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The Winter Solstice entry I wrote earlier this week was a bit glum. After I wrote it, I started thinking on the theme therein of darkness vs. light. Whenever I’m in the doldrums, I turn to certain essays written by the ‘greats”. This essay is based upon the writings of an acquaintance named Patrick, who does the podcast “The Wise Hypocrite”. Spo

It’s easy to get depressed about the state of mankind, given our tendency towards negative bias. It also doesn’t help that when we tune into anything for we instantly see the all the world’s woes. People are indifferent, rude, even malicious, getting away with figurative or literal murder, because they can. Nevertheless, there are people and artwork that remind us we are capable of creating good and beautiful things; some of these transcend time and cultures to inspire us to do likewise. These splashes of sparkle remind us although we have darkness in us, we also have light.

But what if darkness and light co-exist within a person or people I know or read about in the news? What if someone with great artistry is also despicable? Am I able to look past that person’s darkness to find the light within his soul or his work?

Charles Dickens has been on my mind, as it is that time of year when his “A Christmas Carol” is on everyone’s mind, whether in book or theatre form. Mr. Dickens was a visionary and a man of great artistry, but historians agree he was a bit of a louse. In contrast to his works which extol us to treat others better than we do, he was abusive to his wife, indifferent to his children, and often money-obsessed and self-centered. The more you know about the man the harder it is to like the fellow.

Should this matter? Although I would be justified to feel so, I can’t get myself to despise Mr. Dickens. It is hard to believe that someone who created stories of such beauty and pathos is devoid of warmth and compassion. He is responsible for some of the finest works of literature; it has so enriched my life and has raised my awareness of what I can achieve. He wrote about characters with great faults yet are worthy of empathy. We need to keep applying charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence to others, not only to faulty artists but to everyone. The great work is not to forget the darkness, but to focus on the light.

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections grudgingly gave me permission not only to write another entry on my pal Charles Dickens, but use a previous post upon which to write it. TBDHSR does not like ‘reruns’ but is swayed on the grounds present Spo-fans may appreciate it, dragging Dickens back onto stage at this time of the year. It also helps to drop off a large barrel of bourbon at Heorot Johnsons II prior to making my modest proposal. For seasoned Spo-fans who have read this one before, tune in later this week when The Muses (or someone like them) has delivered onto me something novel. Spo.

Dickens saw poverty as the result of a complex social system, for which his readers felt otherwise. In Victorian times, poverty was believed to be the consequence of one’s poor choices, a sign of moral depravity. The Poor were that way because of their faults; if you would only work harder you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Indeed, to assist The Poor makes them worse off and it upsets social and divine justice. Scrooge is a satire of the 19th century elite. He managed to write a best-seller Christmas tale that would appeal to them who could afford to buy books while providing them a savage slap about their ways. Genius!

“A Christmas Carol” starts not with Scrooge, but with Jacob Marley. This is not chance but a careful setup. We need to know he is dead, so his ghost is recognized as real and not coming from some sensory problem of Scrooge. When the specter appears Scrooge can’t understand why Marley is being punished; he was a good businessman who succeeded through persistent and self-made industry – good Protestant English virtues. Jacob explains plainly he is cursed because he did not do the actual task of Life: look outward and help others. A crucial detail about Marley is mentioned: although he shows Scrooge an escape from eternal damnation, this act of charity will do Marley no good. This ain’t no “It’s a wonderful life” where Clarence earns his wings through a goodly deed. Marley does NOT get redemption; he is one of the damned. In the better movie renditions of “A Christmas Carol”, directors keep the novel’s next scene in which Marley shows Scrooge the legions of the damned who roam the earth, impotent to help others or free themselves from their fate.

Sometimes modern readers criticize Dickens for creating a character who too quickly changes; the necessary conversion is too pat. Anyone who has been in counseling can attest true transition takes time. Let’s remember Scrooge is visited by a genuine ghost from hell ascertaining there is divine justice and the reality of eternal punishment. This would convert me quick time to be sure. Dickens hoped Jacob Marley and the story of Scrooge would shake up society in a story his previous novels hadn’t done so well to do.

