Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Sydney Carton

At the end of this movie, after Spock has sacrificed his life so that the crew may live, Kirk quotes Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities: it is a far, far better thing… Just watched this as I’m trying to write. Kirk believes it is what Spock intended him to understand when Spock gave Kirk the book for his birthday. Oh my.

I knew the book was part of the film, but I totally didn’t see the rich and deep connections before with the Victorians and their struggles. James T. Kirk and Charles Dickens. Yep. Makes a lot of sense.

Have to teach this film in Dickens/Victorian novel next time–all about evolution, science, technology, fear, belief, Malthus, Bentham, redemption, resurrection, death, life. Holy pop culture and important 19th century writers.

I will boldly go where no other teachers have gone before. Or at least not where I’ve gone before. Can I do that? I think maybe I have to.

Thanks to the students in this Dickens’s class for teaching me so much, for keeping me open to serendipity, for proving that there is nothing unconnected in the world.

Categories: A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens Everywhere, Star Trek, The Amazing Victorians, Victorian Serendipity | 4 Comments

21st century Dickens

Tonight you are writing for a final examination that contains four questions–answers must be handwritten on paper with pen or pencil. Three of the questions are pretty hefty and daunting, one is a bit lighter, but it could still be a lot of work.

Dickens’s Signature

AND it’s handwritten. (At least you’re not having to write with quills and ink, and the paper is lined.) Handwriting is hard. It’s irritating when you’ve been learning to blog, to extend, to stretch, to be part of a community all semester long. As one blogger noted (an approximation): “What? You’ve trained me to be a blogger all term, got me thinking entirely differently than in any other class, and now we have to do this…” Yes. It’s torture. I know. I hate handwritten exams.

I think I told you all about a writing workshop I was part of about five years ago: I showed up with my computer all kinds of ready to go. No computers allowed. Only notebooks, papers, pens, or pencils. No wifi in the rooms. WHAT? I could hardly write. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t focus. I was angry and resentful and poked fun at the workshop facilitators in one way or another–I was kind of a pain. But then I started to slow down. I started to think. In five days I finished a book I’d been working on for a year. And I started another one. I enjoyed the handwriting. I still do sometimes. I still keep various notebooks that include my thinking and which have helped me write several essays, create curriculum, design writing programs, frame art, think up torturous writing experiences for my students, like this final exam you are working on write (oops), I mean, right now.

This class was subtitled “200 Years of Charles Dickens” and we’ve covered his life and his works and much in between from the year of his birth, 1812, to now, 2012. Two hundred years. In that time these things have happened:

People have moved from handwritten texts as the major means of communication to electronic media of various kinds: typewritten letters/memos, etc., faxes, teleconferences, webinars, mobile phones, emails, tweets, Skyping, and more.

People have started to think faster and do more in a quicker fashion. We can connect more now than ever before. We connect all the time. We used to collect a lot–now we connect what we collect. It doesn’t take a year for one scientist in Scotland to share ideas with a scientist in Australia. It no longer takes three years for a teacher to share ideas through a book with other teachers–it can take 10 minutes or 10 seconds. We learn more quickly and visually–more than ever.

People have more access to knowledge than ever before, ever, ever, ever. It’s right in front of you, on the computer, connected to the World Wide Web, the Internet, cyberspace, the ether of knowledge.

From *Great Expectations*

People create more knowledge than ever before and share in powerful and empowering ways. Wikipedia. Slashdot. SETI@home. Linux. Shakespeare Quarterly (now peer-review is a hybrid of open and traditional–thank you very much).

We’ve been open all semester. We rock that. And we rocked the hurry-up-and-post, or tweet-right-during-a-presentation. We did all that and it was grand.

Sometimes, though, we need to slow down and think longer and deeper about what we say, craft the words with our hands, be artisans, be writers. It’s painful and scary and tedious. Or so it feels that way to me a LOT of the time. There’s no way to insert images or links or extend your thinking or immediately share. It’s only you and the words, and it’s loooong. It’s old school.

