Pickwick Papers

Reading The Dead is a phrase I got from Martin Amis and anyone who regularly reads my posts (I hope such people exist), will know that I use Judge Time to help me decide which book I should read next. So it’s a phrase which would make a good title of this blog, except I often write about the travails and exploits of my band Chico Chica.

I have just finished reading Pickwick Papers by (do I need to say this?) Charles Dickens. Reading dead authors usually means reading long books. Pickwick Papers is over 1,000 pages. I remember once when I borrowed a long 19th century novel, the librarian asked me how I find the time to read such a long book. I explained reading long books doesn’t mean I read more, it’s just that I change books less often. My reading Pickwick Papers took two months. It coincided with a period of intensive pre-tour rehearsing as well as the very time-consuming activity of memorising words.

The novel lends itself well to intermittent reading because it is essentially a series of light-hearted short stories which were a series Dickens wrote for a monthly periodical. The character I especially liked was Pickwick’s servant, Sam Weller. The contemporary readers also liked him so Dickens responded by giving Sam a greater role in later chapters. He was making it up as he went along. Sam Weller almost invented the ‘said the actress to the bishop’ joke but, being the 1830s, without the sexual innuendo – a much harder trick to pull off.

One of the reasons I chose the Pickwick Papers was GK Chesterton’s recommendation. GK rated it as his favourite novel. It’s easy to see how he was influenced by the light-hearted style. Chesterton was hardly a modernist so he was unlikely to be bothered by the usual complaints about Dickens such as sentimentality, fainting females and that he never produced the truly great novel which, as we all know, only foreigners can do.

Towards the end, as the Chico Chica rehearsing became more demanding of my time, the reading became more sporadic and to add to that, I suffered a bout of flu. I started to lose the flow and had to refer to online synopses to maintain interest. I prefer the later novels: Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations and Bleak House so I was pleased to get to the end.

I have a fascination with coincidences particularly when they relate to numbers. Reader, if you find this kind of thing dull, stop reading now. Pickwick Papers has 57 chapters, I finished it in the same week as my 57th birthday and I was born in 1957. I was tempted to celebrate with a can of Heinz baked beans.

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