Monday, June 18, 2012

[Review] Sketches by Boz

Being his earliest work, Sketches by Boz has already shown Dickens’ witticisms and satires that we would find later in most of his works. Consisting of 60 short stories, Boz is a combination of literary journalisms and fictional stories, as the result of Dickens’ thorough observation of his surroundings. Sketches by Boz was first published as installments in The Monthly Magazine from 1833 to 1836. Later on, the sketches were sorted and categorized under four big parts: Our Parish, Scenes, Characters, and Tales, to be made into a book. Outside the four parts, there are three more collections of sketches, and the book is finally closed with Familiar Epistle From A Parent To A Child, which is—no doubt—something Dickens wrote for one of his children. So far, the epistle is one of my favorites from all sketches.

The tale of The Black Veil—which is the most touching of all stories—is also one of my favorites. It depicted the faith of a widow after her son hanged for a crime he committed. The touching part is when the young surgeon who attained the case, being a generous and kind hearted fellow, was willingly to take care of the widow now and then, despite of his unfruitful business. The widow on the other hand, always prayed heartily for her young supporter, that at the end her prayers was heard by the Heaven and resulting a good business for the young surgeon in return. A tale of love always touches my heart!

The most intriguing tale is perhaps The Drunkard’s Death. It’s about a drunkard who neglected everything in his life for drinking. Dickens wanted to speak about the risk of alcohol which can lead men and women into poverty and death. This tale is very similar to Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, although Dickens wrote it more on the melancholy aspect, rather than its brutality as depicted by Zola. It’s interesting to see two different ways of writing, from two great authors, for the same topic at the same era. But of course, in this case, my winner is Zola.

I think the main strong point of this book is Dickens’ thorough observation, especially on human’s character. I am only imagining, if I was being in a dinner party where Dickens was also invited; would I become his observation object too? And if I happened to subscribe The Monthly Magazine, would I find myself illustrated on one of his sketches few days after the party? What would he write of me? That’d be interested! But of course I wouldn’t know whether Dickens was going to write good things or bad things about me. Anyhow, I think, people cannot get angry with him for writing about them. In worst cases, I think they would only put sour smiles on their lips. Or it is most likely that they would laugh heartily on their own sketches. Like Dickens said in ‘The Pantomime of Life: “A pantomime is to us a mirror of life; nay more, we maintain that it is so to audiences generally, although they are not aware of it, and that this very circumstance is the secret cause of their amusement and delight.” For people who lived at that certain time, Sketches by Boz is also a mirror of their own everyday life, either they were aware of it or—most likely—not. Boz was like a pantomime, where people can see and laugh at themselves. And that’s why they love Boz. Boz was something new and different than any other Victorian readings when it is first published. And the success of Boz then brought further success for Charles Dickens, until today!

Three and a half stars for Boz, as although it’s a unique work, Sketches by Boz is sometimes boring. Anthologies have not been my favorite, so maybe this is why I cannot put a high appreciation on Boz. It is good but unfortunately flat…

Title: Sketches by Boz
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 1987
Pages: 688

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Miss Martin from Sketches by Boz

Miss Amelia Martin
Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

I’m still engaged with Sketches by Boz when I wrote this meme, and this time I bring up an interesting character in which Dickens would like to illustrate the danger of pursuing an instant ambition.

The young Miss Amelia Martin is a respectable milliner and dressmaker in London, to whom great many young ladies had given their trust for their fashionable dresses and hats. And not only skilful, Miss Martin had also been a professional who knew what her customers need, both in fashion term and in social daily conversation. If Miss Martin kept focusing in her business, I believe she would achieve success in the future. However something unexpected happened…

illustration of a milliner

Miss Martin had been invited to her friend’s wedding party. And that night our Miss Martin got to know—among the guests—the Jennings Rodolph couple, the owner of a music institution called White Conduit. With much encouragement from Mr. Jennings Rodolph, Miss Martin showed her voice that night, and received appreciation from everyone. The Jennings Rodolph couple soon encouraged Miss Martin to “come out” without delay, meaning to join the entertainment industry and become a singer. So, Miss Martin prepared herself and studied hard for her opening act on the White Conduit’s orchestra, with the consequence, of course, that Miss Martin must neglect her millinery and dressmaking business. Maybe she thought that millinery and dressmaking is only an ordinary job, while being a singer should give her a more glamorous life, fame and fortune.

Then at the night of the orchestra, the excited Miss Martin was gracefully led on to the stage for her performance. The symphony began, but…where was the singer’s voice?... Seemed that Miss Martin had started to sing, however “a faint kind of ventriloquial chirping” was all she could produce despite of her great effort. You can imagine what happened next. The performance was a great failure and brought quite a humiliation for Miss Martin, which I think should end her instant ambition of glamorous life.

