Friday, August 17, 2007

Sitting in Wingra Park and reading about how Dickens competed with his characters

What's not to like about a fairly short book of literary analysis that only costs ten cents and begins like this?
Whales there are in Dickens, and a multitude of sprats. But this is a book about plankton. An explanation is called for...
It certainly was, and I awaited it eagerly. I took a folding chair down to the park and spent a pleasant afternoon with Mark Lambert's study of Dickens (Yale, 1981) and his use of the suspended quotation -- that wonderful Victorian circumlocution much beloved of Victorian novelists, especially the early Dickens, whereby they would start a quote, stop, wander off on a long rambling authorial digression before eventually return to the speaker. I found the book on sale at a bookstore that was closing and couldn't put it down -- the author had me at "plankton" -- and it looked as if I would get more than my money's worth.

The book offers an in-depth analysis of a very tiny subject, which broadens to reveal vistas, all in a rather playful, almost whimsical style. Lambert's argument is that Dickens was not only competing with his characters for audience attention in his earlier works, but he also found himself in an aggressive rivalry with them, revealed by the frequency of his interruptions. Less of this in his later books, with their more austere, modern style (at least in regard to quotes). This may have been because by then he was doing so much performing himself, in public readings where he clearly was the star and no longer had to compete with his characters.

Guaranteed to take your mind off the ills of the modern world. If you can find an old copy on Amazon, pick one up for the beach house.

Cross-posted at the new book review blog, The Book Book. Again, check it out.


moonrat said...

Sounds delightful. 27 used copies available on Amazon, starting at $2.30.

george said...

Oh no, not another book store closing. Which one?

Madison Guy said...

George, it was three years ago, so its passing has already been mourned. Upper State Street, just off the Square. For the life of me, I can't remember the name -- didn't regularly go there, but stopped in and stocked up at their going out of business sale after the Farmers' Market. As I recall, they said they were going to continue online from home with what didn't sell.