Don't Know Dickens

Charles Dickens, that is.

Dickens in Pieces

I grew up in rural Mississippi. When I visited New Orleans with my family, I had never seen a “real” city in the morning–and what a treat that was! Yuck. I can still remember the smell of the trash cans and sidewalks that summer morning.

Reading “The Streets–Morning” reminded me of that experience. I remember, too, watching the town come to life, from the big picture to the details and the individuals. The last passage has a Rear Window quality to it–like I’m seeing more of the people’s lives than they are aware of. Maybe the routines of the morning reveal more about us than we think.

I’m not sure I want to visit the city of “The Streets–Night.” When Dickens mentions the height of glory, I was expecting something other than a wet, gloomy night. (I should know better by now, right?)  A night at the theatre followed by entertainment and refreshments would be nice, though. Until it is time to go home in the rain at 4am.

I can just imagine Dickens writing “The Prisoners’ Van” because it would be hard not to create a story after witnessing such a spectacle. My previous classroom overlooked a Bail Bondsman’s office, and I invented all sorts of stories for the people going in and out of that office. (One day my students and I saw a takedown on the lawn of the office–very educational.) It was sad and interesting and terrible all at the same time. When Emily in the passage mentions six weeks and labour, I definitely feel for her knowing what I know about Victorian prisons and the lack of opportunities for a poor woman without a family’s support. I imagine Dickens’ readers would’ve responded similarly.

I enjoyed reading these pieces; Dickens seems like more of a person somehow. His observations of the city make him a part of the city–and it gives him a credibility that I don’t think writers always have. And good for him that he was not afraid to write about the hard stuff and the ugly stuff.

These short glimpses also made me think that Dickens would have been a fan of social media: just think of all the observations he could’ve tweeted!


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