Dickens me please!
March 23, 2006 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I am ashamed to admit it but I have never read Dickens. Where do I start?

After watching Bleak House on PBS and Polanski's version of Oliver Twist recently, I realize that I have never read any Dickens other than just extended passages in works about Victorian England. It is even more embarrassing in the I have a History degree and a Masters. I know, I am so ashamed. But I want to rectify this lack of Dickens, but where do I start?
posted by Razzle Bathbone to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you want an easy introduction, A Christmas Carol is brilliant, and very short.
posted by reklaw at 4:38 PM on March 23, 2006

Assuming that you don't want to immediately read a story you're familiar with, I'd start with A Tale of Two Cities. I'd recap it for you, but I'm sure all the online bookshops have better than I could provide. It's about redemption and sacrifice, and it's a gooder.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:39 PM on March 23, 2006

Despite popular belief, Dickens is often a great comic writer. Great Expectations is one of the funniest dark comedies I've ever read--the only other novel that's been that laugh-out-loud funny for me is Catch-22.

I also liked The Old Curiosity Shop.
posted by Prospero at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2006

At the beginning - Pickwick Papers.
posted by TheRaven at 4:45 PM on March 23, 2006

I'll second Great Expectations. It's a good introduction, containing most of the classic Dickens elements while also being relatively short (for Dickens).

If you really want to jump into him, read Bleak House. You've seen the miniseries, so you'll have some solid footing. It's a great, great book. I also like David Copperfield, too. Actually, I like all the Dickens I've read, but don't often get a chance to say so. People look at me like I'm crazy when I admit to it, so generally I sit silent when he comes up in coversation.
posted by jdroth at 4:47 PM on March 23, 2006

Oops — I forgot to add that I find his earlier stuff a little more difficult to get into than his later stuff. May just be me, though.
posted by jdroth at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2006

I agree with the person who said A Christmas Carol is the easiest quick intro. I'd then follow that up with A Tale of Two Cities, or maybe Oliver Twist. But if you've seen the PBS Bleak House, I'd go right for that. It's always been my favorite Dicken's novel, and it's fascinating to see what changes the Masterpiece Theater people made with the characters. I'm only 4 hours into the mini-series so far, but they've definitely made Jardyce's character more open for interpretation than it was in the book. And I bet you'll enjoy the book for more time spent with the Jellbys and the Baham Badgers. I will say that the mini-series makes Esther a vastly more likeable chacracter by not including her internal monologue, though.
posted by MsMolly at 4:49 PM on March 23, 2006

They are all good, relatively easy to read and chock full of literary fun. I would just browse through the stock at your local book seller or library and see what strikes your fancy.
posted by caddis at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2006

A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities are the only two I've read, and I enjoyed them both immensely.
posted by alms at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2006

Great Expectations is one of the funniest dark comedies I've ever read

Yay! I thought I was the only freak who loved that book!

The University of Adelaide has a page on Dickens where you can read and/or download his books, short stories, articles and speeches. Nice bio there too.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:24 PM on March 23, 2006

Great Expectations made me cry....
posted by gergtreble at 5:27 PM on March 23, 2006

No reason to be ashamed. Now you get to read a wonderful author for the first time.

I much prefer Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations as an introduction. Tale of Two Cities is one of those rare smart novels with enough melodrama, action and eve humour to entertain most any reader. Great Expectations is just a wonder, wonderful story full of complex characters.

I loved TTC and GE, and I've re-read them a number of times. I have to say, though, Oliver and A Christmas Carol were kind of ruined for me. They were too familar before I opened the cover.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:35 PM on March 23, 2006

I recently read Dickens for the first time! I was embarrassed too. I read Great Expectations. I'd started it when I was younger and didn't finish it (rare for me). I liked it a lot this time. Very dark. You might also like Wilkie Collins, a sort of contemporaneous Dickens-lite.
posted by theredpen at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities was the first Dickens I read, and I immediately fell in love with the mysterious "dark and stormy night" prologue. That said, yeah, Great Expectations is funnier.
posted by gsteff at 6:10 PM on March 23, 2006

I liked Great Expectations.
posted by chunking express at 6:40 PM on March 23, 2006