Dickens transformed what was a somewhat obscure holiday into the Christmas we know, which includes reaching out and helping others. May The Ghost of Jacob Marley continue to haunt us to remind us charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are our true Business. 

7 February is the birthday of my pal and pen-mate Charles Dickens. It is also the day of The Super Bowl. I have no interested in latter but I adore the former. I wasn’t aware there was to be a game this year until I foolishly went to Uncle Albertsons only to discover many people in football attire, stocking up on the worse foodstuffs. While the nation is gorging themselves on chicken wings I plan to spend they day reading some Dickens.  I haven’t figured out which I shall read. I may read excepts of Bleak House or The Old Curiosity Shop – it doesn’t matter. Boz is one of those authors whose work I can read over and over and I always get new things out of it. Martin Chuzzlewit was read only once and I recall I did not care for it. Maybe I might like it more a second time around.  Barnaby Rudge was downright frightening with it ugly mob scenes written with spot-on accuracy.  That may be worthwhile to read after the matter of a month ago. 

For thems interested in reading some Dickens but aren’t certain where to start I suggest Bleak House. Here’s a scene from a BBC production of the book where the young heroine learns of her mother.  Who says Dickens lack character depth?

 

 

 

 

 

My original contract with The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections states there were to be no reruns ever, underlined with the emotions of Mommie Dearest. Recently my attorneys re-negotiated the stipulations (thanks Norns!) and now I get one rerun per season provided I update it and correct any grammatical errors. This one I wrote ten years ago. I want to revisit it for its contents are much on my mind these days.

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens has been white-washed and sugar-coated so much that folks don’t realize it essentially a ghost story. Dickens’ genius was to tell his readers things usually heard (but went unheeded) in Sunday sermons and make the points poignant.  In the tale there are several scenes down-right frightening. Jacob Marley is a ghost of The Damned. I think the most frightening scene occurs after The Ghost of Christmas Past finishes showing Scrooge a Twelfth night party and is about to bid him farewell.  You know the story: Scrooge sees something under the Spirit’s robe:

 “Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

The timing is perfect. In comes The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who is the essentially The Grim Reaper, Death incarnate. Ignorance and Want lead to Doom and Death. Dickens was a good Jungian: he warns his readers even in the best of times we have the dark side of Humanity. To deny The Shadow side spells the downfall of man.

Anyone who sees the news or goes on social media knows Ignorance and Want are quite alive and sadly growing.  I needn’t bother listing the endless examples. As inequality widens, Want becomes more demanding. However it is Ignorance the ghost rightfully tells us to fear the most. We don’t want to look at these Shadow parts of humanity. In the George C. Scott version of the tale, Ebenezer tells Present to put Ignorance and Want away; he doesn’t want to see them. The Ghost does but grimly chuckles ‘they’re hidden, but they live”

I am feeling pessimistic about Ignorance. He  has a very powerful and effective weapon: the media.  How we go about disarming him I do not know. Let us hope we can find some way soon for on his brow is written Doom indeed.

 

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It’s my annual homage to Charles Dickens I love him so.

My fondness for Mr. Dickens is along the line of thems who continually laud the merits of Proust or Conrad viz. ancient grumpy dudes who talk to much and no one reads anymore. Even I have to admit it is very difficult to read his lofty tomes. By contemporary standards they are ponderous reads:  beautiful, heavy, and a bit too slow – like my men. If a book of his were a meal it would be like eating a seven course dinner with all the proper accoutrements.  This is no fast-food dining. Even I ‘cheat’ by having someone spoon-feed me Dickens to me via Audiobooks and the like.

All the same Charlie boy has a marvelous way with words and the stories are good. I am due to reread one of the novels. I do this every 5-10 years as I get different things out of them as I age. I may reread ‘Great Expectations’; I remember loathing it when it was required reading. Can you imagine! I once had the temerity to write an essay explaining how Great Expectations was a lousy read. Oh the embarrassment. My high school English literature teacher would have the last laugh to know I extol now what I once impugned.*

Since Mr. Dickens is a writer emulate** I place a literary rose on his grave today thanking the man for his lovely prose and inspiration towards writing.

