apothegms on art, society, history, morals and religion. Nobody reads the Imaginary Conversations any more. Then there are the epics—his masterpiece, Gebir (1798), an heroic poem of immense ambition, was greeted by bafflement and ridicule on its initial publication. Landor’s experimental epic idiom was simply too obscure for his readers even to understand—though Lamb claimed the poem has ‘lucid interludes’, and Shelley loved it. Critic William Gifford was less kind: he called the poem ‘a jumble of incomprehensible trash; the effusion of a mad and muddy brain.’ Landor decided to address the question of the poem’s obscurity the best way he knew: by translating the entire epic into Latin (Gebirus, 1803). Ah, those were the days!

He wrote shoals of beautiful lyrics and elegies. He wrote volumes-full of plays, all cod-Shakespearian blank-verse dramas. He wrote historical novels, one of which (Pericles and Aspasia, 1836) is very good. He wrote classical idylls, pastoral poetry—he was a passionate gardener—epigrams and epitaphs in English and Latin. The sheer amount of work he produced may explain the decline in his reputation; for looking new readers surveying the cliff-face of text to climb may find it offputting.

The late Walter Savage Landor. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It’s worth the ascent, though. Landor was a choleric individual, given to sudden rages, whilst also magnanimous, kind-hearted and loyal to his friends. Dickens wrote him into Bleak House as the character Boythorn; and a Boythorn-ish energy and vitality very often breaks through the classical refinement of the verse. Unhappily married (he and his wife separated in 1835) he lived through a series of towering, unrequired passions for other, married women. This hopelessness, paradoxically, gives force to some of the best poetry Landor ever wrote: love poems in which the impossibility of love only magnifies the intensity of affection. It’s idea Landor understands better almost than any other writer: that the strongest feelings are predicated upon absence rather than presence.  Here’s his short lyric ‘Dirce’ (1831):

Stand close around, ye Stygian set,

With Dirce in one boat convey’d,

Or Charon, seeing, may forget

That he is old, and she a shade.

This says that Dirce is so beautiful that, were he to see her, Charon might ‘forget himself’, and presumably ignore the obstacles of his own dotage and the fact that she is ‘a shade’ to make erotic advances.  But in fact the ‘forgetting’ in this lyric involves a much more complex mode of amnesia.  It’s tempting to read the poem as being about a particular affect: the melancholy, hopeless desire of an old man for the ideal of youthful female beauty.  Desire haunted by the sense that, really, it would be better not to feel desire at all—that to desire is in some sense to ‘forget yourself.’  That idiom is an interesting one, actually; as if an old man feeling sexual desire is in some sense ‘forgetting’ not just that he is old, and that young girls aren’t interested in clapped-out old codgers, but more crucially forgetting that he isn’t the sort of person who feels in that way at all.  Perhaps we tend to think of desire not as something to be remembered or forgotten, but as something experienced directly.  In its compact way this poem suggests otherwise.

Renunciation is another of Landor’s perennial themes.  One of his most famous quatrains runs:

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;

Nature I loved; and next to Nature, Art.

I warmed both hands before the fire of life;

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

Written in 1849, on the occasion of Landor’s 74th birthday, this has a certain clean dignity, both stylistically and in terms of what it is saying; although it takes part of its force from the knowledge that (as I mention above) Landor actually strove with people all the time, all through his life: personally, cholerically, in law courts, in print and face-to-face.  The second line of the poem, by (it seems to me) rather pointedly omitting ‘people’ from the things that Landor has spent his life loving, rather reinforces this notion.  One consequence of a man, particularly a large man like Landor, standing in front of the fire to warm his hands is to block off the heat from everybody else in the room. And that seems appropriate too, somehow.

Featured image credit: ‘Inscription from Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) to Robert Browning (1812-1889)’ by Provenance Online Project. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

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25. Hard Times (1854)

Hard Times. Charles Dickens. 1854/1992. Everyman's Library. 336 pages.  [Source: Library]

'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'

Did I like Hard Times? Did I love Hard Times? I'm not sure which--like or love--at the moment. I can only say that I was surprised that I found this book to be so quick and entertaining. I'm used to spending weeks with Dickens, not a day. Yes, I sped through this one. Not because I had to, but, because I wanted to. I found it easy to follow, but, I'm finding it difficult to summarize.

Readers meet Mr. Gradgrind and two of his children whom he's bringing up on facts: Louisa and Tom. On the surface perhaps, the book is about how this philosophical upbringing works out for them as adults. Or how it doesn't, as the case may be. Louisa marries one of her father's closest associates, Josiah Bounderby, who is several decades (at least) older. Tom goes to work at Bounderby's bank. If you've read Dickens before, you know to expect plenty of characters and side stories. This is also the case in Hard Times. Readers also meet: Sissy Jupe, Mr. Sleary, Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, James Harthouse, and Mrs. Pegler. There were characters that I really liked, and there were characters that I really didn't like at all!

I liked this one very much. I liked the writing style. I liked the pacing. I liked the characterization. I liked the dialogue. I'm so glad I've made a friend of Dickens! This definitely was not the case when I was in high school and struggling with Great Expectations!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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