Don’t you think this happens quite often in our real world too? Leaving behind something fruitful and promising that was already in our hand, to pursue something that was still vague. Miss Martin didn’t even look for second opinion or at least found a teacher to take singing lesson more thoroughly. She just trusted her future in the hand of Jennings Rodolph couple. I mean, who were they actually? They were just the owner of a music club, maybe they often searched for new talents, but that didn’t mean they knew everything about singing career. Oh Miss Martin…maybe you were just so naïve.. there isn’t such an instant success. What you have been doing with your millinery and dressmaking business was already great, you just have to keep developing it!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

[Biography] Charles Dickens: Dickens’ Bicentenary 1812 – 2012

[conclusion in English is in the bottom of this post]

Dalam rangka perayaan 200 tahun kelahiran Charles Dickens 7 Februari tahun ini, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley—seorang keturunan Dickens—bekerja sama dengan Charles Dickens Museum, London, menerbitkan sebuah biografi sang penulis besar Inggris ini. Jika sebelumnya telah banyak biografi Dickens yang telah diterbitkan, apa yang membuat biografi yang satu ini berbeda? Tak lain dan tak bukan adalah ciri khasnya yang menjadikannya layak (atau ‘wajib’) dimiliki para Dickensian (penggemar dan pecinta Dickens) di seluruh dunia. Biografi ini bukan hanya mengisahkan kehidupan sang penulis, namun juga karya-karyanya, bagaimana mereka ditulis, dan apa yang melatarbelakangi tema mereka, juga bagaimana kondisi psikologis Dickens saat itu memberikan pengaruh pada novel yang ditulisnya.

Namun yang paling menarik, mungkin, adalah koleksi imitasi relik-relik yang berhubungan dengan kehidupan Dickens dan karya-karyanya yang disisipkan dalam buku ini. Aku sudah pernah memamerkan’ isi buku ini sebelumnya, dan kurasa relik-relik itulah yang membuatku bertekad memiliki (dan membaca) buku ini.

Biografinya sendiri diawali dengan kelahiran Dickens serta sedikit latar belakang kedua orang tuanya, John dan Elizabeth Dickens, dalam chapter Early Years. Kemudian sedikit demi sedikit alurnya maju ke masa kecil Dickens yang pahit saat bekerja sebagai child laborer di blacking factory, cinta pertama Dickens, perkawinannya, dan seterusnya hingga ke saat kematian Dickens. Selain itu, buku ini juga mencantumkan kisah singkat ke-sepuluh anak-anak Dickens. Dan di sela-sela kronologis kehidupan Dickens itu, terselip kisah tentang novel-novel Dickens sesuai dengan waktu penulisannya. Dengan demikian kita jadi mengetahui pada tahap mana dari kehidupan Dickens sebuah novel ditulis, sehingga kita akan memahami latar belakang penulisan dan temanya. Bagian tentang novel-novel ini mengungkap banyak hal menarik yang akan membantu kita memahami kisah dalam novel-novel itu. Maka, biografi ini perlu dibaca untuk melengkapi pemahaman anda akan novel-novel Dickens, apa yang ingin dikatakan Dickens di dalamnya.

Bagian yang paling menarik bagiku, selain tentang karyanya, adalah tentang Ellen Ternan—kekasih Dickens selama 13 tahun terakhir kehidupannya, dan pengalaman Dickens dalam kecelakaan kereta api yang mengubah lima tahun terakhir hidupnya. Dari cerita tentang perceraiannya dengan istrinya Catherine, membuatku mengenal sisi lain kepribadian Dickens yang negatif. Memiliki affair dengan wanita lain mungkin tak mengherankan bagi sosok se-populer Dickens, namun sikapnya yang mencampakkan Catherine begitu saja memang sulit untuk dimaafkan. Bagaimana pun juga, Dickens tetaplah seorang manusia yang memiliki kekurangan, dan hal ini tak menyurutkan kekagumanku pada kejeniusan Dickens dalam menulis, dan perhatiannya yang besar terhadap ketidakadilan di dunia yang ia tuangkan dalam tulisan-tulisannya.


