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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My very first Dickens, 20 Feb 2011
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This review is from: The Pickwick Papers (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
For some reason I had been reading - as I'm writing this - English literature quite intensively for the last 25 years but had never read anything by Dickens. Was it because I feared being disappointed by the books, having seen several film and television adaptations? Or because of the rumours of his 'flat' characters? Whatever the case, when I recently determined this could no longer do I simultaneously resolved to go about it methodically and read Dickens' novels chronologically, which meant starting with 'The Pickwick Papers'.

I confess I felt at first rather daunted by the prospect due to the sheer size of this novel (in comparison: Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics) is a mere 480 pages, Hard Times (Oxford World's Classics) just over 300 pages), but as soon as I got started I was hooked instantly, and every time I opened the book to read on (an urge I could barely suppress, even during working hours) I was immediately transported back to the England of the 1820s, in the delightful company of Mr. Samuel Pickwick and his companions.

In a way, this is surprising as 'The Pickwick Papers' has little, if anything, of a plot. Mr. Pickwick founds an amateur club 'to enlarge his sphere of observation, to the advancement of knowledge, and the diffusion of learning' (as it says on page 1), and the rest of the book chronicles the adventurous travels across England of Mr. Pickwick and his 3 companions (Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Winkle). So why would one feel this incessant appetite to read on and find out 'what happens next'? Well, in my case there were a number of reasons. First of all, there is a truly incredible gallery of fascinating characters. True enough, they may be 'flat' according to the textbook definitions of flat vs. round characters, but they are - in all their quirkiness and eccentricity - extremely lifelike, and often very likable. Mr. Samuel Pickwick himself seemed to me (speaking as a foreigner) the very embodiment of much of what constitutes 'Englishness' to me (at times quick to take offense but with a heart of gold, fond of good company and a good laugh). His manservant Samuel Weller ('Samivel' as his father calls him) also seems the very embodiment of the streetwise Londoner, and I could go on and on and on. Even characters appearing just briefly in the story are so well captivated by Dickens (often in just a few lines) that you not only feel them to be entirely credible but often enough feel you know someone exactly like them.

Secondly, there's the language, and especially the dialogues. Dickens must have had an incredible ear for speech, because all major characters really have their own 'voice', and it perfectly suits the man (or woman) they are. But in setting the scene too, and describing people, inns, offices, coaches, cities, ... Dickens uses a very colourful vocabulary and always seems to find exactly the right word. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, 'The Pickwick Papers' is a book bursting at the seems with good-hearted humour. There are some serious passages too, but all in all Mr. Pickwick and his companions succeed in getting into one ludicrous situation after the other (with often as not Sam Weller coming to the rescue), and I found myself absolutely captivated by the mood of this splendid book. What one wouldn't give to have accompanied Mr. Pickwick on his travels!

To conclude: I could kick myself for having waited so long to read Dickens because 'The Pickwick Papers' was an absolute delight. So now I am already halfway into Oliver Twist (Oxford World's Classics), with Nicholas Nickleby (Oxford World's Classics) lying ready on the bedside table!
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Jul 2011 14:33:39 BDT
NG says:
Good for you! What a heartening review.

Posted on 23 Apr 2012 12:44:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Apr 2012 20:38:33 BDT
Dickie Lad says:
This is one of best book reviews I've read - Well Done!

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Apr 2012 20:34:00 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 23 Apr 2012 20:34:17 BDT]

Posted on 29 Apr 2013 02:59:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Apr 2013 03:00:09 BDT
Rarkm says:
Glad you finally discovered Dickens. I imagine school ruins Dickens for many people -- being forced to read long novels under the tutelage of not very literary English teachers (I attended well regarded public schools in Massachusetts) does not encourage much later life exploration into the classics, and now, of course, the classics are hardly taught at all due to the sweeping and tidying of political correctness officialdom.

But it's hard to keep a good novel down, and Dickens shines most of all in his detailed character studies of real people, along with his simmering rage at injustice and villainy that was all around him in post-Napoleonic England.

Of course there are great authors in every generation, but time helpfully winnows out the fashionable chaff -- if a book or author is considered a classic, chances are good that it's worth a read.

I imagine that there might be some intellectual value in reading the discarded chaff, but unfortunately life is short, so let's leave that to the university professors.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Apr 2013 07:32:17 BDT
Didier says:
Hello there,

Glad you liked the review, and yes, it is indeed hard to keep a good novel down!

Best regards,
didier

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2014 22:13:30 BDT
Great review, but get reading! There are at least ten top draw novels by this inimitable master.
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Didier
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Location: Ghent, Belgium

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