Tonight, you are being writers in a modified sense of that word: you are writing, you are creating text, you are making meaning. And it’s narrow. It’s just you and paper and words. The text you are creating is an extension of you, though, but in a different way. Your writing has been all about you all term–your voices have sung, in tune, with many distinctive and amazing songs. But right now, you are turning back time to engage in a way of communicating that it’s too easy to forget about in the 21st century.

Thus, we are here. Like slow food, we are slow writers tonight. Or rather, you are. I’m still working with technology. And actually getting fairly caught up in the process.

Spock gives Kirk *A Tale of Two Cities* in *The Wrath of Khan.* Yes. That happens.

And I am doing my dance. Really.

Thank you for letting me do my dance. I have loved every single minute of this class. I’ll never forget all you have taught me, given me, and allowed me to attempt.

Live long and prosper.

(In case, I forgot to mention the Star Trek and Dickens connection, I do so here–see link above. I hope you really do live long and prosper. Indeed, “it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done” when I teach. As a teacher, I am a perennial learner–that’s better than anything I have ever done before. I’ve had other jobs, but none have delivered such unrelenting joy. I mean: Star Trek and Dickens. C’mon.)

Categories: A Tale of Two Cities, Final Exams, Star Trek | Leave a comment

Why take a final examination?

Final examinations used to be a big deal–it could be one of the major grades in a class. Along with a mid-term, a final exam might be only one of three grades. I often had classes with one mid-term, one paper, and one final examination. Sometimes, I had classes with three tests and a final exam. Once I had a class with two tests, a book review and a final exam that was 50% of the course grade–and it was cumulative. Hard.

This final exam is different. It’s another opportunity for your to demonstrate your learning, your thinking, how you learned from others, and how this helped inspire you. Think about Dickens, yes, but also think about what you learned about the world he lived in–and think about what your peers taught you through their presentations and research (hope everyone has their work up online to share by now!).

Focus! Focus!

We’ll be focusing on these three things in the final examination:

  1. Your reaction to Dickens–a response to a character, a book, several books, his style, what surprised you, etc. You’ll need to focus in on this and have lots of references to his works regardless of what you choose to focus on. (30 points)
  2. The research someone else did in the class that was intriguing to you. What did you learn? How did it relate to Dickens? (30 points)
  3. What aspects of the socio/politico/economic/cultural spheres of the Victorian period were the most interesting to you? What did you learn about the Victorians from reading Dickens–do you think he was “right?” How do you know? Focus is key here. (30 points)
  4. Well, there will be a question #4, but it will be a short question, and a surprise, and you’ll love it. (10 points)

Oh, well, those are about the point values or distribution of the weight of each. So. Each of the three areas I asked you to “study” should elicit answers that will be worth about the same, then there’s this annoying, pesky little ringer of a question you cannot study for but which you’ll have to answer. I’m not sorry.

I’ll have the paper, so you bring the quills and ink, or pencils, or pens. Please no hot pink ink.

Write on each line or on every other line, but only on one side of paper, please–that way if you want to add anything in at the end–you can use an arrow and direct me to the back of the sheet.

Remember you can have a page of 8.5 x 11 paper with bullet points of information on one side (with one inch margins all around and NO 9 pt size fonts either). You’ll turn in this sheet with your writing at the end.

Plan to take at least an hour and a half from the start of the exam–though you’ll have at least a hour and 45 minutes.

  • Begins: 5:10 or so (we’ll settle in for a few minutes and talk to get out some nerves)
  • Ends: 6:55 or so (no need to fry your brains for 2.5 hours)

Tips for Doing Great

Now’s the time to show off your reading breadth as much as you can to illustrate that you read all the books/texts and understand the larger scope of Dickens; but you can do this by starting very narrow and weaving greater moments into the smaller ones to illuminate your point.

Also feel free to show off your Victorian general knowledge. Also make links to literature of other eras as needed to show off your intertextuality-ness if you feel like that’s the way to go to make a particular point.

