Category Archives: Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolI was thrilled several weeks ago when SMCM Professor JCB (Jennifer Cognard-Black, for those of you who don’t know her) emailed those of us already signed up for her Victorian Literature class for the Fall semester with a list of books that we would be reading (because she is wonderful and wanted to give us a chance to get a head start during our vacation). I had read several of the books on the list before, including A Christmas Carol. The last time that I read the book, I had been in 7th grade (and I’m fairly certain that it had been a play-version, rather than the actual novel).

The story has long been considered a Christmas classic and has been made into countless film, television, and theater adaptations. I’ve seen many of them, but don’t consider any of them (or at least the ones that I have seen) to have been good representations of the true Dickens’ story. Entirely too many of them want to include superfluous romantic interjections and attempt to make each character live up to a certain over-the-top stereotype. The novel, however, was nicely balanced and created real-to-life characters who behaved just as normal humans do. It is easy to see how and why A Christmas Carol became the classic that it is.

Read reviews of Charles Dickens’, Little Dorrit, Hard Times and The Haunted House.

Availability: COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Breanna Thorne
Rating: Highly Recommended

Wanting By Richard Flanagan

Recently awarded the Man Booker prize for his World War II-era novel, Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan’s earlier fiction is just as satisfying and disturbing. In Wanting, Flanagan brilliantly intertwines the lives (and desires) of two of the most celebrated men of the 19th century British Empire – Charles Dickens and Sir John Franklin.

In 1850s London, Lady Jane Franklin asks Dickens (at the height of his popularity) to use his magazine Household Words, to defend the honor of her husband Sir John, lost during a polar expedition some years earlier. Dickens responded by publishing a racist attack against accusations that Franklin and his crew had descended to the level of “savages” by resorting to cannibalism. Dickens is defensive because he too struggles to resist his own desire – to continue his romantic pursuit of the young actress Ellen Ternan.

Richard Flanagan also interweaves the story of Sir John Franklin’s disastrous governorship of Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania) in the 1830s. During their tenure, the Franklins decide to “adopt” an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna. Although the childless Lady Jane wants nothing more than to love the girl, she buries her desires and forces Mathinna into a “civilizing” curriculum. Meanwhile, Sir John begins to develop towards Mathinna desires and obsessions of his own. Flanagan uses Mathinna’s story (she really existed!) to describe the suffering of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people under the brutal rule of the British colonizers. After the Franklins abandon their “civilizing” experiment and return to England, Mathinna descends into alcoholism and prostitution, ultimately drowning in a puddle at age 17.

In London, Dickens decides to work with his friend Wilkie Collins to stage a dramatized version of Sir John Franklin’s expedition called The Frozen Deep. Abandoning his wife, Dickens eventually gives into his desires and consummates his relationship with Ellen Ternan.

Wanting is a meditation on desire. What do we lose (or gain) by giving in to our hearts? And, what are the consequences for those around us when the wanting becomes too much?

Recommendation: “Must read” for fans of Dickens, Australian history, and 19th century literature.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book with a one word title

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Little DorritWhen I picked out Little Dorrit from the library, I did not expect to enjoy this book at all. I wanted to read more novels by Charles Dickens, and this was the only book they had available at the time. It turns out that it was really interesting to read, though parts of the novel were dry. The only problem was that it was long, very, very long. But, if you could get past the length, you might find that you enjoyed this novel as much as I did.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Marissa Parlock
Rating: Recommended with Reservations

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard TimesHard Times was another required read for school that I never actually read, but decided to give it another chance. I actually enjoyed reading this book, and found it to be interesting. It is about a man named Gradgrind, who raises his family to think that FACTS are the only things important to life. Anything that does not make literal sense (such as putting wallpaper up that has horses on it because you cannot literally wallpaper a room with horses), is forbidden. The oldest of his children, Tom and Louisa, know deep down there is more to life than FACTS, but dare not to try and change anything. That is, until Sissy Jupe enters the family household. The daughter of a traveling circus performer, she is abandoned to by her father and becomes Gradgrind’s latest charity case. He believes that he could show her the importance of FACTS. Unfortunately, Gradgrind’s carefully constructed world begins to fall apart until all the characters realize there is more to live than just adhering to FACTS.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Marissa Parlock
Rating: Recommended

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

The Huanted HouseNumber one: Do not read this book if you are expecting a tale of ghostly horrors and of things that go bump in the night. That is not what this book is about. Yes, there are “ghosts”, but you’re not going to be treated to a retelling of how a person was brutally murdered or how a main character was haunted by an unseen phantom. These stories are really just about social injustice, terror, or regret. And all of it is blanketed with a healthy dose of skepticism about the business of hauntings. No horror, nothing levitating by itself, nobody mysteriously vanishing. No ghost stories, even though it starts out with a man buying a seemingly haunted house (which is perhaps only the result of a trickster) and scared servants.

Number two: The book is not actually completely written by Charles Dickens. It was originally co-written with five collaborators in the weekly periodical, All the Year Round, in 1859. There were five different authors who each wrote their own tale (each one a different chapter) with Dickens writing the introduction, conclusion, and one of the chapters. The other writers were Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Adelaide Proctor, George Sala and Hesba Stretton. Three stories are really good, at least in my opinion, especially the one about the sailor haunted by a candle after a near-death experience. The others are alright.

What this book is about is a man is told to check out this house that has a reputation for being haunted by a friend of his. He decides to move in along with his sister, a deaf stableman, a dog, two servants, and a young girl that lives with them referred to as the Odd Girl. Soon unexplained noises and other strange occurrences scare the servants away, and every other servant they hired after. It leads to the man and his sister deciding to take care of the house themselves, though they enlist the help of their closest friends and family. Each person was assigned a specific room in the house that they would stay in. It was during Christmas, so they all decided to make a pact not to utter a word about any of the “ghosts” haunting their rooms until the 12th day of Christmas. It was that day over dinner that each person told their tale.

Despite the fact that it was not entirely written by Dickens, it was still a good read. As long as you are not expecting a scary story, that is.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Marissa Parlock
Rating: Recommended with Reservations