Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Dickens hype

I have a philistine confession to make - I just don't get all the fuss around the Dickens bi-centenary. I have never 'got' Dickens. Sorry. I have tried to  force myself to read a few of his novels because I thought it was a necessary  part of being 'well read'.

I find his style ridiculously verbose - never using one word when twenty five would do; his plot lines ridiculous and convoluted; and as for his characters - they seem to be just a parade of caricatures and stereotypes. But fair enough - that's just my personal taste. I struggle with many of the nineteenth century literary giants. Perhaps it's a reaction to be force fed Thomas Hardy at school A level.

But that's fine; Dickens had an undeniably huge impact although I suspect that rather more people have his fat volumes on their bookshelves, or enjoy the lavish TV serialisations on a Sunday evening, than ever actually read them. Still, on the basis of his undeniably enduring influence, I'll grit my teeth and suffer the excessive fuss this year over his bi-centenary.

But I am forced to spit the dummy when he his held up as some sort of champion of the working class. He may write about the poor with some detail because he knew at times real poverty himself but he does so in a way that sentimentalises 'misfortune' and above all extols the values of self help and respectability. In other words his views are typically those of the Victorian do-gooding middle classes - possibly  well intentioned but judgemental and patronising of their inferiors.

And when the royal family queue up to eulogise him - as they did yesterday - you can be pretty sure that Dickens doesn't belong in the radical pantheon.If you want a slice of social history of the same period with a genuinely  radical edge -  have a look at Zola's Germinal instead.

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