Give yourself time to answer each question in the way you want to–all are equal points except for the last, so use your time accordingly. Take a few minutes to plan and sketch out a plan of attack. Can’t hurt, might help.

Breathe deep, stretch your fingers, shake out the fears, and remember the Victorians only had one way to write for most of the century.

Categories: Why Final Exams Are Fun | Leave a comment

Gordon Riots of 1780 and country music (yes, I just wrote that)

If the Gordon Riots had a different outcome, would this be called the Gordon Revolution of 1780? How would the American Revolution have been named if the rebels had failed?

Speaking of fish. There is the Dolly Varden trout.

The best fish singer ever. Except maybe The King salmon.

Interesting connections to Barnaby Rudge:

  • The fish was named after the character in BR (this is a trout–mighty fine fish, too).
  • “Dolly Varden” is also a style, a fashion statement.
  • And “Dolly Varden” is a painting (based on the description in BR).

For my 28th birthday, I went to Anchorage, AK to Mr. Whitekey’s Fly By Night Club to see the Whale Fat Follies where a performer, dressed as a fish AND Dolly Parton (play on the Dolly Varden fish–brilliant), sang a duet with another performer, dressed as a KING salmon AND Elvis Presley. The name of the song was “Spawn, spawn, spawn ’til you die.”

Yep, it was that sort of place. Only Spam on the menu. It’s closed now. But the Follies live on, as does Mr. Whitekeys.

I wish I’d traveled back to Anchorage to this spot again before they’d shut it down forever. I have some very fine moments from that night that I wouldn’t mind reliving–including receiving a Spam “cake” of some kind with a birthday candle to celebrate. (I also was given a Spam can coin bank.)  The whole place sang “Happy Birthday” to me. (But I bet they didn’t pay for it–see copyright/copyleft/open history of that song).

OR do I misremember that night? That might be possible. Turning twenty-eight was a long time ago for me. At the time, I certainly had no idea the fish name came from Dickens. But now, how could I be surprised? So much of who I am, who we are, connects back to the Victorians and to Dickens and the 19th century literati.

Go figure. Dickens was always lurking there somewhere in my life.

Categories: Dickens Everywhere | 2 Comments

Speaking of serendipitous things…

As I clicked “publish” on my last post, WordPress thoughtfully gifted me with this quote by one of my favorite science fiction writers.

Agreed.

Categories: Why We Write | 1 Comment

Charles Dickens and me: A story of serendipity

If I hadn’t mentioned how my life is based on Fate, Destiny, or Serendipity this term, then I have been remiss.

I try to plan, and sometimes I do, but it’s not always the plan I have in mind that unfolds into reality. That is exactly how I met and fell in love with the Victorians. I, of course, had to take a variety of courses for my bachelor’s degree in English. I majored in British literature, actually. Where I got my BA, Boise State Univ., we were allowed to focus on American, World, or British literature. I knew I had to go for the British. (I’ve always had a soft spot for them historically, emotionally, culinarily–I love fish and chips and beer).

What I didn’t know was that I would love the literature of the 19th century. I enrolled in a Victorian novels class with Dr. Carol Martin a LONG time ago, but I’ll never forget the experience: we read Vanity Fair by William Thackeray in serial, and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, and then we read Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I loved the serial reading experience and vowed I would do it again. And I did while as a grad student (and that’s another whole serendipitous story) and then I’ve done it again many times as a teacher. Dr. Martin used my journal for the semester as an example of what could be accomplished by reading serially to get an NEH grant. I was so flattered and moved and speechless. (I got an A++++ on that journal. The best ever. It was really a glam moment in my life.)

I started reading TWIW one Sunday morning, and I didn’t stop reading until I passed out over it drooling and panicked myself awake to get to my classes–then rushed home to finish.

I cried so hard over Sydney Carton dying that my roommate had to comfort me. She was doing accounting homework in the kitchen and I was laying on the couch and started to sob. She never let me forget it either.

I knew it was my century.

