Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Thoughts of Nobody, in particular, re: Oliver Twist

My dear blobbists,

I knew it had been a long time since I blobbed, but I hadn't realized it had been SO long! My delay in blobbing has to do with several factors, in no particular order:
(1) My challenging relationship with the narrator of The House of the Spirits
(2) The weather
(3) A not insignificant amount of travel required for both work and personal reasons
(4) Generalized reading malaise (an ailment unfortunately all-too-common for me, aligning distinctly with my overall mood)
(5) Moving my possessions and my self to Philadelphia

In any case, here I am, back and ready to re-devote myself to my LEGIONS Of Readers. Expect a blob later on The House of the Spirits, but to tide you over on this rainy evening, here is my long-promised blob-along from Mr. Daniel-ay, my dear friend who read Oliver Twist along with me.

SPOILER ALERT: He didn't like it. His thoughts though, are quite aMOOSEing, imho. Enjoy!

The Thoughts of Nobody, in particular, re:Oliver Twist

Dear estimable blobbist Meredeeeeeeeeece,

True confessions first. I don't like Charles Dickens; I never really have. I imagine that my first experience with Dickens must have been A Christmas Carol, although I have never read the text itself. I am acquainted with the story in three measures: i. generic public reputation, ii. the stage production, iii. the Muppet movie. And in truth I have never cared for any of it, unfortunately, for reasons too complicated to explain. Unfortunately. What a word. It so encapsulates both the theme of my past with Dickens, my present, and, I imagine, my future. But I get ahead of myself.

Like yourself, estimable blobbist Meredeeeeeece, the origin of my textual experience with Dickens began with Hard Times! It was followed by A Tale of Two Cities, and finally Great Expectations. All of them during my adolescence. And all of them severely disliked. Of the hundreds of thousands of Dickens's words I've read (a paltry percentage, by the way) hardly any of them have stuck. I can't remember a thing about Hard Times. For A Tale of Two Cities, it's the too-famous-to-list-here opening line and an abundance of "Jacques". And for Great Expectations it's something about fire? Idk.

I want to like Dickens, I really do, but unfortunately I simply cannot. He seems to be such a stalwart in literature, with influences that continue to seep into common culture, whether we recognize them or not. And I was hoping that by taking up reading Oliver Twist now as an adult, it might ignite a new appreciation for Dickens. A simple story, a popular story...perhaps a nice way to dip my foot back in. Unfortunately...

Oliver's ailings were neither slight nor few.
— So begins Chapter 32, with Oliver now under the care of Rose, et al. In essence, this is the story of the life of Oliver Twist, and the story of me reading Oliver Twist. I embarked upon my journey by delicately reading every word, scouring the text, attempting to absorb every image. At first I was thinking the text was all going to be a genius construction of minutiae that subtly foreshadow and yet obscure information until a great reveal. But it's much more like a sledgehammer of foreshadowing, obscurity, and superfluity. If the narrator is so omniscient, it gets very very annoying to spend the whole of a chapter being introduced to and interacting with a "stranger", only to have the stranger be soon revealed, without much fanfare or really surprise. I constantly thought to myself, What's the point of all this other than to deliberately goad and frustrate the reader? Maybe some readers enjoy that frustration as part of the experience of the story. This one doesn't. I would often scan ahead several pages to find out who this stranger was, then go back, feeling no great loss of experience at having known who this stranger was the whole time.

I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but probably within the first quarter of the book I grew infuriated by the often lengthy build of paragraphs and paragraphs of superfluous information to a single reveal of the next point of plot-advancement. This leads to my second confession: I began speed reading through great swaths of chapters when I somehow sensed a narrative shift where the plot came to a screeching halt and the words became irrelevant. Don't get me wrong, dear blob readers, I don't need nor expect every moment to be plot-driven. I do greatly love the crafting of words, in and of it itself, but I found only fleeting moments of appreciation for Dickens's words themselves. There are other authors for whom I willingly and lovingly read and reread every sentence as I go along, adoring the meticulous, marvelous, and breath-taking construction.

