LIGHTING UP THE WORDS ON THE PAGE: JOHN MULLAN’S ‘THE ARTFUL DICKENS’

LIGHTING UP THE WORDS ON THE PAGE: JOHN MULLAN’S ‘THE ARTFUL DICKENS’

John Mullan, The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist, London: Bloomsbury, 2020, 428 pp.

**

The appreciation and study of the work of Charles Dickens are notably enriched by John Mullan’s ambitious and impressive The Artful Dickens. The author, noting that ‘Dickens’s very popularity seems to have made it hard to recognise his technical boldness and his experimental verve’, conversely stresses that ‘our enjoyment of Dickens does not come despite our better judgement, but because of his extraordinary skills as a novelist’ (34). Mullan reminds us that despite the deadlines of serial publication, Dickens was a keen and frequent redrafter, as is abundantly clear from the various archive collections, notably at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Over fourteen chapters, the author ably lights up multiple facets of Dickens’ writing – essentially the fifteen novels, with occasional forays into the shorter works and non-fiction – always being careful to demonstrate his assertions with palpable quotes from the books themselves, and gliding effortlessly from novel to novel to home in on just the right passages to evidence his theses.

The aspects of Dickens’ work explored are both substantive and formal. Concrete themes examined include death by drowning and the ins and outs of ghosts and haunting; more formal elements include the naming of the characters, the individuality of their voices, the use of coincidence, repetitions and lists, and, in perhaps the most revealing chapter, Dickens’ masterly manipulation and subversion of the cliché. With all this, characters like Alfred Jingle, Flora Finching or the Veneerings come to be known by the reader as rarely if ever before.

This book is guaranteed to send the reader back to the novels and re-read Charles Dickens’ words on the page with more alert and attentive eyes. This is a feat not all works of criticism can achieve, but John Mullan’s study is exemplary in this regard, and it is hoped it will inspire similar studies of other writers too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: