The Artful Dickens
By John Mullan
A hugely insightful book into the writing of Charles Dickens, I have a review and blurb you can check out to find out more…
I thank Bloomsbury Publishing for gifting me The Artful Dickens.
Ever since I saw A Christmas Carol and Oliver when I was in my teenage years and in my adult years, saw a one man show of two short stories by Dickens and stage show about Charles Dickens by the great actor – Simon Callow, I have found him to be fascinating and been entertained by some of his works. Now, John Mullan has written about him too in The Artful Dickens… This book would be good for authors, lovers of Dickens and scholars. It is one for dipping in and out of, more than anything, or can be a bit heavy. It is non-the-less a valuable book to include in people’s Dicken’s collections as it is insightful.
The Artful Dickens is an incredibly indepth study, not just about him and his life about his books and elements of the man himself. Each chapter is used as different themes, whether it is smells, speech, humour, characters or writing, including changes in tenses.
It demonstrates how daring Dickens was when he wrote and changed the “shape” of writing, from what was perhaps fashionable at the time. The book demonstrates many features of the phraseology and much more, by using relevant segments of his well-known books, which are explored in great detail, but, as far as I can see, not giving spoilers as such; although this is a book that is probably best read, if you are at least a bit familiar with Dicken’s works beforehand. It would then make much more sense to the reader.
I shows that Charles Dickens was a daring writer in a sense and liked to break the rules. Tying into this is an indepth look into naming characters, coincidences and even a section on “Enjoying Cliches”. For the section on cliches, he also takes a look at what Martin Amis said about them and how Austen and Flaubert used language; as well as how cliches are and can be used. It very nicely then goes onto the spoken word. The book flows seemlessly from on subject to another, as bit by bit each book is examined to such a great deal of depth, disected and written. The research and the thought process, seems immense!
Interestingly and quite astonishingly, but true, Dickens is still influencing post-modern writers (and Ian McEwan’s book – Enduring Love is used as an example), in his so-called “unconventional narration” and how he liked to “break the rules”. The book demonstrates there is a lot to be gained by Dickens and that he did leave a legacy, in that sense, as well as his books.
Mullan then goes onto write about the smells, and let’s face it, there would have been plenty of those in Dicken’s time and not always pleasant ones; he insightfully links many to Dicken’s books, but also to what Dicken’s had said to friends, such as Wilkie Collins. Then examines the changes in tenses, starting with Edward Drood, before looking at the paranormal in a few books, but most famously – A Christmas Carol, which is always pleasing to read or hear anything about. It’s more than just the books though as he takes a study of Dicken’s life within the realms of ghosts in a surprising way.
I like that there is an examination of humour as there is plenty of that, with a mix of pathos in the likes of The Pickwick Papers. Mullen examines, quite acutely just how Dicken’s manages to make people smile and/or laugh in so many of his books.
‘This is a marvellous, endlessly illuminating book … It doesn’t go on the shelf alongside other critics; it goes on the shelf alongside Dickens’ Howard Jacobson
Discover the tricks of a literary master in this essential guide to the fictional world of Charles Dickens.
From Pickwick to Scrooge, Copperfield to Twist, how did Dickens find the perfect names for his characters?
What was Dickens’s favourite way of killing his characters?
When is a Dickens character most likely to see a ghost?
Why is Dickens’s trickery only fully realised when his novels are read aloud?
In thirteen entertaining and wonderfully insightful essays, John Mullan explores the literary machinations of Dickens’s eccentric genius, from his delight in clichés to his rendering of smells and his outrageous use of coincidences. A treat for all lovers of Dickens, this essential companion puts his audacity, originality and brilliance on full display.