"Christmas stories" by Charles Dickens

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ome forward with a character destined to be more popular than even Mrs. Lirriper. Doctor Marigold is only a sketch, but it is masterly sketch, and one that deserves a place in our memories beside the picture ever drawn by Charles Dickens. Doctor Marigold is the name of a Cheap Jack who delights us with his eloquence, with his cleverness, and with his goodness. Mr. Charles Dickens is particularly happy when he can get an equelent character, and all his more memorable personages, as Sam Weller, Mrs. Gamp, and the rest, are chiefly memorable for the peculiar eloquence with which they assert themselves. Doctor Marigold has all the eloquence of a Cheap Jack, asserts himself with vigom, and is very amusing.

This is the style of the man who is exhibited before us in many such amusing attitudes and Mr. Dickens, displaying his characteristics, has the opportunity of indulging in his broadest humor. At the same time, however, he shows the more serious aspect of the man`s character. We all know the story clown who had to crack his jokes in the saw dust while his wife was dying in the room hard by. Cheap Jack in his fashion has to amuse the crowd that comes to buy his wares while his child is dying in his arms. The situation here is an old one, but Mr. Dickens has touched it with new feeling and set it before us in the tenderest light.

… It is not certainly by these lighter efforts that Charles Dickens ought to be judged. The two characteristics to which he owes his reputation are beyond all doubt his sentiment, and his share of that humor which really forms a part of sentiment, though it is often considered as independent of it. As a sentimentalist, Charles Dickens in his best moments has not often been surpassed in English literature. His bizarre and grotesque literary taste, and the curious light under which he sees almost all the common things and the common events of life, drag him down, in his intervals of weakness into the mere. But, with all his failings and vulgarities, Charles Dickens at his best is a very great author, and a consummate sentimentalist. His attempts to portray or to caricature or to satirize the upper classes of society has always been ludicrous failures. When Charles Dickens enters the drawing-room his genius deserts him, and hurries down the kitchen stairs into more congenial company. One is in danger, accordingly, of forgetting the astonishing poem with which he draws life in its less polished but equally healthy and vigorous forms. His sympathy for poor people is real and unaffected, and helps to make him the great writer he is; and when we look through all the romantic literature of the day, and see how little genuine feeling there is that comes up in power and pathos to Mr. Dickens `s feeling for the poor, we can not but acknowledge the charm that this trait lends to most of Christmas. There is warmth and a cheering in his stories that reminds one of the mistletoe and the holly. Nor is Charles Dickens satisfied with being himself full of warm-heartedness and sentiment. Whatever he is describing, whether it is animate or inanimate nature must fall in with and follow in his train. Orpheus, as the legend goes, made the trees come dancing after him, and Charles Dickens is not above performing the same feat with the chairs and tables, and the rest of the furniture of the room upon which his fancy descends. He has only to strike the night key-note, and immediately a concert begins about him, in which the kettles on the hearth begin to sing, the fire to talk, and the fire-irons and the fender to smile, and all together to chime in with the lyrical poem which forms the chief subject matter of the chapter. Nobody expects to find in his Christmas stories the sentiment and the humor which might be looked for in larger works, but it is not difficult to discover something to the same tare. Doctor Marigold `s description of little Sophy `s death, for example, is not meant to compete with twenty similar pictures that Charles Dickens has drawn already; but there are little pathetic touches in it which no one in our day, except Mr. Thackeray and Mr. Dickens, is in the habit of producing. Little Nell is a far more finished portrait than little Sophy, but little Sophy bears quite the same relation to little Nell that a Christmas members of “All the Year Round” does to a two-volume novel. …