Speaking of meals as metaphor Robertson Davies wrote a ghost story titled “Dickens Digested” in which the spirit of Charles Dickens consumes people vampire-like thems who dare to dabble with him. These days he must be quite famished for fresh blood tbut he has me as as a lifelong universal donor – like Willie Loomis to Barnabas Collins or better yet Barnaby Rudge.   Pass the digestive biscuits A+ type.

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*Sort of like St. Paul to the Epistles or people of that sort.

**He is Boz; I am Spo.

7 February is the birthday of my pal Boz A.K.A Charles Dickens. Mr. Dickens is one of five writers from whom I take inspiration and I try to emulate.*  He was one of the greatest writers that ever was; do no dare to question this. Mind! 19th century prose is a challenge for the average 21st century reader. Even I have to admit at times Dickens can be quite wordy. Conversations that now take a only few text lines to tell Mr. Dickens draws out of over several pages. Often the exacerbated reader wants to shout out Monty Python-like to “Get on with it!”

In the short story “Joplin and Dickens” a 2nd grade school teacher asks the children in her class to describe the weather. Young Charlie Dickens shoots up his hand and says:

“The weather? The implacable November weather?! As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun!”

“Charlie -” the teacher says ..

“No ma’am! I can not put it into other words!” he replies.

And Dickens couldn’t – or wouldn’t anyway. His readers loved him and his style and so do I. He was the J.K. Rowlings of his time. In this modern age with its impatience to be quick and ‘too the point’ I remain devoted and grateful to C.D. for his munificent and beautiful prose. How disconsolate I would be without him.

Here is a jolly little history lesson to enlighten and entertain you while I go read the death of Daniel Quilp for the umpteenth time.

 

 

* The other four: David Barry, Barbara Holland, Flannery O’Connor, and Alice Thomas Ellis. How’s that for a coterie!

The Board of Directors grudgingly gave me permission to write another entry about my pal Charles Dickens. Alas for most people Mr. D is trotted out only once a year at Christmas time. I concur his “A Christmas Carol” is a masterpiece but not for the manifest reason it is a thumping good story.  After a few flops Charlie Boy needed a bang-slap success sale and fast – which he did but his genius is he did it through a story meant to bitch-slap the 1% who could afford to buy it. 

Dickens was a lifelong advocate for The Poor. You will be shocked, shocked, shocked to know The Rich in his time believed poverty was the result of ones laziness and all your own fault; if you would only work harder you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Indeed, to assist the poor makes them worse off and upsets social and divine justice.*

Dickens felt otherwise: success on a personal level is meaningless without engaging with others in the world.  He wanted to get this point through the obstinate heads of thems in charge in a way they would actually listen. He did this through his works. Let’s go have a look see.

“A Christmas Carol” starts almost comic: “Marley was dead as a door nail”.  This is not chance. We need to know he is dead so the ghost is recognized as real and not coming from Scrooge’s own senses. Often in film Jacob Marley is the rushed introduction to get to the meaty middle. In the book Jacob Marley is a center character critical to story.

Scrooge in an amalgam of the 19th century elite. When the specter appears Scrooge can’t understand why Marley is chained: he was a good businessman who succeeded through persistent and self-made industry – good Protestant English virtues. Jacob explains plainly he is cursed because he did not do the actual task of Life: look outward and help others. Another small but crucial detail to Marley is showing Scrooge an escape from damnation will do him no good. This ain’t no “It’s a wonderful life” where Clarence earns his wings through a goodly deed. Marley does NOT get redemption for he is one of the damned. This is bone chilling!  In the better renditions of “A Christmas Carol” the directors keep the novel’s next scene where Marley shows Scrooge the legions of the damned roaming the earth impotent to help themselves and others. 

Sometimes modern readers criticize Dickens for creating a character who too quickly changes his approach. Scrooge’s transformation is too pat. It is hard to believe believe; we believe true transition takes time as anyone in counseling can attest. This is based on our failure to recognize Ebenezer is visited by a genuine ghost from hell ascertaining there is divine justice and the reality of eternal punishment. 

Thanks to this book Dickens transformed Christmas into the holiday we all now know, which includes ‘giving to the poor’. May The Ghost of Jacob Marley continue to haunt and remind us charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence remain our true business. 

 

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*Aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century where such a thing never happens?

