Dickens Champions: Martin Chuzzlewit review part one
20 September 2012 / 0 Comments
"The best afternoon I've had in ages."
Our Dickens Champions, Beeston Library's Afternoon Reading Group, have been reading and discussing Martin Chuzzlewit - here's what they thought:
Following on from our enthusiastic discussions of Hard Times we're now engrossed in Martin Chuzzlewit. Some of us have got further along than others, and some have better memories for what they have read than others, but nobody minds. We didn't give away the ending, but have given ourselves a target to talk about it in six weeks time. We are sure that Dickens would have wanted us to take it slowly and savour his descriptions "his writing is like music and has a flow".
Our thoughts so far
There was a sense of a more careful design behind Martin Chuzzlewit, with the plot moving along purposefully, but still with plenty of space for wonderful descriptions and characters. The storytelling was so good that we were all seeing pictures in our heads; no wonder Dickens has been a dream for cinema and TV scriptwriters. There is so much in the stories for modern readers to enjoy, much that is relevant today - we enjoyed his biting sarcasm about the standards of the American press - the New York Sewer and Stabber and the like! Also there is a lot for modern writers to learn from - techniques of descriptive writing and characterisation particularly.
Characters, both good and bad
The characters really appealed to us, and we got all philosophical about good and evil. Some of them seem too good to be true; Tom Pinch remains totally honest and innocent in a world of corruption, but to our modern eyes he isn't rewarded for his goodness; he doesn't get the girl. Did Dickens believe that humanity was basically good? Had he met any such saintly characters in real life? Is it just wishful thinking that the working classes could have been so happy with their humble lot? The theme of the book is selfishness and some learn the error of their ways, but evil seems to be concentrated in others who come to a bad end. They give a lot of energy to the story though, so we do find them attractive in a way.
Dickens is a master of descriptions
There were lots of favourite passages we wanted to read aloud. Bailey the naughty servant boy at Todgers is irrepressible despite the drudgery of his life on page 144. The walk to Salisbury in the freezing cold and pouring rain is described as a positive pleasure on page 194, and page 265 shows us exactly how Dickens felt about the people he met in America "all chiefs and no Indians". Some of us felt the American passages began to feel a little slow and repetitive, but then Dickens comes out with passionate outbursts against slavery, the gutter press, pride and greed, which liven things up considerably.
Getting lost in discussion
Time whizzed by and we nearly forgot the cup of tea and had to be reminded to clear the room for the next group.
Next time we will be able to talk about all the excitement of the last section of the book without having to worry about giving away crucial plot details to those who haven't finished, and we are going to do a bit of research into Dickens himself and how his own life may have influenced his writing. There was talk of reading some short stories next though; these books are so long!
Read part two of Beeston Library's Afternoon Reading Group's Martin Chuzzlewit review.
Watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read and review their way through Dickens during 2012.
Reading Dickens in your reading group or book club? Get in touch or post a comment to let us know how you're getting on.