The Dickens poll

As for that, speak for yourself. I can’t stand Dickens. :wink:


Interesting. I am a teensy bit comforted to hear this. :smirk: Especially from one as erudite as thou art, Madam.

Until my eyes began to go wonky on me, I read novels out loud to my wife. Over the course of 30 odd years, I must have read more than three thousand novels to her. Many more than that if you include the novels I read repeatedly to my children (Lewis, Tolkien, etc.).

The point: this habit of reading out loud was a feed-me-machine. It took some doing to discover authors and oeuvre in sufficient quantity to feed the machine.

This led, inevitably, to “classic” authors as possibilities. Alas. We got as far back into English literature as the Victorians, beginning with Anthony Trollope, whom we chose at first because of the very un-Victorian homophonous “flavor” of his surname. And, though Trollope was huge fun at times, he was about as far back as we (or I, since I was the reader could get).

Why? Well, just pick up a Dickens novel, open it at random, and begin to read it out loud. Cold. No practicing. Just let 'her rip.

I’d wager you don’t get more than half a paragraph before you stumble. Dickens is not written in order to be read aloud. For that matter, when his characters speak (and he ostensibly reports their sentences to the reader), their supposedly spoken English is nigh to impossible to reproduce in the mouth of an audible reader.

It didn’t take much of that for me to lay Dickens aside forever. Even when I could get through a paragraph without tripping over some stylish fetish he deployed, my listeners were asea during a storm as they tried to parse what they heard. Blech.

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Ok, time for the poll…

Time to publicly take a position on Charles Dickens!

  • I lovest me some Dickensian prose
  • Dickens? Blech!
  • Who is Dickens?
  • I’ve never read Dickens, so… go Patriots?
  • I used to like Dickens until I found out how he treated his wife.

0 voters

I read Christmas Carol every year. Love it. But most of his other work… I didn’t get through Bleak House with The Bookkeeping last year. It was just too much.

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The bookkeeping is my favorite podcast. lol

I’ve only read A Christmas Carol in abridged form and A Tale of Two Cities recently. I think I need another poll option since I can’t figure out how to vote. Oops.

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Hah. Auto-co-wrecked.

I couldn’t figure out how to vote either - at first, but I decided my general “feelings” about reading Dickens are something along the lines of Blech!

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Shoot, I was trying to make my own poll option and voted by mistake.

My write-in:

o I’ve read a couple of his works and have always meant to read more.

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I should explain my antipathy. In 11th grade, we were to write a term paper on five novels by a British or American author. I wanted to do Lewis. My bitter-ex-nun English teacher said he hadn’t written anything if significance. So I went with Dickens…an almost random choice. I read A Tale of Two Cities and maybe one other all the way through. Then I relied on Cliff and Monarch Notes for the rest. It took me years (decades) to try Dickens again, and then only on screen. After a couple of attempts, I decided there really wasn’t enough Prozac in the world to make him endurable. As for his prose, anyone paid by the word is going to be hard pressed not to use far more words than necessary, and Dickens was no match for that temptation.


I’m kind of middle-of-the-road on Dickens. I like some of his stuff, but find him too verbose most of the time.

Bleak House was excellent (read that for book club)
I liked Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol.

I haven’t read any others.

I want to like Dickens, but I have a hard time reading him and am never quite sure if it’s worth it.

Along with lots of other novelists, Mary Lee and I read a bunch of Dickens decades ago, and I remember him fondly, as I do many of the others we/I read. For the past few decades, I’ve read almost exclusively non-fiction and I’ve wondered what I’d think of the fiction I used to like if I read it now? I’m guessing second time through, I’d think of Dickens as the Victorians’ Tony Campolo.


Dickens as the Victorians’ Tony Campolo

Gold. :laughing:

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So I was curious about Dickens being paid by the word since I’ve heard that said so many times, but I’ve read a decent amount about him and seen the excellent movie, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” and never is that part of his actually history that I’ve seen. This finally prompted me to look it up and it turns out it’s not true. He was paid by installment and most of his books were printed a chapter at a time in magazines, so that explains why his books read the way they do. But his verbosity is all his own doing.


Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

It looks like it’s not exactly correct to say “paid by the word”, but he certainly had to meet a certain page count, so functionally… his verbosity was incentivized.

He followed this format fairly sternly, and since he was paid by the installment, I suppose that there is something to be said for the fact that, since he “had” to do at least 20 chapters that “had” to be 32 pages each, then that he was being paid by how much he produced.

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I have never personally read Dickens. However, Patrick Stewart’s reading of a Christmas Carol is a family favorite.


Well that one quote supports the idea but the rest of the article goes on to explain why they say the legend is false. He’s the one that stuck with that chapter and length format and he had to sell his works in order to be paid, so he certainly couldn’t just add words without maintaining the interest of the reader. They also point out that it’s no different than a magazine writer being given a subject and told how many words to write.

Journalists being paid per article, perhaps with some other metric like number of clicks, is often blamed directly for the decline of journalism into the clickbait headlines with articles devoid of thoughtful content, not long, but much longer than would be necessary to convey the lone fact they actually write in the article. So… not sure it helps the case much.

Anyway, you can’t speak of Dickens’ writing as a whole. From the fine folks on the Bookening I learned that early in his career he was under such rules and agreements, but later in his career he had made a name and money for himself and he was the editor. He could do whatever he wanted.

Then again, the same economic incentive continued. The more installments you could produce and get people to pay for, the more money you made.

Which brings us back to clickbait headlines, but now consider listicles where they put a single picture and maybe 2 sentences on a page before making you click through to the next one. On every single page load they show you more ads and make more money.


It must have been noted somewhere in one of the books I read (or didn’t read) way back in 11th grade. Thirty-six years later, I guess I won’t bother to track down and correct the source. Thanks for the more detailed info! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Quite true, it just seems a bit more complex than the idea that he was paid by the word and had reason to just pad all his writing with extraneous verbosity. :grin: I happen to love his long sentences and descriptions and think he’s an excellent writer so I want any critiques to be accurate.


Haven’t been on in a while but wanted to add that, yes, the myth Dickens was paid for the word is ridiculous. He loved to elaborate, digress, etc., and every word he “over-wrote” was his own design. He was paid for installments, which is partly responsible for the length of his novels – he’d draw them out, write in cliff-hangers, add character arcs, etc. – but this had nothing to do with a mercenary bean-counting of each word (though imagining some poor clerk having to count every word, and the fights that would ensue over miscounts, etc., is pretty fun). And, as he became a celebrity novelist with his own literary magazines, he could basically do whatever he wanted. And he did.

Really, the crux of the issue is whether you like Dickens’ voice or not. It goes without question he liked it, which accounts for the length of so many of his books. As I get older, I go back and forth on Dickens, and what Lucas has pointed out in other posts is one of the main reasons. But, in the end, my nostalgia is still strong for him, and anyone who prides themselves on being bored by his stories has to admit he was, at least, the Victorian version of Stephen King, or the Russo/Duffer Brothers.