11 August 2012

Dickens on the Underground

Around eight years ago, my commute to a new job, after a number of years of cycling to work, now included a 40-minute tube ride, a 40-minute boring tube ride. Staring at strangers was an option, slightly preferable to flicking through the Metro, and less likely to leave you with grubby fingers. However, I used this time, as many others do, to read, to read a book, something I had always done but cycling prohibits the pleasure of a good read as you negotiate the numerous assassins on London’s roads. After a few weeks I was becoming frustrated, there were plenty of books in our house and many I hadn’t read, my latest tube book was Yellow Dog, a clever story by a intelligent writer, a modern classic, but I’d finished it in two days, leaving me with the rest of the week to fill, at least four hours of TFL time.

Back at home, the most prominent unread book on the shelves was Nicholas Nickleby, with a deep breath and flashbacks to school and grey Sunday night television serials, I dusted off the second-hand book that I’d purchased on a whim a few months before and settled myself onto the Piccadilly Line train and tiptoed slowly in. Within pages I laughed out loud, guaranteeing myself a seat and some space and guaranteeing Mr Dickens a new reader, forget the whimsical names, just read the first description of Mr Wackford Squeers.

My eyes were opened. I decided that modern books could wait awhile as I travelled back to Victorian London as I travelled to work, to catch up with more of Dickens’ novels. The only one that I’d ever read previously was A Tale of Two Cities at school, I’d enjoyed it and in fact always read ahead so that by the time we’d finished it at school I’d read it twice, once at home, once in class, but at 14 it hadn’t caught my imagination as James Herbert had or any number of science fiction books from the school library.

At the time there were two or three second-hand bookshops nearby, now there is only one, and that is under threat, but that is another story. I spent a lot of time in them as it was, but now I headed for the classic, rather than the horror, section to pick up another weighty paperback. I read them in whichever order I found them, consequently I followed Nicholas Nickelby with The Pickwick Papers. Each story was lasting up to a month's worth of tube journeys, a month’s worth of reading for a pound. I knew the streets that Dickens described, I could mentally trace Oliver Twist’s journey, his stories were relevant, engaging and most of all funny.

To add to my enjoyment, other people can't believe that you are really reading these books for fun, my paperback copy of Nicholas Nickleby is two inches thick, (about 50.8mm, kids), with 900 pages, and as my daughter remarked “there are too many words” (the irony of that statement coming from a teenage girl was lost on her). Anyone who had studied English Literature at University seemed to have a jaded view of Dickens, and others dismiss him as boring or depressing, so it's left up to us ex-art students to appreciate the beauty and art in the his writing.

Occasionally I try to suggest to others that Dickens is worth the time and effort, but more usually I keep my addiction hidden. I haven’t completed the Dickens set as yet; Hard Times and Barnaby Rudge are the most obvious omissions, Hard Times is waiting on the shelf and Rudge will follow, however, at the back of my mind is the thought that once I’ve read them, then what? Do I start again? Maybe in chronological order? I know someone on Twitter is doing just that, and just one more thought; on Desert Island Discs why aren’t we allowed a full set of Charles Dickens’ novels as well as Shakespeare and the Bible? What could be better than to be sitting on a beach waiting to be rescued while reading Little Dorrit?

1 comment:

  1. The reason Charles Dickens had success in selecting the sounds of the character names was that most of them gave the reader a reminder of another word. Therefore, he uses names that remind of negatives when spelt to name the villains in the books. If know went more information about this http://www.mordocrosswords.com/2016/05/wackford-squeers-in-nicholas-nickleby.html