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

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