"Make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em wait,” Wilkie Collins said of serialisation. But it was Collins’s friend Charles Dickens who first kindled the fire of the serialised novel by publishing all 15 of his own in instalments. Dickens turned Victorian England into a vast waiting-room of readers, all crying and laughing in unison over the latest in the life of Little Dorrit or the death of Little Nell.
Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934) ends with its protagonist, Tony Last, trapped in the Brazilian jungle by his captor, Mr Todd, who compels him to read aloud the complete works of Charles Dickens, in sequence, over and over, without end – or escape. It’s a fantastically dark conceit: the great Victorian novelist as the sadist’s accomplice. It also links Dickens to the possibility that there is something potentially oppressive, even imprisoning, in experiencing the human voice. Voices, it suggests, may tyrannise the mind.
A signed early edition of A Tale of Two Cities sent by Charles Dickens to George Eliot, in which he expresses his "high admiration and regard" for his fellow novelist, has been valued at more than a quarter of a million pounds.
Sometimes it feels like we must be the snarkiest, slangiest, least-formal generation in human history. What other age could have coined the word chugger, invented ROFL and its many permutations, or seen vocal fry ripple out from Kim Kardashian in an unstoppable wave?
Great Expectations is arguably Charles Dickens’s finest novel – it has a more cogent, concise plot and a more authentic narrator than the other contender for that title, the sprawling masterpiece Bleak House. It may also enjoy another special distinction – Best Title for Any Novel Ever. Certainly, it might have served as the name for any of Dickens’s other novels, as the critic G. K. Chesterson has noted before me. “All of his books are full of an airy and yet ardent expectation of everything … of the next event, of the next ecstasy; of the next fulfillment of any eager human fancy,” wrote Chesterson. What’s more, it might have been used for a number of the best novels written by any author – American novels in particular. Think of The Great Gatsby, Absalom, Absalom, Invisible Man, or Revolutionary Road. The same goes for Saul Bellow’s short tour de force, Seize the Day, or that of Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle. But think too of Balzac’s novel Lost Illusions, nearly a synonym for Dickens’s phrase, or another French book, Madame Bovary. Think of all the works of Jane Austen, with the various expectations that so many characters in every one of her books have about who should marry whom. And on and on.
You know what it’s like. You’re late for an appointment, weaving in and out between commuters on the Underground when you get stuck behind five Miss Havishams blocking your path.
Well, that’s what happened this week when five models dressed up as Charles Dickens’s infamous character and stalked the Underground.