 

 

th    Today is the feast day of the nativity of my main man (in the literature department) Charles Dickens. Like Shakespeare he made up words that have crept into common use.*

I like fancy and fustian words and I like Dickens, so in honor of the day I put out the welcome doormat (for he invented that word) and provide some jolly words.

Dickens is attributed to making up nearly 200 words and expressions. Here are some wordsI bet you didn’t know are attributed to Mr. Dickens:

Abuzz

Bulgy

The creeps

Earful

Funky

On a rampage

Devil-may-care

Messiness

and

Snobbish

There are also a handful of lovely Dickens-words that didn’t get into the muscle memory of modern English. but I think they are worth reviving:

Sawbones – a slang term for a surgeon or physician in general. Crude but apt, no?

Lummy – an adjective meaning cute.

 

There are also some words derived from Dickens’ characters which are also worth using:

Tapleyism – (adj.) named after an optimistic fellow named Tapley in “Martin Chuzzulwit”, it means being cheerful and optimistic even in the most dirge of circumstances.

Grandgrind – (n.) from “Hard Times”, a grandgrind is a no-nonsense humorless person only interested in facts and not with banter, fluff, and nonsense.  This is not a complimentary term.

Podsnappery – (adj.) this one we must revive!  It means being obstinate and refusing to accept unpleasant facts.

 

Finally I will address ‘The Dickens-boredom’ debate. It is a common belief Charlie-boy invented the word boredom.  Alas he did not, although he helped to develop the modern day use of the word.  I forget what miscreant said this but here it is:

 “Charles Dickens may not have invented boredom, but he certainly perfected it.”

Oh, the horror!

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*There is controversy if Bill or Chuck actually made words up or merely used words common at the time we attribute to them as that is where everyone first read them. I like the notion of writers making up new and clever words. People do it all the time anyway and we seldom know who did thi

Today is the birthday of Urs Truly’s favorite author and wizard of words Charles Dickens. I have written about this before, so I don’t have more to add to the feast day other than I am still quite found of the old rascal, fustian as he can be at times. If you think Urs Truly likes to pepper his prose with lofty lingo try reading Dickens some time. His work is an encyclopedia of grandiloquence. I  wish I could talk and write as he does. Someone once said during a road trip when I was reciting a munificence of flumadiddle that I already do. I think it was a compliment.

Unless you have been living under a rock then you know today is also the Super Bowl. I won’t be watching it for I have not gotten around to cleaning up the morass that is the backyard. It is today or never; I won’t have time this week. The Best Friend arrives this Saturday. Someone recently drained the pool and replenished it with fresh water. I have my fingers crossed the Spo-spa will be fixed in time as well. With the pool looking limpid this makes the patio look even more dingy; it needs a great emunction and I plan to do give it.  Perhaps I will put on the audio-book rendition of “Little Dorritt’ to inspire me to my tidy-task. I must be careful not to inadvertently put on something by Karl Dikkens the well-known Dutch author.  The pace of his writing I find more satisfactory but I can’t grasp a word of it, dank u.

I just finished reading “The Pickwick Papers”* by Charles Dickens.  With its completion I have achieved one of my ‘Bucket list” items: read all of Dicken’s major works. This looks like it’s taken me a long time to accomplish this task. Truth is, I’ve delayed reading this last book, for it means ‘There are no new Dickens left to read’. Happily, his works can be reread many times and I plan to do just that.

Fellow members of the bibliobibuli know what I mean when I express the bittersweet feeling I get when I come to the end of book and realize ‘there is no more’. I’ve purposely slowed my pace when approaching the end of a TGR**, for I don’t want to hurry to its conclusion.

But in the great cycle of life (or reading) the sad feeling of a completed book is quickly coupled with the excited anticipation of picking up a new one.  The sound of the binding cracking as I enter a new tome is music to my ears. Or, if the book is a relict from a used bookstore, it emits an aroma of old ink and faded paper which sends my heart pounding like a whiff of amyl nitrate.***   A Kindle can’t do either.

My ‘to read’ book pile lacks no options. I will close my eyes, put out my hand, and see what jumps into it saying  ‘Read me next!”.

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*It was a jolly good read, indeed!

** Thumping Good Read

*** Pretty, no?

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