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Charles Dickens as journalist

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For all the realism in the "Sketches" (and the later works), Dickens constantly extrapolates from what he sees, fantastically animating the inanimate, regularly blurring the horrific and the humorous, revealing London after dark as an Arabian Nights-like realm, Baghdad on the Thames. As his biographer Peter Ackroyd writes, he is “ready to see the farce and absurdity inherent in human behaviour but is always alert to the darker music beneath it.” Of course, he can be astonishingly funny, too, as when summarizing the hokey melodramas presented at Greenwich Fair:

“A change of performance takes place every day during the fair, but the story of the tragedy is always pretty much the same. There is a rightful heir, who loves a young lady, and is beloved by her; and a wrongful heir, who loves her too, and isn’t beloved by her; and the wrongful heir gets hold of the rightful heir, and throws him into a dungeon, just to kill him off when convenient, for which purpose he hires a couple of assassins.... Then the rightful heir is discovered in prison, carefully holding a long chain in his hands, and seated despondently in a large armchair; and the young lady comes in to two bars of soft music, and embraces the rightful heir; and then the wrongful heir comes in to two bars of quick music.... The interest becomes intense; the wrongful heir draws his sword, and rushes on the rightful heir; a blue smoke is seen, a gong is heard, and a tall white figure (who has been all the time, behind the armchair, covered over with a tablecloth), slowly rises to the tune of ‘Oft in the stilly night.’ This is no other than the ghost of the rightful heir’s father....”

And so on, with ever more hilarious complications, until the curtain drops.

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