The pity is that he doesnt turn his attention annually to something a little better, and on a larger scale. A Christmas books by Charles Dickens used to be one of the entertainments of the season. It has been succeeded by a witty and pleasing chapter in which Charles Dickens attempts to carry off the absurdity and the dead weight of the chapters which he joint-stock company have added to his. The Irish legend which comes second in “Doctor Marigold `s Prescription”, and which is “not to be taken bedtime”, might we believe, be taken with perfect impunity at that or any other hour, even in the most haunted house. The narrative of the composer of popular conundrums, like popular conundrums in general, is very deadly; it is possible the gentlemen who has devoted so much of his valuable time to composing Chapter III in “Doctor Marigold `s Prescription”. Stories a Quakeress, of a detective policeman, and a murderer man `s ghost follow. They are very poor and very stupid, and are only fit for perusal in a railway train at the critical period when all the daily papers have been exhausted, and no book or periodical of any kind is to be had within a hundred miles. “Doctor Marigold `s Prescription is to be had for moderate sum. Charles Dickens is doubtless worth it all; but we very much doubt whether his assistants are worth the paper on which their efforts of genius have been printed.

This was the extra Christmas Number of “All the Year Round,” 1863. Mrs. Lirriper was vastly popular, and Charles Dickens revived her the following year, in “Mrs. Lirriper `s Legacy”. Noticing this the “Saturday Review” wrote: “the twelve page in which, last Christmas, Mr. Dickens made her a familiar friend to so many thousands of people are perhaps the most inimitable of his performances”, but regrettably Charles Dickens had now sentimentalized her “The last half of Charles Dickens `s contribution to the present number might almost have been written by the authors of the stories which make up the rest, and anything less flattering could scarcely be said” probably by James Fidzjames Stephen.

Mr. Charles Dickens to the delights of hundreds of thousands is himself again in “Mrs. Lirriper `s Lodgings. The public can have the satisfaction of renewing its old pleasure, and reading something new which Charles Dickens has scarcely, if ever, surpassed. Mr. Lirriper is entitled to rank with Mrs. Nickleby and Mrs. Gamp. And when Charles Dickens writes at his best, it is surprising how very unlike him are all his imitators, and how subtle and numerous are the touches by which he maintains his superiority. There are one or two faults in Mrs. Lirriper, as it seems to us especially her turn for verbal epigrams and little smartnesses of language, which appears inconsistent with the simple ungrammatical shrewdness and volubility of her utterances. The general impression she produces is not that of a woman who would say of the opposition lodgings in her street that the bedrooms advertised night-porter is “stuff”. Nor would she be likely, we should have thought, to say to teeth, “that they are nuisances from the tune we cut them to the tune they cut us.” But if even this criticism is right and we must acknowledge that the enormous observations of lodgings could alone have revealed to Mr. Dickens so many secrets of the life led in them may have introduced him to epigamic landladies this is very small blot in a great performance. There are only twelve pages of Mrs. Lirriper, and yet she is so drawn in that show space that we can scarcely believe that there really no such person, and that a fortnight ago no one had ever heard of her. She is one of those creations which show how genius is separated from mere clever analysis. She stands by us like living character, and not, as ever in the works of Charles Dickens is so common, as a peg on which funny drolleries and references to some physical peculiarities is hung. She is quite the lodging-keeper; fills her house as well as she can; hates Mrs. Wozenham, her rival, with a true professional hatred; and yet she has a goodness, and overflow of humor and sense, and benevolence quite her own. The abundance of by-remarks that proceed from her is inexhaustible and although, by the characteristic oddity of expression they are tolerably well connected with her, they are often instances of the drollest and happiest fancies that have come from Charles Dickens. What, for example, can be more far-fetched and yet more true that Mrs. Lirriper `s view of photographs, as “wanting in mellowness as a general rule and making you look like a new-ploughed field”; or the description a boy with a parcel, as “a most impartment young sparrow of a monkey whistling with dirty shoes on the clean steps and playing the harp on the airy railings with a hoop stick”, or her confession, as to Norfolk Street, strand, that “of a summer evening when the dust and waste paper lie in it, and stray children play in it, and a kind of gritty calm and bake in it, and a peal of church bell practicing in the neighborhood, it is truffle dull”. At the same time, it must be owned that any single detached oddity, however happy can not give any idea of successful whole. For in those of Charles Dickens `s works which, in comparison with “Martin Chuzzlewit” or “David Copperfield”, are utter failures, there were never wanting some scattered happiness of this sot, and it might be possible to pick a sparkling sentence