This is not an ordinary biography. Like all biographies, you will find the complete story of Dickens’ life—from his early years, child laboring, first love, children, marriage, love affair, his fond of theatre, his journeys to other countries, to his final years and at last..his death. But besides that, this book also contains facsimile items from Dickens personal clippings, from his handwriting in manuscripts, his marriage certificate, his photographs, to the newspapers which Dickens edited. These items are attached within the pages, and would certainly become valuable collectible items for all Dickensians. Through these items, I feel very close to Dickens himself, as if I was visiting him in his writing room, where he’d showed me his clipping. Looking at the facsimile item of Oliver Twist reading material, for instance, I feel like Dickens was showing me how to read it, adding scribble notes in the margin to emphasize certain parts, and then asked me to read it loud for him (which I actually did! J).

This book is written in a chronological style, including the writing process of his novels. From this part, I get to learn how much Dickens’ personal life affected his writings. As I planned to read all Dickens novels, this book provides me a study of theme and background of each novel, which gives me a better understanding for my readings. I found several interesting facts about his novels, for instance, the ending alteration of Great Expectations. How many of you know, that the first edition of Great Expectation had a different ending than what we read now? It was Dickens’ fellow novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton who had persuaded Dickens to change it to be more acceptable to the readers.

Other interesting fact I find in this book is about Dickens’ love life. Dickens ended his marriage with Catherine soon after he fell in love with Ellen Ternan—who become Dickens’ lover in his last thirteen years of life. One of Dickens’ negative personal characters is, perhaps, his selfish idea about women’s youthfulness. One of the reasons Dickens dump his wife was because Catherine become fat and lazy after giving birth to ten children. The same feeling Dickens had for his first lover, Maria Beadnell. After finding out that Maria wasn’t as pretty and slim-waisted as he remembered from her youth, Dickens dumped her. No wonder, that Dickens’ female main characters in most of his books are always young, tender, and beautiful. More about his separation with Catherine, I don’t agree with his abandoning Catherine after their separation. He didn’t even consult Catherine when their boys were planned to study abroad. I think it’s rather funny, that Dickens had big concerns on child and women injustice, but he just dumped his own wife who—as a woman—didn’t have any power to fight at that time.

Anyway, I realized that Dickens is only a human—an eccentric one perhaps—however his writings and legacies keep inspiring us today and many years ahead. There are still many other interesting aspects of Dickens, including his journey to America, France and Italy, as well as his connection to many famous artists and writers (do you know that Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot and William Makepeace Thackeray had appeared as debutants in Dickens’ magazine: ‘All The Year Round’?). All I can say is, that this book would be a perfect companion for your Dickens reading.

To close this review, I will quote an article of Charles Eliot Norton, an American academic and writer, about Dickens (published on 1868):

No one thinks first of Mr. Dickens as a writer. He is at once, through his books, a friend. He belongs among the intimates of every pleasant-tempered and large-hearted person. He is not so much the guest as the intimate of our houses. He…helps us to celebrate Christmas with heartier cheer, he shares at every New Year in our good wishes: for, indeed, it is not in his purely literary character that he has done most for us, it is as a man of the largest humanity, who has simply used literature as the means by which to bring himself into relations with his fellow men.

This review is published for memorizing the death of Charles Dickens, 142 years ago, on 9th of June 1870.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Simon Tuggs from Sketches by Boz

Simon Tuggs
Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

Being some kind of short stories collection, it is difficult to pick an interesting character from this Sketches By Boz. I usually like characters that are experiencing character switch within the story, which is impossible to find in a short story. However, I’ll try to discuss about a character which appeared in 20 pages of chapter IV in ‘Tales’ section.

This is what Dickens described about a young man named Mr. Simon Tuggs:

He was as differently formed in body, as he was differently constituted in mind, of the remainder of his family. There was that elongation in his thoughtful face, and that tendency to weakness in his interesting legs, which tell so forcibly of a great mind and romantic disposition.

Frankly speaking, I didn’t quite get in the plot very well, but from what I gathered, Simon is a son of a grocer who had just possessed twenty thousand pounds from a will. The family didn’t take any longer to close the grocery and moved to Ramsgate. On the ship to Ramsgate, the family got acquainted with a couple: Captain Masters and Mrs. Belinda Masters. Shortly enough, Simon found himself attracted to Belinda, who seemed to return the feeling, despite of her marriage with Captain Masters. And after six week being together, Simon fell in love with Belinda, a feeling that they both called “platonic love”.

From Dickens’ description, I can see that Simon is physically weak and emotionally romantic. When the solicitor announced that the Tuggs had won the will, Simon fainted twice (the sign of weakness). And seeing how quickly he became attached to Belinda, only showed that he is a romantic person. It seems from this story, that weakness and romanticism are not a perfect combination, actually it’s a dangerous combination. Add a large sum of money (remember what the Tuggses just got from the will?) in it, and bad people can use someone like Simon.