Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A good sign

Photo by your humble blogkeeper
 1) Kudos to the folks at Plenty on East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia for using correct Italian grammar. Panino is the singular form; panini is plural. The grammar is perfect. The sandwich is pretty good, too.

2) Elsewhere, attended a "Drinking With Dickens" celebration at the Dark Horse Inn, this being 200 years since Dickens' birth. The evening featured good fellowship, carols, readings from A Christmas Carol, and, of course, wassail and smoking bishop. The former has long been one of my favorite words, since I first encountered it in the writing of Stephen Leacock. (You know Leacock. It was he who wrote: "Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.") Either drink would make fine accompaniment for a smoked-brisket panino.

A Christmas Carol, you may know, is neither hard-boiled nor noir, though its opening would not be out of place in a murder mystery: "MARLEY was dead: to begin with."

Wassail!

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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63 Comments:

Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Have you ever heard Tom Mula's "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol?"

It's a real hoot.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

My university is staging their annual version of Dickens' Christmas story, which I will once again avoid seeing. I have seen too many stage productions and films over the years. All convince me that reading the Dickens original is a better expenditure of my time. It is too bad that so many people know only film or stage versions, and they know nothing about the story in print. Given its original publishing contexts, it is a remarkable variation on the traditional Victorian (and older) Christmas tales. Very few writers could craft sentences and stories as well as Dickens. I put "A Christmas Carol" right behind _Bleak House_ as my favorites by Dickens.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Didn't remember smoking bishop from reading the story--good to know.

I think I may be done with any version of A Christmas Carol forever. Not Dickens, just that one.

Although I have to say that one of the high points of my holiday season last year was to go with my sisters and the kids to the Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and find myself wishing I could go this year. I used to go when I was in high school and was surprised that it was still going on. I learned from the younger staff members where I work that it has had something of a revival, due to the interest in all things steampunk.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I have not heard that but I will correct that deficit before my next smoked-brisket panini or wassail. Thanks.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., your opening sentence has a bit of Scrooge in it, particularly that second clause:

"My university is staging their annual version of Dickens' Christmas story, which I will once again avoid seeing."

This gathering emphasized, after the good fellowship and the wassail and the carols, the print Dickens. Attendees offered the occasional toast or short reading, and copies of the book floating about. I, who have read only Great Expectations, The Pickwick Papers, and a few short pieces, was given one of those copies.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I wonder what "Charles Dickens: A Steampunk Christmas" might look like.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, since they were selling a lot of Steampunk gear in some of the shops, probably a lot like the Dickens Fair.

Actually, it looks like they had a Steampunk day in 2010, and someone posted pictures.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I suppose some of that stuff is not terribly far-fetched, but I'm not sure it has much to do with Dickens, either.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

No, just the Victorian era.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! So they hook 'em with the Dickens name. It is thought-provoking to be reminded that Dickens co-existed with the Industrial Revolution, though.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I seem to remember him writing a passage about the advent of trains as a malign inflence, which struck me, as we now tend to think of trains as benign and almost nostalgic of a more relaxed era. Of course they don't belch black smoke in the same way now.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was struck by how utterly absent trains and factories were from the bits of A Christmas Carol we heard last night.

Looks like railroads boomed in England in the 1840s, which would make their rise just about perfectly contemporary with Dickens' career. I'd be interested in what he wrote about trains and why he saw them as a menace. I don't know where to find such writing, but I bet I could find out.

Over in France a few decades later, it's fun to see which of the Impressionists and painters worked factories and trains into their bucolic scenes. Manet and Pissaro were especially noted for this, and some scholars tie this to their politics. They were more to the left than some of their colleagues.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, he did almost die in a train crash, for one thing.

I think it was probably the comparative speed and racket. Here is his short story "A Flight". It isn't as dark as whatever I read, but I think it expresses his bafflement.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I never knew that. Thanks. I'll have to see if my friend Ed Pettit (to whom I link in this post) knows about the train crash. The opening of "A Flight" certainly suggests a skeptical attitude.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Are you talking about the train crash involving Dickens? Read a fictional account in a section of _Drood_.

