At the time of the September 11 attacks, I was reading a bleak and dark James Ellroy novel. I never finished it. About a week after 9/11, unable to sleep at two in the morning, I grabbed almost at random a book from a weathered set of classics that my wife and I had inherited along the way. Martin Chuzzlewit may be second-tier Dickens, but its overstuffed plot provided a glorious escape from a world where planes toppled office towers.
Two weeks ago, as the pandemic still raged in New York and spring seemed years away, I needed another dose of Dickens. Back I went to the shelf and deliberately grabbed David Copperfield, which to my chagrin I had never read. In fact, I had not even seen the star-studded (W.C. Fields, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Barrymore) 1935 movie or, for that matter, the Las Vegas magic act.
Now on page 746, I am hopelessly smitten. Even though Donald Trump and his balloon-sized ego are about to reappear at the conservative CPAC convention in Orlando this weekend, the defrocked president cannot possibly match the obsequious villainy of Uriah Heep and his "umble" manner.
Every writer, who has brooded over a late freelance payment or begged for a meager kill fee, can relate to the perpetually impoverished Mr. Micawber and his sad, but proud, certainty that "something will turn up." There are few fully developed women characters in Dickens, but David Copperfield's aunt Betsey Trotwood, with an early feminist sensibility, is one of them.
Sure, Dickens lays on the sentimentality with a trowel. But life during the pandemic provided enough hard-edged realism to carry me through a century's worth of proletarian novels. I would write longer about the glories of Dickens at his best, but I have to get back to my favorite reading chair because I sense that Uriah Heep is about to get his comeuppance.
Sunday's CPAC Playlist
“As I came back, I saw Uriah Heep shutting up the office; and feeling friendly towards everybody, went in and spoke to him, and at parting, gave him my hand.”
“But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch as to the sight! I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, AND TO RUB HIS OFF.”
How Can I Miss You If You Don't Go Away?
Horrible Histories ::: Charles Dickens
Everyday I Write The Book ::: Elvis Costello
Are You Glad To Be In America ::: James Blood Ulmer
Eve of Destruction ::: Duane Eddy