I finished my Dickens project Friday night. It was SO satisfying.
For a long time I didn't talk about the project because it's kind of pretentious-sounding. The thing is, once you get into his groove, Dickens is really fun and not drudgery at all. Some of my favorite things about this project:
- The earnest young men, like Pip, David Copperfield, and Nicholas Nickleby. They mean well, they try hard, they make a hash of things, they rue the hash-making, they learn some things, they make more hash, they [insert plot meanderings here], and then they find true love as wiser and more prudent men. I love watching them grow out of callow youth and into honorable manhood.
- The crazy plot twists. Sometimes they are wildly implausible, but I eat them up anyway. When Dickens takes those dangling threads and wraps them up neatly, it speaks to the part of me that hopes this messy life is a tapestry and not just a tangle. Dashed hopes, lost loved ones, unrighted wrongs -- when you read Dickens you remember that injustices can be made right in unexpected ways. It's not over until the fat lady sings, or perhaps until she finds a suppressed will that allows the heroine to live in comfort the rest of her days.
- The antidote to internet-induced-rabid-gerbil-brain syndrome. You know how Google is making us stupid and all that? Dickens is a great remedy. I have turned into an inveterate skimmer and it frustrates me. This project compelled me to read every word on every page for 800 pages at a time, a welcome and rewarding discipline. If you skim a Dickens novel you'll wind up badly confused, and I hate being confused.
I am delighted that I finished up with Nicholas Nickleby, because I am especially fond of the whimsy that surfaces more in early Dickens novels. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. I saw the big revelation coming, which also delighted me because I can't usually predict his plot twists. It made me think to myself, "I get it! I can anticipate where he's going with an idea now!"
My supervisor in my first job out of college talked about being really sad when she finished all of George Eliot. I wondered if I might feel that way when I closed Nicholas Nickleby, but I didn't. I have spent hours and hours wandering the streets of London and the English countryside with Mr. Dickens as my guide. We have passed through woods and fields and slums and palatial estates, with stops abroad as well. I am not sorry to have visited all the places he has to show me. I am looking forward to passing through again someday, and saying to the people there, "It's good to see you again!"