As for me betraying myself as Scrooge, my wife has already given me that label.

And, regarding that local stage version of ACC, I nearly got myself talked into taking the role of Marley on very short notice (with only 7 days left in rehearsal time), but--being the Scrooge that I am--I talked my way out of it.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

POSTSCRIPT:
I mean the novel _Drood_, not the incomplete Dickens mystery.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staplehurst_rail_crash

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

http://www.bookloons.com/cgi-bin/Review.asp?bookid=10722

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So, is Drood likelier to send readers in search of books by Dickens and Wilkie Collins, or to make readers of those authors roll their eyes?

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

I think an earlier answer disappeared into the ethernet.

The answer, Peter, is some will go to Dickens and Collins, some will go to more Simmons, and some will roll their eyes.

Well, taste is a fickle thing, ain't it?

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book might make an interesting topic of discussion at a future Drinking With Dickens session.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Another industrial revolution aspect of his life was that he was famously forced by his family's financial straits to work in a blacking factory just after he turned 12 while the rest of his family languished in debtor's prison. On the one hand, this was deeply humiliating to him and he never forgot it. On the other he went on to make his fortune writing about boys in similar plights. Of course, it helped that he could write.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Dickens' life-story reads more like a best-selling novel. Check out Ackroyd's biography. Truth is stranger than fiction. (Sorry, I could not resist the cliche.)

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'd picked up some of that from my recent reading about Dickens. And yes, he had the history, but I'm sure the talent helped.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: "`Dickens saw reality as a reflection of his own fiction,'" contends Ackroyd," according to a review of the book. That's tantalizing.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Wonder what the talent would have done without the history,though? And yes, that quote on the Ackroyd book is tantalizing. It connects for me a bit with the fact that Dickens himself didn't know how long exactly he was at the blacking factory--a Dickensian sounding establishment if ever there was one--and in fact, doing a little googling on that subject, it seems that Dickens may have conflated a few names and maybe not worked at one address at all.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Our skeptical age is bound to find some gap or inconsistency in Dickens' story. Maybe we're skeptical because we don't believe in anything.

These days, I think, at least in casual discussion, we are apt to accept the history as sufficient credentials without demanding talent.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This is turning into a personal little golden age of reading. Rarely have I been so up to my eyebrows in good books to read, and this Dickens and Ackroyd stuff is only contributing to the pleasant surfeit.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

In this case, it sounded more like for awhile everyone had just taken the word of one early biographer without doing a lot of fact checking on their own. Personally, I don't think it matters whether Dickens even so much as entered a blacking factory--the important thing is that he empathized with all its wretched denizens. He got out, after all. Most of them never did.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or, to put it another way, it doesn't matter if his writing was authentic as long as it was convincing.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

There are few doubts about the "facts" of Dickens' life, especially as they are verifiable through primary and secondary sources (and the better biographies), and there are few doubts about the historical accuracy of the conditions (contexts) faced by characters in the novels (even if there is a bit of hyperbole here and there, but we should never doubt most of the unpleasantness). The "creative" part of Dickens' life tends to occur later in his life when he was so tirelessly busy. Is then that his personal life becomes a bit of a mess, and he opens himself up to considerable criticism.

There is also always a problem in reading fiction as autobiography, and there are often problems reading autobiography as fact, but there are generally fewer problems reading well-researched biography as reality.

In the real and fictional worlds of Dickens, the border crossings are always intriguing.

BTW, when I taught English Literature, Dickens was always a student favorite, running a close second behind Robert Louis Stevenson of Jekyl/Hyde fame.

Peter, if you were to read only one more Dickens' novel, I very much recommend _Bleak House_. That novel and Eliot's _Middlemarch_ are the heart-and-soul of Victorian literature.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mm, Blogger is hungry again!