But then I started to work in a writing center, and I was a teaching assistant in some basic writing classes. And then my master’s degree ended up being in composition. And then I applied for a doctoral program in rhetoric and composition. And then I had to take a 19th century novels class for part of my course work. And then I read Great Expectations by Dickens in one weekend of reading gluttony–from a Saturday night until a Sunday afternoon.

And then on Monday  morning I approached the grad studies coordinator about splitting my doctoral work between rhet/comp and Victorian lit. He said go for it–and then I did.

And I still am. I am split, a lot, like atoms. You know what happens to them when they split: nuclear fusion. So it goes every semester as I try to fuse many parts of my job and life. And it’s not always a catastrophe! So much good comes from the splitting and the ensuing excitement.

Just look at this term. So many of you have deeply learned about the Victorian period–and you’ve shared your learning in ways you never have before–your learning is transparent to all. It’s uncomfortable but it’s brilliant. We would have never known so much if only one of us had pontificated about the Victorians. And I could totally do that. I love them. I love the early ones, the middle ones, the late ones. I love the typical ones, the crazy ones, the sweet ones, the royal ones, the dirt poor ones. I’m stunned by the century and by the Industrial Revolution. I never get tired of reading about it. But I do get intensely tired of me. And you fix that with your research projects, your talks, your thinking, by your reading responses–every time I teach, my students surprise, astound, and delight me. Only with blogging, everyone gets to see what y’all are doing. It’s 1,000 times better like this. Just consider how connected you are with one another–our class is right and bonded and in it. You will remember this class always, partly because of the cookies (Chris!), and partly because it was so odd, and partly because the learning you did was so much more than the books you’ve read. (Holy printing presses–your presentations covered so many spectacular moments from the century–amazing stuff.)  You were literary explorers making this class your own, doing what was right for your learning experience–and giving remarkable gifts to your peers.

Thank you for all that. Thank you so much.

Since I’m gone next week, I wanted to take this post to also say a few things about Dickens before I forget, or we run out of time:

1) Dickens isn’t the greatest writer ever. He’s one of the most famous Victorian writers ever–and with good reason. He was a master showman. He got what people needed and delivered in print in so many ways, in person over and over again. He was one of the first and biggest bestsellers. He’s the writing and publishing epitome of the Industrial Age. And I love that part of it.

2) He’s not my favorite writer of the long 19th century (the long 19th century is from 1790 or so until 1914 or thereabouts). Jane Austen is. I think. Maybe. My favorite 19th century author. I think. I’ve read all her books multiple times (she wrote less than Dickens, true–so it has been an easier task). But most importantly, I performed in a Reader’s Theater of Lady Susan with the founding members of North Texas Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America; I’ve read Pride and Prejudice every few years for a couple of decades; I think Persuasion is one of the most complex and deeply moving novels ever written. I taught a Jane Austen class once, along with the movies. We had so much fun, we just kept on reading Jane again and again through the summer. I also love George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Edith Wharton. I sort of like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner a lot, too, but, whoa Nelly, now I’m getting all American and 20th century, and I’ll probably start to talk about the Hugo and Nebula award winners next. Not good. Focus. Must focus. I know a Hugo award winner. Isn’t that fun? No. NO. Go back to the 19th century. Now.

3) But Dickens might be my favorite author to teach–because he was the biggest of the big–and for 467 reasons. He’s retained a spot in the canon, and I don’t think it’s a case of ad populum (one of my favorite fallacies). I think he’s a legit dude to study. He got a lot right and a lot wrong, and he played a lot of it out on the stage of public opinion–a tough life all the way around. I get that and admire him for overcoming his family and finding financial success. I respect his accomplishments as a writer, as a publisher, as a mentor. He was such an influence. And David Copperfield is such a great Bildungsroman, really a Künstlerroman (a story of an artist’s growth to maturity–in this case–a writer).

