Monday, April 20, 2009

Sketches by Boz. Charles Dickens.

Oxford University Press. 1836.

Why read it? Sketches by Boz [Rhymes with “nose’]. A collection of brief scenes of English life that are wonderfully entertaining and moving. Dickens paints pictures with words. However, although I provided few quotes about the misery of the poor in the excerpts below, you will find plenty of scenes of that in the book—and debtors’ prison. This was Dickens’s first book and the beginning of his crusade to reform the laws that kept the poor locked in their places. Essentially, he did it without preaching. He simply showed the scenes and they spoke eloquently.

Sample Quotes:

“…the eyes which observed the tragedy and comedy of life in such vivid detail; which saw and recorded brutality and pathos, courage and despair, and all the innumerable absurdities of human behavior.” Intro. by Thea Holme. p. x. ………. “…no more than four members being allowed to speak at one time….” p. 37. ………. “What could be done? Another meeting.” p. 38. ………. “Whenever we visit a man for the first time, we contemplate the features of his [door] knocker with the greatest curiosity, for we well know, that between the man and his knocker, there will inevitably be a greater or less degree of resemblance and sympathy.” ‘. 40.

London streets in the early morning: “There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about the noiseless streets which we are accustomed to see thronged at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely-shut buildings, which throughout the day are swarming with life and bustle, that is very impressive.” p. 47. ………. London streets in the evenings: “…the heavy lazy mist, which hangs over every object, makes the gas lamps look brighter, and the brilliantly-lighted shops more splendid, from the contrast they present to the darkness around.” p. 53.

“…whereat the tailor would take his pipe solemnly from his mouth, and say, how that he hoped it might end well, but he very much doubted whether it would or not and couldn’t rightly tell what to make of it—a mysterious expression of opinion, delivered with a semi-prophetic air, which never failed to elicit the fullest concurrence of the assembled company; and sot they would go on drinking and wondering till ten o[clock, and with it the tailor’s wife to fetch him home, when the little party broke up, to meet again in the same room, and say and do precisely the same things, on the following evening at the same hour.” p. 65.

“Fathers are invariably great nuisances on the stage, and always have to give the hero or heroine a long explanation of what was done before the curtain rose, usually commencing with ‘It is now nineteen years, my dear child, since your blessed mother…confided you to my charge.’ ” p. 109. ………. “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater, and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his misery…gin-shops will increase in number and splendor.” p. 187.

“It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a man may live and die in London.”

“It [Christmas dinner] is an annual gathering of all the accessible members of the family, young or old, rich or poor, and all the children look forward to it, for two months beforehand, in a fever of anticipation; formerly it was held at grandpapa’s , but grandpapa getting old, and grandmama getting old too, and rather infirm, they have given up house-keeping, and domesticated themselves with Uncle George, so the party always takes place at Uncle George’s house, but grandmama sends in most of the good things, and grandpapa always will toddle down, all the way to Newgate Market to buy the turkey, which he engages a porter to bring home behind him in triumph, always insisting on the man’s being rewarded with a glass of spirits, over and above his hire, to drink ‘a merry Christmas and a happy new year to Aunt George.’ ” p. 221.

Comment: Dickens’s sentences are rather long. However, the vivid scenes of life in early 19th-century London are unforgettable. His sentences flow. Once you’re caught, you keep reading. Try it. You’ll like it, I can assure you. RayS.

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