R.T., has "Bleak House" captured the public imagination in recent decades less than some of Dickens' other novels? I took a quick glance at the Wikipedia article about the novel. The book certainly seems to have excited wide-ranging commentary when it firat appeared.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

I would not know about "public imagination," but I can say that _Bleak House_ is widely considered by critics to be THE canonical Dickens novel.

It has my personal and professional recommendation.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I have just acted upon that recommendation. Thanks.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Here is the link to the site I was reading about the Blacking factory. It's down in the second half.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes! Has any writer in English, other than Shakespeare, inspired so much interest? Dickens may even be ahead of Shakespeare, since his life was so much better documented. And that link has directed me toward Dickens' letters, which may be worth a look.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, Dickens is always worth a look. In fact, I should get on to one of the many novels I haven't gotten to yet. Bleak House, unfortunately, is one. Though I saw a great PBS presentation of it many years ago.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

My opinion is that film cannot represent Dickens. His characterizations, his settings, and his language must be experienced in their original form. That, however, is simply my teacher's bias.

I think the comparison between Shakespeare and Dickens is a fair one, at least one certain levels. I would say this: Shakespeare could have ghost-written on behalf of Dickens, but Dickens could not have returned the favor. However, in English letters, finishing second to Shakespeare is not a bad position.

Finally, _Bleak House_ is not for the superficial reader, the kind of reader who can negotiate _David Copperfield_ and _Great Expectations_ (i.e., Dickens' most popular novels), or the kind of reader who can negotiate _Tale of Two Cities_ (i.e., Dickens' least Dickensian novel). _Bleak House_ is, however, a very rewarding adventure, one that I have embarked upon numerous times throughout the years.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

I should clarify me Shakespeare-Dickens argument. Shakespeare proved himself to be a master of every writing endeavor. Dickens, alas, had his strengths and weaknesses, with drama being among the latter.

I would also argue that we can know a great deal about Dickens by reading his writing. On the other hand, Shakespeare--as a person--remains anonymous within his writing.

Never has any writer other than Shakespeare been so brilliant at creating different and complete characters. Dickens' characters are wonderful creations, but they ain't Shakespearean.

Now, as for _Bleak House_, you have a bit of everything to entertain you--romance, mystery, comedy, and even human spontaneous combustion! Not even Shakespeare tried that one.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I don't think film can entirely represent any novel, and recently I've been resistant to watching anything recreated in that way. But in this era, many people do come to books in this sort of reverse order and I am not at all against that happening.

For all I know, the way I originally came to Dickens is when my school took my class to see "Oliver!" And Dickens, as a commercial writer of his time, would probably not object to anything that hooked the punters in.

I do have to say that seeing the entire Nicholas Nickelby stage presentation on PBS with Roger Rees as Nicholas was absolutely thrilling. And I think there have been many fairly successful renditions of his work.

I also thought the two part film of Little Dorrit as pretty incredible.

And I'll stand up for Great Expectations as my favorite. Not so keen on Tale of Two Cities or Hard Times.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

PS. Forgive my typos and grammar gaffs. I am a bit foggy tonight. It could be blamed on _Bleak House_ which I just began reading again starting tonight. This will make at least a dozen visits to the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

The fog comment will make sense when you begin BH.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, this discussion has already gladdened the heart of the afore-mentioned Ed Pettit, who has a hosted a year's worth of events honoring Dickens. I suspect your most recent comment will please him even more. He has us all discussing and maybe even reading Dickens.

One of the links in my post should take you to a Web site he set up that I think contains a list of events he hosted through the year. One of last night's guests was the head of rare books at the Free Library of Philadelphia, who dropped hints about some exciting non-Dickens events in 2014 and possibly 2016. And Ed said he might host some more Drinking With Dickens evenings even after Dickens' bicentennial has passed.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I invoked Shakespeare and compared him to Dickens only for the breadth of interest he excited from readers, experts, and commentators in so many fields. That may say as much as anything about his appeal.