I feel like I’ve been heaped with blessings for getting to teach Dickens twice now. I don’t know when I’ll get to do it again, if ever (we don’t always get to teach what we want to, you know!), but such experiences have colored the way I see the 19th century for sure, and I’m grateful for that. I’ll never be able to articulate how grateful I am for my journey as a reader/learner/writer of Victorian things/texts. It’s fusion I can’t unsplit now. But I can say how grateful I am that I’m not the only one to see the brilliance of my students. Used to be that I was the only one who read what you wrote. Not anymore. That might be the nicest part about this whole blogging thing: you did something mighty, and we all got to witness your triumph.

I just had to say all that before I forgot.

You know it will be a sprint to the end, we’re on the bell lap, and it’s very likely we’ll pull a hamstring before we’re done, but cross the finish line we will. And it will sound like this when we do.

Categories: Victorian Serendipity | Leave a comment

Ketchup and mustard and Dickens

No class next week.

Are y’all breathing a collective sigh of relief? I am. I’m behind with my reading. So I’ll ketchup–catch up, I mean.

I LOVE Love love Barnaby Rudge. Do you? I never expected to love it. But then I’m easy to please, so I’ve been told. When I was in grad school a colleague said, “The reason you love reading everything is that you have no discrimination.” Did I say colleague, I meant ex-friend? I guess there are worse things to be called. But here’s the thing: I still love reading. No matter what, always. I love to read and escape and think–reading does that for me.

So, let’s read just a tiny bit more. We really need this early Dickens work to round out the term.

For the next couple of weeks, finish Barnaby Rudge, please, and then check out THREE of these short pieces from Dickens’s earliest writings:

The Streets (Morning)

The Streets (Night)

Thoughts About People

The Prisoners’ Van

The Last Cab Driver, and the First Omnibus Cad

You may choose any three to read and comment upon in a blog of about 300 words… due by Wed. 4/25. Try to connect these to something you’ve read, written, or thought about this term. AND what do you think of the early Dickens? Do you see connections between young and mature Dickens? Which do you like better? Or do you like them equally but in different ways?

OR, if you find other pieces in Sketches by Boz, please feel free to read those, but include the links in your post, so we can see what you read. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired to inform what you read and write about. Saves time, helps us learn, makes sense. Thank you.

I will miss class next week. I mean I’ll really “miss” class next week besides being absent. I’ll miss the cookies, the laughter, the thinking, the insights, the joy.

You all are such a terrific class. By the way, though I am the teacher of record, you teach me every week. Thanks for that–this class is exactly why I love to get up and come to work every single day. And use the week to catch up and cut the mustard as you must.

I’ll do my part with my condiments… I’m working on a late Victorian hollandaisse to cover the eggs benedict of my blogging. Oops. I took the metaphor too far, didn’t I?

Categories: Panic is Not Allowed, Take a Deep Breath, Victorian Condiments, Words & Phrases | Leave a comment

Victorian Author Olympics

  1. Pick from the below authors. Rock, paper, scissors if there are any issue over dibs.
  2. Get online and research–fast. (Good spot: Victorian Web on Authors.)
  3. Choose some basic facts to share through a super fast post (cut and paste if needed–but be sure to attribute and link, please).
  4. Choose which of those facts you want to share in class.
  5. You must include birth/death dates.
  6. You must indlude some of the works they were famous for.
  7. Try to find out if there was any connection with Charles Dickens.

Go. You have 25 minutes. (No performance-enhancing products, please.)

  • Robert Browning
  • Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Samuel Rogers
  • Matthew Arnold
  • Alfred Tennyson
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Emily Bronte
  • William Morris
  • John Ruskin
  • Samuel Butler
  • Wilkie Collins
  • Caroline Norton
  • George Eliot
  • Dinah Mulock Craik
  • Charles Reade
  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • Olive Schreiner
  • Benjamin Disraeli
  • Harriett Martineau
  • William Thackeray
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Oscar Wilde
Categories: Victorian Author Olympics | Leave a comment

The Life of Dickens

Dickens did not have an easy life. Not ever.

I really don’t like his mother or his father. I blame them.

And yet he did what he could to change the world around him and through that, to change his own life. Or was it the other way around?