Bleak House! I remember it was on the reading list for a course on Victorian Lit in uni. I enjoyed it, and it also gives you a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment after you've read it, because it's so damn long. Much like after running a marathon. Maybe not an introductory Dickens novel, but if you're enough of a reader to be contemplating picking up Dickens at all, I'll second or third the others who say it's a very good book.
posted by misozaki at 6:54 PM on March 23, 2006

Start, as others have suggested, with A Christmas Carol. From there, proceed on to longer and more involved Dickens, in the form of Great Expectations, at which point I think you'll certainly be ready for what is undoubtedly his finest, darkest, funniest work, Our Mutual Friend.

posted by saladin at 6:58 PM on March 23, 2006

The URL is retarded, and there's some lame-ass HTML "context" added, but I like the man's Ghost Stories. Now you can read 'em free!
posted by klangklangston at 6:59 PM on March 23, 2006

Oliver Twist.

But really, you could start with any of his books and you'll be just fine.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:02 PM on March 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. Its payday tomorrow so I will definitely pick up a couple of books. Probably start with Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:09 PM on March 23, 2006

Love Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities. HATED David Copperfield. If you find you like Tale of Two Cities, you might want to pick up Hugo's Les Miserables as well. The two books are linked in my mind for some reason and I love them both.
posted by willnot at 10:17 PM on March 23, 2006

I have come to like a lot of Dickens, but Bleak House is indeed the way to go. ("Oh, horror! He is here!")
posted by trip and a half at 10:44 PM on March 23, 2006

I really liked Martin Chuzzlewit - and there was a good BBC adaptation a few years ago.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:24 AM on March 24, 2006

Bleak House & Great Expectations are my favourites, but I love all of his books. I'm a bit jealous of you Razzle, that you have all these wonderful stories ahead, all brand new to you.

If you read Bleak House you might want to then rent the BBC mini series with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock.
posted by zarah at 1:45 AM on March 24, 2006

Yah: another recommendation for Great Expectations as a good place to start with. Our Mutual Friend is, however, the best Dickens...
posted by Hartster at 1:51 AM on March 24, 2006

Another vote for Great Expections to start with.

And you know, don't be ashamed to not have read this author or that author. I love Dickens, but I don't think there's any Great Obligation From The Literary Gods On High to read anybody. I have a master's in literature, and the list of "great authors" I haven't read is pretty long: Proust, Milton, most of Faulkner, Woolf, Greene, most of Hemingway, Defoe, etc. etc. etc. I'll get to them eventually, maybe.
posted by JanetLand at 5:34 AM on March 24, 2006

I'm putting in a vote for Nicholas Nickleby. It's a great sprawling novel featuring most of Dickens' best riffs, including, as Prospero rightly points out, some laugh-out-loud humour along with the melodrama and misery.

Interesting that Prospero mentioned Catch-22. There's a Chapter in Nickleby that I am convinced influenced Heller's style in that book. Read it and I think you'll see which one I mean.
posted by Decani at 7:08 AM on March 24, 2006

Supersquirrel, thanks for the link. That's my reading sorted for the next few months
posted by lloyder at 7:11 AM on March 24, 2006

I suggest to start with "Bleak House" since you saw the movie and will be most familiar with that. Once you know how he writes, then it will be easier to read his other books. But "Oliver Twist" or "A Christmas Carol" are probably the easiest to read through. Watching the movie version of "Great Expectations" (I think on PBS) was why I bothered to read the book version. I also saw "David Copperfield" and then read that book. Same way with other hard-to-get-into old English authors like Thomas Hardy. Watched "Return of the Native" and now I can't get enough. (This method works well for other complicated books like "Anna Karenina" [a couple of movie versions, one with Vivien Leigh] and yes, even "War and Peace." I borrowed the movie version starring Audrey Hepburn from the library and soon will start to read the book.)
posted by cass at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2006

I want to put in another vote for "Our Mutual Friend" - read it several years ago while travelling, but I remember it as utterly delightful (once it clicked into gear after the first couple of chapters). It's not one of the more commonly referenced ones, but it's a definite classic, as evidenced by the fact that its themes are drawn on in other popular media to this day!
posted by shelbaroo at 5:19 PM on March 28, 2006

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