Friday, November 14, 2008

Charles Dickens -- The Old Curiosity Shop

My history with Charles Dickens is a checkered one. Forced to read Great Expectations in high school, I developed a decades-long aversion to his work. Don't get me wrong. It's a marvelous novel, but I wasn't ready for it at 15. Re-reading the novel a few years ago, though, I discovered the joys of Dickens' inimitible style and storytelling ability, and I've been slowly making my way through his work. It's been a great delight. I only have two novels to go -- The Old Curiosity Shop and Martin Chuzzlewit. I'm currently midway through The Old Curiosity Shop.

And I want to throw the book across the room. For the first time since my re-discovery of Dickens, I'm stymied. This is such a maudlin, melodramatic story that I can scarcely believe that it comes from Dickens' pen. And I'm curious to know if anyone else has experienced this reaction. Perhaps it will get better, but right now my take is that this is the worst of Dickens' novels. The point of view (and narrator) abruptly switches focus about a fifth of the way through the novel. And the story repeatedly resorts to cheap and manipulative plot twists to carry it forward. This is Dickens novel #13 for me, and 12 for 13 is surely a more than respectable success rate. But I'm very disappointed in The Old Curiosity Shop. Has anyone else experienced this reaction?


anchors said...

"Great Expectations" by The Gaslight Anthem is very good...actually the whole '59 Sound album is pretty good...though I think that is the only Dicken's reference...just random thoughts.

Kenneth R. Morefield said...

And the story repeatedly resorts to cheap and manipulative plot twists to carry it forward.

As opposed to the carefully plotted, Aristotelianly logical progress of Hard Times,A Christmas Carol, or A Tale of Two Cities?

Dickens's heart is in the right place, and that's not nothing, but my explanation would be that you are being too gracious to his other work, not necessarily too hard on Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. To some extent pleasure is its own justification.