Still and all, I’m glad he existed. In fact, the Victorians are such fun. Can you see how they connect to us? How we are like them? How we still have similar worries?

We travel a lot faster than the Victorians did, but we still have a lot in common. They are an influence on us still. Can you guess how?

 

Categories: Dickens Everywhere, No Hope for Perfection, The Life of Dickens | Leave a comment

I have to say this about that

(To modern readers: spoiler alert!)

Dear Mr. Dickens,

I had to write to say I love what you do with fog. You make it such a living entity, such a haunting thing, such a dangerous creature. Thank you for your determination to show England (London in particular) in all its gruesomeness and glory through the fog that defines it and damages its people. It’s not a glamorous fog, but a killer fog, a polluted fog. Most decidedly NOT the fog that Fred Astaire sings about in A Damsel in Distress (1937). In fact, London is a killer, isn’t it? Jo couldn’t survive it. Neither could Gridley. Nor Nemo.

Fred sang "A Foggy Day in London Town" but it wasn't Dickens's "Fog"!

I’m particularly enjoying reading your ninth novel, Bleak House, right now. Lots of critics (scholars) suggest this might be one of the best novels you’ve ever written. There are a remarkable number of characters and twists and turns that keep me ever interested in what’s going to happen next. I’m quite in love with it–just as I remembered the first time I read it. It is possible that I love the first-person narration by a female character intermixed with an omniscient narrator who conveys your sharp wit? That might be it. It might also be the tragi-comedy of it all. I wonder if I love it because of the mysteries in this story–who is who, who was where, who is connected to who, and so on? The fear of having one’s own mysteries revealed drives so many of your characters. Or do I love this novel because you skewer the legal system, the Chancery in particular, throughout the novel showing the emptiness of mindless laws and the terrible effect on human lives?

Of all the characters, I am intrigued the most by Lady Dedlock. But first let me say that I am enraged by various horrific characters you have made me utterly loathe: Tulkinghorn, Skimpole, Guppy, Vholes, Mrs. Jellyby, and the Smallweeds.

Ick. You’re such a genius at creating creepers. OH. And the opium overdose for Nemo (Hawdon)–so sad, so very sad.

My heart breaks for Lady Dedlock and Captain Hawdon. What is their story–how did they meet–how did they fall in love? I’m dying to know. How cruel was her sister (Miss Barbary to tell Honoria that her baby was born dead. Back then, perhaps, that was something like a benefit given the way an unwed mother would have been treated in the early to middle 1800s. And if Captain Hawdon was truly lost at sea, there would have been no way out for her–no way she could marry him at any point to recover her reputation. Why bring up the past then when she had the opportunity for a marriage and a life, especially a life of wealth and leisure? I admit she turns into a haughty woman, but is her heart not broken? Was Hawdon’s heart not broken? How miserable. Will you please write and tell me the details please, please, please? Because I can’t stand not knowing.

I also like Bucket. I keep reading about how he’s the first detective to play a prominent role in literature. Thanks so much. I really like the detective novel (and what your friend, Wilkie Collins does with the genre is great), so your start with Bucket is lovely. Bucket finding the key to Jarndyce & Jarndyce–just brilliant. I know you wrote about detectives in your periodicals regularly and were fascinated by the beginnings of this profession in your time–who wouldn’t be?

In fact, the connections that arise between everything and everyone are fabulous. I know you didn’t plan this all out ahead of time like other writers do–with a big outline or such like. You are always so busy with a ton of things to keep you occupied: editorial work, writing your novels, short stories, journalism, performances, philanthropy, a large family, a secret girlfriend, loads of friends, a rigorous travel schedule, and a thriving social circle. I’m not sure how you do it. I am wiped out after a day of talking and an evening of reading. I wish I had your energy to walk 10 miles or a more per day and write hundreds of letters and act on stage. Acting. It’s so flashy and so you.