You called A Tale of Two Cities Dickens’ least Dickensian novel. If I recall correctly, the preface to the Oxford Illustrated edition of The Pickwick Papers calls Pickwick the best example of Dickens doing what he did best. That might make it Dickens’ most Dickensian book.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Dickens' comic genius shines in PP, but I remain partial to the scope and entertainment in BH.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I don't know that anyone can take the medal stand with Shakespeare except for the folks who wrote some of the Books of the Old Testament and the Epic of Gilgamesh, though I reserve final judgment until I'll have read the Sanskrit epics.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I agree on Dickens being a kind of subset of Shakespeare, but then, we all are. Harold Bloom seems to think that basically, we all exist within Shakespeare's mind.
There is no reason to limit drinking with Dickens to once every two hundred years. We should probably drink a toast to him every month or so.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, one can perhaps compare film and stage versions of Dickens to discussions around a table of interested and knowledgeable readers: They whet one's appetite for the original.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Drinks once a month? Too seldom. Drink often. "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

Do not drink too much, though, during your reading of _Bleak House_. You will miss too much in the labyrinth.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think that's right.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., the first thing I noticed in by Bleak House browsing was Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Remembering that British pronunciation tends toward silent medial and final r's will clue American readers in one what seems like a fine joke -- assuming, that is, that the expression "jaundiced eye" had currency in Dickens' time.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I'll have more to say about Bleak House once I've started reading it. I should ask Ed which Dickens novel he likes best. As I said, I'm a fledgling Dickensian, having read only The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, and some writing that was probably published in American Notes, namely Dickens on Eastern State Penitentiary here in Philadelphia.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Well, I'm partial to BH, so I would say start with the best. However, other Dickens readers will have other favorites and recommendations. Reading Dickens can be addictive. Watch out!

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There is no reason to limit drinking with Dickens to once every two hundred years. We should probably drink a toast to him every month or so.

Seana, there is a Pickwick Club here in Philadelphia that meets three times a year. And it would be nice if the energetic Mr. Pettit follows through on his plan to host more Dickens evening. I like to think, in other words, that it was more than the warm glow of the wassail talking when he broached the possibility.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Wassail works.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., if last night was any guide, there is little danger of overindulging at a Dickens evening. I drank one wassail and three smoking bishops and felt just a hint of pleasant warmth.

So Dickens readers can turn into drooling, incoherent addicts -- but in the strictly Pickwickian sense of the term?

December 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Wassail works"

Good slogan. Good name for a factory, too.

December 11, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Keep me posted on your progress through Bleak House. Email. rdavis1@uwf.edu

December 13, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

BTW, the Fred Kaplan bio of Dickens is also worthwhile, and it comes in an about 200-300 fewer pages than the Ackroyd.

December 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Esther and her young companions have just met the mad woman outside Conversation Kenge's office, so I'm through chapter three.

I may read Bleak House at a slow, stately pace because I am reading so many good books at the same time, and I can't assign one priority over any of the others.

December 13, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Among the many fascinating strands in the novel (i.e., they are almost mind-boggling in number and complexity), I am particularly fond of Esther Summerson, a woman much more interesting that even Jane Austen's ladies. Yeah, that is heresy in the world of English literature, but there it is. Esther remains one of Dickens' most engaging creations.

December 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's quite an endorsement of Esther Summerson, since I am a Jane Austen fan going back to before all this nonsense with zombies and Hugh Grant.

My favorite part of Bleak House has been the marvelous japery at the expense of the legal profession. And I think Dickens did a fine job of telescoping so much of Esther's early life into such a short space.

December 13, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Dickens knows a bit about courts and lawyers in Victorian England. In my swiss-cheese memory, I seem to recall that Dickens was a court stenographer for a while as a young adult.

My weakness for Dickens has a bit to do with his ability to put so much into his sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. My mind boggles when I think about the scope and size of his body of work. Yes, others have written as much or more, and they have shared the same kind of popularity (e.g., Stephen King, Louis L'Amour, James Michener, and others come to mind), but few writers have Dickens' literary status and canonical staying power.

But enough of all of that. I fear I am getting carried away about Dickens.

December 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm sure Dickens confounds many discussions about high vs. low in literature.

December 13, 2012  

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