Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings Hardcover – 26 Oct 2006
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In achieving all its ambitions, Andrews's book does then add yet another chapter to the extraordinary volume of Dickens's life and work. (Grahame Smith, The Review of English Studies)
...makes a superb and indeed original contribution to our understanding of Dickens the novelist (David Paroissien, Dickens Quarterly)
[a] richly detailed and thought-provoking study (John Bowen, TLS)
[a] subtle and probing study...Andrews writes with deep imaginative sympathy of the phenomenon that was Dickens (Simon Callow, The Guardian)
This intriguing study...gives us a superb account which does much to help our understanding of the phenomenon that was Charles Dickens. (Contemporary Review)
About the Author
Malcolm Andrews is Professor of Victorian and Visual Arts at the University of Kent. He is the author of Dickens and the Grown-up Child and the Editor of The Dickensian, the journal of the international Dickens Fellowship. He has also written on landscape and art history in two books, The Search for the Picturesque: Toursim and Landscape Aesthetics in Britain, 1760-1800 and Landscape and Western Art (in the Oxford History of Art series). He has performed Readings from Dickens over a number of years.
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Dickens loved acting, performing in amateur theatricals all his life, but being on the stage was certainly not the way a gentleman would make a living. He saw his readings as yet another way to cement a bond between an author and his readers; he had been performing on the page with great success especially as an author of serialized novels by which he had become part of the lives of millions. Dickens wished to convert that relationship in print into something more personal. He made a little fun of himself in a letter to a friend, "I must go to Bradford in Yorkshire, to read once more to a little fireside party of 4000," but there was sincere affection in both directions between the author and his audience. In his print fiction, he is, as Andrews says, the "virtuoso narrator... He plays to his readers in his fiction, carefully cultivating their sympathies and coaxing them into active responsiveness: cajoling, facetious, hectoring, buttonholing." When he took to the stage himself, he was ready to be the same beguiling narrator in person. He was forceful in playing roles, as he had been even before he wrote characters into his novels; he "composed his writing out loud", sometimes performing the roles before writing down the words in the text. In performance, he dressed in evening clothes and was concerned to avoid charges of exaggeration, but Andrews quotes many spectators who were dazzled as he changed before their eyes into Scrooge, Fagin, Mrs. Gamp, and the rest.
His most dramatic piece was the harrowing one of Sikes murdering Nancy, and the description of the performance here shows that it was physically exhausting. Perhaps it contributed to his final illness. On 15 March 1870, lame and partially stricken with paralysis, he gave his last reading, and after the applause had died down, he addressed the audience with thanks, and a farewell to performing on stage, although he reassured them he would keep writing: "Ladies and Gentlemen, in but two short weeks from this time, I hope that you may enter, in your own homes, on a new series of readings, at which my assistance will be indispensable; but from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell." He didn't complete _Edwin Drood_, but was buried in Poets' Corner a mere twelve weeks later, to world-wide lamentation. To read Andrews's book is to come as close as we can get to seeing Dickens perform and to feeling the affection his audiences had for him, and at its end we feel their loss.