Well, I’m nearly two months past my deadline, but I finally finished the dickens out of this Dickens. What a monster of a book! 996 pages! It really felt like it too. With Middlemarch (an equally large tome) I didn’t feel like I was slogging through, nor did I find myself skipping large sections, as I did with Dombey and Son. I understand that Dickens’ novels were serialized, and that he wrote them with his very popular public readings in mind, so overly long passages involving descriptions of the horrors of the railway system, a character’s state of mind, or describing a church, bulked up each volume, and also gave Dickens some dramatic readings, but holy heck were they tedious to get through. Not many writers would get away with this sort of thing today (if they had competent editors). I also found the melodrama in this novel to be a bit more over the top than his other novels. There was a lot of fainting, and weeping, and stagey gestures. I also didn’t find the central characters very engaging. Florence never really develops into anything significant, or interesting. Neither does Dombey, really.
The stars of this show are the peripheral characters. My favourites, in order of excellence, are Major Bagstock (a hilarious character who, for some reason, reminded me of Bill O’Reilly), Susan Nipper (a stronger character than Florence in both senses), Captain Cuttle (although I found him very amusing, and loveable (?), his repetitiveness was starting to get to me after 800 pages, or so), and Paul Dombey (a really masterful combination of wisdom and innocence). These are the Dickensian characters for which he is so rightly praised. But all of them, even the good ones, bordered a bit too much on the side of caricature. At no point does Eliot approach this line with her characters. The narrative voice in Dombey and Son (presumably Dickens’ voice) is also far more condescending towards his characters than Eliot’s narrator. I think this is true of all of Dickens’ work when a character is not the narrator.
At any rate, even sub-par Dickens is still Dickens, so I don’t feel that I’ve been robbed or greatly disappointed in finally reading this colossus. It just wasn’t as satisfying as the Middlemarch experience.
What should I do for my next self-challenge? Right now I’m leaning towards finally getting around to reading Dostoevsky’s Demons, or reading all of Don Quixote, or re-reading Moby Dick, or re-reading my entire Hemingway collection (everything he ever wrote). What do you think?