I will acknowledge that there were a couple of times where I was quite struck by an eloquence, beauty, and humor in Dickens's words. I have recorded them below. But first, I will now list two examples where my annoyance reared its ugly head, and I felt obliged to take note as such:
  • Chapter 36: Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in its place. But it should be read, notwithstanding, as a sequel to the last, and a key to one that will follow when its time arrives. 
— BARF. Ok So thanks for telling me this, Charles. Can I call you "Charles"? In fact, as a reader, it's pretty much my default assumption that EVERYTHING is relevant to the story. But yeah, this pretty much affirms my glossing over a lot of what you wrote. Were you trying to be funny here? Cause I wasn't amused. I feel like you're the Dan Brown of times past...
  • [...] he mended his rate of walking, and proceeded at a considerable increase of speed, toward their place of destination. 
— That's a lot of words... Let me rephrase: "He sped up toward their destination." I've heard tell that you were paid by installment, Charles. I was inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. But this really does feel like "filler".

Now, as promised I will list out the moments I did enjoy. They made me laugh, or smile, or reflect, or tremble, or marvel, or weep. (But, they were few and far between.):
  • We know that when the young, the beautiful, and good, are visited with sickness, their pure spirits insensibly turn toward their bright home of lasting rest; we know, Heaven help us, that the best and fairest of our kind, too, often fade in blooming. [...] Who could hope, when the distant world to which she was akin, half opened to her view, that she would return to the sorry and calamity of this! 
— Harry, recounting his fear of losing his love, Rose.
  • "Why, you're quite a literary character, sir!" said Mrs. Mann.
— This is in reference to how Mr. Bumble, the beadle, went about naming the orphans alphabetically. Clever, Charles, clever. (In fact, I found Mr. Bumble to be the most interesting character in the whole story. He seemed the least one-dimensional of everyone.)
  • Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmly grasping his gold-laced cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring at the end of every quarter of a mile whether they were "nearly there."
— I'm glad to know that "Are we there yet?" is so timeless.
  • But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble's soul; his heart was waterproof.
— Mr. Bumble, at his own wife crying. Thankfully, Mrs. Bumble became quite a force later on!
  • The blessing was from a young child's lips, but it was the first that Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the struggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after life, he never once forgot it. 
— Oliver's young friend Dick blessed him as Oliver ran away to London. Dick's life was, unfortunately, not to be as blessed as Oliver's.
  • "A beadle! A parish beadle, or I'll eat my head."
— a favorite saying of Mr. Grimwig. This was pretty funny. It was also funny the second time. Maybe the third too. And certainly all of us are inclined to have a storage of words that we like to utilize over and over again. By all means, let Grimwig keep saying it. But, Charles, you have to stop TELLING us about how much Grimwig enjoyed saying "or I'll eat my head." We get it. We have eyes. We can see. We haven't forgotten. It's funny. Stop patting yourself on the back for inventing such words... Ok ok. I'm done.
  • It was market morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney tops, hung heavily above.
— Oliver heading out into London with Mr. Sikes. This imagery was spectacular. I wish Dickens had stopped there. But he went on. And on. And on and on:
  • All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.
— Snooooooozefest. ... Actually, that what I needed! A snooze button for reading Dickens! Wake me up when it gets interesting again.

In conclusion, I'm glad that I have finally completed a read-along with you, estimable blobbist Meredeeeeeeece, after many starts and fits and failures. (War and Peace, Gravity's Rainbow, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love) I feel like I have made some poor choices, but I'm glad to have accomplished Oliver Twist. And I share many of your similar feelings about the characters failing to live up to their hype. Perhaps it was the wrong choice to attempt to return to Dickens. Yet I still have David Copperfield sitting upon my bookshelf per your suggestion. But I'll need some time. Not sure how much. It might be never, to be perfectly honest. I'd like to think I gave Dickens a fair chance with Oliver Twist, but I can't say for sure. He didn't impress, unfortunately.


1 comment:

  1. I love that you compared Dickens to Dan Brown. Excellent skewering, Danielay. I am curious to know more about your complicated relationship with A Christmas Carol...perhaps you can expound upon that when I see you!