Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Charles Dickens - an explanation

Not too long ago, I briefly mentioned my hatred for Charles Dickens.  I feel like I need to explain. 

I have been told many, many, many times about how influential and monumental he was.  But you know what?  He published in serials.  You know who else "published in serials"?  John Wayne Gacy.  That's who.

Let me start my unsolicited complaining session with a block quote from one of Mr. Dick-ens' most famous and well-regarded novels.  Mind you, this is also one my wife consistently pushes for me to read.  Oliver Twist.  This was pulled from Project Gutenberg, the greatest and most worthy endeavor known to man.

Chapter I
Treats of the Place Where Oliver Twist Was Born and of the Circumstances Attending His Birth
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of morality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

Take that in.  You'll likely need about three or four times to read the entire passage through.

Notice also how it is ONLY ONE SENTENCE.  Wtf, Chuck?  You have every possible punctuation mark in there: the comma, the semi-colon, and, most likely your favorite, the *wink-wink* "colon" (let the pun seep in a sec).  Also notice how he doesn't say ANYTHING.  If I'm reading this in the 1830's - 1840's, I'm pissed off, cause you've just wasted 90% of my free time with your blabbering, and now I have to go work in the coal mines for a day and a half.  Sorry kids - can't kiss you good bye, you can thank Mr. Charles Dickens over there for stealing away your father's free time.

I've always been told in my writing, English, literature classes that the very first paragraph of your novel is supposed to be designed to get your reader hooked.  But after reading this, I'm already looking and saying...What?? how many pages are left?  Then I'm doing a double take at just how bloody long this bloody novel is.  Then I'm wondering if mass book burning would be OK if it were author-selective.

I will now rephrase it in real-person words.

Chapter One:

Where and How Oliver Twist Was Born

Common to every city, there was a workhouse.  And in one nondescript workhouse in one nondescript city, the eponymous character referenced by the title of this chapter was born.

BADA-BOOM.  Simple - straightforward, and you only have to read it once.  You even get the repetitive effect in the second sentence that metaphorically drives home how common the beginnings of Oliver Twist were. Not the most interesting of ways to lead into a novel, but that might just be the point.  Ok, I get that "the Chas-Dick" was paid by word, so there was incentive to blabber, but, I mean...come ON.  He sounds like a long-winded John Kerry. Or a hyperactive and under-confident valley girl telling you all the details they're NOT going to tell you about.  
Ok, so there's this guy, right? He's with this girl, but I can't tell you which girl he's with - not that it matters, because the story's not really about the girl, it's about the guy, and what the guy did with the girl.  Ok, so it's a little about the girl, but not enough that I have to tell you a lot about who she is or anythi...
I think you get the idea.

So, at risk of sounding like Charles Dickens, I think this post is long enough.


  1. I bet he got paid by the word.

  2. I appreciate your rephrasing and I think all books going forward need their own "Bada boom" section.

  3. Dude straps on a set, rewrites Dickens. News at 11.

  4. I would pay you to rewrite the rest of the novel if I had any money. Because I couldn't finish That first paragraph even on e before I thought "oh god it's so many words that say nothing. I'm not reading anymore, I bet Billy will tell me what it says."

  5. So I checked you out from my site and that was hilarious. I find Charles Dickens to be a bit wordy.

    Exception! Tale of Two Cities! Had to memorize it in 9th grade...no, not the whole thing.

    I also had to memorize the preamble to the constitution in 9th grade.

    Gee...9th grade sucked...but I digress

    Did I say you were funny? Am I following you? That was rhetorical!

  6. That's probably why I never read any Dickens.

  7. I think you'll want to add a twitter icon to your website. I just marked down this blog, although I must do it manually. Simply my 2 cents.

  8. Ok, this post sealed it. You're my new fav blogger.

    Could you take a stab at Shakespeare next? Dude has some good stories, but damned if it doesn't take me 7 years to read one play.


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