Guest Author - Siobhain M Cullen
Little did the literary giant know that one day there would be Charles Dickens DVD, mp3 and CD publications of his short stories and works, translated into nearly every language in the world.
Yet it should be no surprise, as the man was an inveterate story-teller! In fact, judging by one piece he wrote about the New year prepartions in London, he just couldn't stop telling them!
You can almost imagine his editor in the background, yelling "Focus, Mr Dickens, Focus!" or "this is a newspaper, not a childrens comic book! Facts, man, facts!"
'The New Year' short story could serve as a reminder to us all, and to newbie writers, to try to remember, and stay focused on, the genre and readership we are supposed to be writing to!
Yet, Dickens 'article' when it morphs into yet another funny and satirical character study short story, probably engages more readers and evokes for them more London New Year atmosphere than any article, and is more memorable.
Charles Dickens begins his piece well enough, having a good crack at a businesslike start. The first three paragraphs serve as the usual old-fashioned introduction and general chat about the traditions of New Year writing. Stylishly penned the words may be, but the content maybe readers could live without.
Then, I think, Dickens must have been either interrupted or distracted by something, either at home or outside, as when the 'article' restarts it has a different ambience and tone. Perhaps the distraction was outside! Charles Dickens may have been peeping in his neighbours' windows!
He begins to discuss the present, discussing the events that are happening around him in his own street as he sits by the "fireside on this last night of the old year, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, penning this article with as jovial a face as if nothing extraordinary had happened...."
The he is off with the storytelling! Describing early Victorian London New Year scenes in minute and atmospheric detail, he tells of hackney carriages rumbling up and down the streets, of coachfuls of party-goers in Victorian evening dress "dress-coated and pumped," loud rattles of door-knockers and ..... the 'goings-on' at the neighbours house with the green blinds!
Doubtless, his readers are more intrigued now than they were at the beginning of his worthy discourse on the passing of years!
Dickens admits that he was looking through neighbours' windows over breakfast, and saw New Year's Party preparations under way! Included in the bustle are pastry-cooks' men with green boxes on their heads, and rout-furniture-warehouse-carts, with cane seats and French lamps, rushing off to the many houses where "an annual festival is held in honour of the occasion."
One priceless literary detail of London winters is his description of the typical fog he peered through...
"through the fog too, till it grew so thick that we rung for candles, and drew our curtains"
The air of 'curtain-twitching' is further deepened by Charles Dickens admission that they have been guessing at the occupations and circumstances of the lives of their neighbours guessing that...
"The master of the house with the green blinds is in a public office; we know the fact by the cut of his coat, the tie of his neckcloth, and the self-satisfaction of his gait--the very green blinds themselves have a Somerset House air about them."
A slightly satirical note here, perhaps in reference to the drudgery of his own early pen-pushing' days!
Charles Dickens then widens his scope by including even the pen-pushing neighbour's own office clerk, delightfully described as...
"a tidy sort of young man, with a tendency to cold and corns, who comes in a pair of boots with black cloth fronts, and brings his shoes in his coat-pocket"
Imagining the scene in the city office, Dickens allows himself to digress into the realms of fantasy, and it is at this point that the New Year article becomes a story!
"'How ARE you, Tupple?' says the master of the house, advancing from the fire, before which he has been talking politics and airing himself." ... and so the story finally begins.
Dickens describes his imaginings of the 'quadrille party' in the house opposite, the young ladies seen styling their hair in the upstairs rooms, the passing around of the muffin plate, the discomfiture of the fidgety young man in the pink under-waistcoat who wishes to make a speech but is talked over by the man of the house, the tittle-tattle of the young ladies on the sofa, the Spanish Dance, and of course..... the all-important New Year toasts.
Charles Dickens' legacy is a scene recreation worthy of any lavish DVD production or film, of a typical London New Year Dinner Party of the turn of the century - in minute detail that historians and anglophiles will love.
Interestingly, he does return to the initial considerations of the year's turning - apparently happy with the piece he has produced and seeing no need to make further changes. He has painted a picture of Victorian London with words, almost as good as any Charles Dickens DVD, movie or theatre show.
The short story ends with a sobering thought along the lines of "ask not for whom the bell tolls....."
As the New Year bells of London peal joyfully out, Dickens reminds us that..
"we measure man's life by years, and it is a solemn knell that warns us we have passed another of the landmarks which stands between us and the grave."
He ends his short story with the observation that when the next New Year bells ring out, we may not be alive to hear them, having so often ignored the previous reminders of bells in the past - ones we heard only with optimism and joyful anticipation of the exciting events of the year ahead.
When looking for true evocation of early Vicorian London atmospheres and characterisations, it pays to go for the very best Charles Dickens DVD or audio collections. These will feature acting of the highest calibre from such celebrated and accomplished performers as Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Trevor Eve, Maggie Smith (Harry Potter) Bob Hoskins (Hook,)Pauline Quirke (The Elephant Man), Ian McKellen (Lord Of The Rings )- and will give the production a quintessentially English flavour.
What was Dickens favourite story? Why, the story about himself of course, David Copperfield! (Reputedly so, anyway.)New Year short story read online at readOnline.com.