Monday, February 23, 2009
In Praise of Dickens
I came across this delightful passage in a Dickens biography that I was reading recently, and wanted to share it:
"Perhaps I have so special an affection for [Nicholas Nickleby] becaues of seomthing that happened when I was ten years old. I was waiting at the gate for a grown-up friend of mine -- and English man of letters, though this I did not know -- to come down the tree-lined street and take off his hat as if I were grown up. Sometimes that would be all, and it was all a polite child could permit herself to expect. But sometimes he would say, 'Come, let's go down to the shop and choose some sweets!' and I would skip along beside him to a tiny general store that sold a little of everything, especially to children of the neighbourhood. Then he would buy a newspaper and leave the choosing to me; candy came by the cent's worth, from twelve-tiny-ones to one-big-one for that amount, and laying out five cents took not only thought but time.
But on this day I had just returned from a long country holiday. Children do their growing-up in summer rather than in winter, I think: anyway my friend, who had begun as usual 'Come --' paused, looked down at me as if he had just noticed something that made him both glad and sorry, and went on '-- let's go down to the shop and choose a book!'
I went along beside him, not skipping now, though my heart danced. I thought: I'm growing up. When we reached the shop there was a shelf I had hardly noticed before, with books on it -- not children's books, just books. They had no pictures. The covers were dull gray or brown, and so dusty I had to look at the title page to find out the name. I took one out and read, Nicholas Nickleby...
I don't know how much later it was that I heard my friend's voice. It sounded amused and understanding. 'Have you found your book?' he said.
I held it up without speaking. He told them not to wrap it. I went home hugging it under my arm. I hope I thanked him. In the next ten years I read it literally to pieces. Treasure it as I might, the dry, woody paper cracked, broke, and went off into dust like ashes...
Yes, my first copy of Nicholas Nickleby returned to dust long ago. But it had done its work. It had taken my hand and laid it in that of a friend I was never to lose. 'Child,' it had said, 'this is Charles Dickens.' "
Taken from Introduing Charles Dickens by May Lamberton Becker, pp. 131-133