Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Despite certain faults in the telling...

Despite certain faults in the telling of his story, Dickens remains, nevertheless, a great writer. Control over a considerable constellation of characters and themes, the technique of holding people and events bunched together, or of evoking absent characters through dialogue--in other words, the art of not only creating people but keeping created people alive within the reader's mind throughout a long novel--this, of course, is the obvious sign of greatness. When Grandfather Smallweed is carried in his chair into George's shooting gallery in an endeavor to get a sample of Captain Hawdon's handwriting, the driver of the cab and another person act as bearers. "'This person,' [the other bearer, he says] we engaged in the street outside for a pint of beer. Which is twopence...Judy, my child [he goes on, to his daughter], give the person his twopence. It's a great deal for what he has done.'
"The person, who is one of those extraordinary specimens of human fungus that spring up spontaneously in the western streets of London, ready dressed in an old red jacket, with a 'Mission' for holding horses and calling coaches, receives his twopence with anything but transport, tosses the money into the air, catches it over-handed, and retires." This gesture, this one gesture, with its epithet "over-handed"--a trifle--but the man is alive forever in a good reader's mind.
A great writer's world is indeed a magic democracy where even some very minor character, even the most incidental character like the person who tosses the twopence, has the right to live and breed."--Lectures on Literature, [123-124], Vladimir Nabokov (1980)



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