Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fact or Fiction?

Charles Dickens is probably more notorious than Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays can each
Charlie in youth
be read in two hours. Dickens takes weeks.
Dickens’ work is a tumultuous gathering of characters; of darkness and despair, of love, of humour…half satire, half reality. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser of misers; the likes of Miss Havisham, or Mrs Clennam seem too bizarre to be real. Old, old people locked up in houses tottering on unsteady foundations…wedding cakes cloaked in cobwebs, things never changing, only growing older and dustier in a changing world.
But, Dickens was writing for all of us. The things that happen in his books happened to us, sometimes not in our memories, but sometimes in the hand-built past of our ancestors.
Miss Havisham and Pip
I know a house that came straight out of Dickens. It was even built during his time. At first glance it seems ordinary, even boring, with chipping lead paint and old glinting windows. There’s a musty smell when the door is opened, the stink of a gas stove. In the darkened living room, scattered with things so old they were made before your grandmother was born, sit my grandparents…old, grey, with hearts locked away, never to be picked.
The Dickens characters may seem bordering on impossible, but I’m confident that he met every one of them, because I have. The Dickens’ plots may seem too elaborate, too bizarre, but sometimes my family’s past was even weirder.
Scrooge meeting the ghost of Christmas Present
Under the layer of dust that coats everything in that house lay secrets, secrets straight out of a Dickens’ novel: murder, tragic deaths, love, happiness, selfishness. They are the ordinary sorts of people, the people who sapped off others, the people only thought of themselves, who neglected their children and impounded selfishness and ignorance. They were mad eccentrics who made brilliant things, but never cared about their families; they were social climbers and various kinds of murderer. They may be dead now, but there are faded photographs, old newspapers blackened with obituaries, handwritten letters more than a hundred years old that tell their stories.
Sometimes it’s depressing to read about them; after all, most of them are like that…these are the people Dickens met in the dark London streets, or in the blacking factory he worked in as a boy…but fortunately they weren’t the only people he wrote about, nor the only people my family can claim. In my grandparents’ house there are the few records of people who gave their own lives to save others, of two uncles who gave their fortunes away to other people without so much as a thanks or a kind word in reply. These characters are hardest to find in real life, the truly kind and good ones, people like Arthur Clennam, and Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, and of course, Bob Cratchit.
And sometimes when my life does intersect with someone like that, I feel like the tiny woman who treasured a shadow, in the story Amy Dorrit told Maggie, because no one so kind or good as the man who had cast it had ever, or would ever, pass that way again.

apologize for not writing blog posts more often. Because of my illness, posts will probably peter off during the winter and return in strength in the summer. Each post takes some time to write and research and often times I don't have enough energy to do either. I hope you will bare with me and continue to visit anyway. Thank you! ~Psyche



  1. I love 'Great Expectations'. It's probably my favorite Dickens (aside from A Christmas Carol).
    I hope you get to enjoy the holidays in spite of your illness, and trust me: you're much better about updating your blog than I am :P
    I hope maybe one day you'll start writing about your family history. I would definitely read it. All the little things you say here and there are tantalizing!

    1. I liked Great Expectations, too! But I think my favorite is still 'A Tale of Two Cities'. We were recently watching the BBC adaption of 'Little Dorrit' which made me read the book and get interested in Dickens again. We have a few really old volumes of his and its neat to read them, rather than newer copies.

      I'd like to write more about our family history and people connected to our family. We recently found out that we're related to Benedict Arnold. Not such a fun connection, but there it is. ;)