On another issue: I can see how you would have to punish Richard–that layabout wastral of a boy. I’m so disappointed in him. I can certainly understand why you are disappointed in him, too. Were you thinking of your sons who were not able to match you in their energy and production?

Speaking of children… I am always struck by your use of children in your novels. They are always present, and so many of them suffer greatly–in so many ways. You really get that children have a hard time of it in your time. You certainly had more than rough patch in your own life, didn’t you? I think you must sympathize deeply with those young ones who have no family to protect them (and young ones whose families do anything but protect them). You try to find ways in your stories to “save” some of the children and young people in whatever ways you can (in “real” life, too, you helped). You like happy endings, too, don’t you? Me, too. That’s one of the reasons I like reading your works: the bad are reformed or punished, the good rewarded. Thanks for that. It’s almost always satisfying.

There is sadness, too, as in life. Some who are good in heart or good in spirit are lost forever through illness or ill deeds. I have yet to read one of your books without shedding some tears (see my despair over Sydney Carton). The bad suffer but the truly angelic also experience grave pain (or various diseases) and sometimes they die or undergo great hardship: Nell, Lucie, Esther, Oliver.

The poor women, too. So used and abused. So fearful and having so many worries. It’s so hard to be a Victorian woman. You sort of got that, but perhaps not in your own life, eh? Did you worry about your daughters and their lives, their futures, their options? Was that part of what drove you to create women characters who struggled so deeply?

Dickens with his daughters, Kate and Mamie.

(By the way, I’m real uptight about Edwin Drood. Do you think you could manage showing up to a seance to tell me what you intended? Did you happen to catch the portrayal of you in a Doctor Who, season 2, episode 1, “The Christmas Invasion,” in which your “character” alludes to a possible science fiction ending to Drood? I like that. Do you?)

OH, did I mention how much I love Krook being illiterate? (He’s both a crook and a victim, too.) Texts and not-texts are so important for you and always in your books… and reading is a key to power always. Texts=knowledge. Letters, wills, court documents. Even if one cannot read what one collects, ownership of text is power. Unless, of course, one combusts.

I really like that you may have been inspired for Jarndyce & Jarndyce by Charlotte Smith’s connection with a real case of law and that Walter Landor Savage may have inspired Mr. Boythorn… Leigh Hunt may have been a model for Howard Skimpole. And how were you connected to these three? You were all prolific writers.

Charlotte Smith was a big deal in the very early Romantic period as a writer (she died ill and poor in 1806). Her works were largely forgotten but have in recent years been recovered and re-included in the canon. I know you knew her because you read EVERYTHING you could get your hands on. You knew every author of every kind of your time and hers.

Leigh Hunt, also a contemporary writer of the Romantics, was a member of your circle. I recall you put on a charitable show to help Leigh Hunt in rough financial times (and I think there were a lot of those for Hunt–he had ten children, like you). Walter Savage Landor lived a long and storied life as a writer knowing nearly everyone you did. He wrote some fascinating works, like the Imaginary Conversations. He was a handful later in his life, he was… living in Florence, Italy near the Brownings and good friends with them. He is buried, as you’ll recall, very near Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the Protestant Cemetery in Florence. (I got to visit this place and take a private tour and see EBB’s and Landor’s graves once–so amazing. I saw the graves also of those who I was told were the last Shakepeares. And there were so many more amazing histories. I suppose you visited there since you traveled in Italy–though, I have to confess that I haven’t read your whole book on your time in Italy. Shameful.)

I love this about you–finding your inspiration in all around you. You see the world differently than so many people do, don’t you? Every person, every conversation, every moment is a story. You write about anything and everything. That’s you though. You’re a writer all the time. You write.

Thanks for the writing. It’s been a blast. And be sure to tell me about the ending of Drood. I really must insist.

In the meantime, I’m so happy to be reading Bleak House. It really is a fine novel, such a grand story, such a reflection of the fears and desires so many of us still possess in the 21st century. Perhaps, ultimately, that’s why I love this book–you make me think and feel and worry and laugh.

Always your delighted reader in any century, E.D.

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