The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens


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After one month in its pages, I have finished The Pickwick Papers. It is part of my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge, one of the longer ones on the list. I’m unable to critique writing by my favorite author. How can I nitpick the gripping prose, the humorous twists and turns, the delightful poetry?

I cannot criticize work by Charles Dickens, so instead I will continue wishing I could write like him.

If I were to write like Charles Dickens, I imagine I would focus on the characters. There are so many, and the author follows many of their storylines. This way, we can see him weaving an elaborate world. How could I follow so many characters at once? If I wanted to write like him, I would need to practice having an eye on each and every one of them.

There would be a past for every traitor, a flaw for every hero. I would make readers hesitate to judge anyone harshly. I would give even the most unlikeable characters their humanity. Dialogue would be a treat to read because of my attention to dialect, the nuances that separate one protagonist from the other.

With enough detail, the most fantastic main character will feel real.

I would use words to bring out the chasm between the wealthy and poor, the places no one wants to go and the places everyone wants to be. I would show readers the homeless and destitute, how they are forgotten but still human. Men, women, and children in factories and poorhouses would have their voices heard.

My prose would have to be so graceful that the words melt into poetry. I would paint pictures in which the walls, the carpet, the tea kettle all play a part. They would be like blended colors. With my art, readers would drink in the paragraph without complaining about its length. I would immerse them so that they don’t remember how long the book is; they are part of the story.

I cannot criticize Charles Dickens. I can only hope that one day I will write something with such immortality. His works can be heavy because of their length. These novels have many chapters because they were first published as serials. Oh, to go back in time! What a delightful thought: a world in which people all went to the news stand, looking for the next chapter of their favorite story.

Maybe one day, that trend will return to life. For now, I will read these stories and bask in their light.

I’ve found time to read historical fiction this year, modern works I haven’t included in my reading list because they’re not classics. I’m doing this for research: the novel I’m working on is historical fiction. There is no better way to know the time period than reading stories about it. However, the titles on the 2019 Classic Novel Challenge are priorities.

My next classic read will be My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I hope your springtime has been pleasant; what are you reading now?

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

The Lady and the Gent by Rebecca Connolly


Last week, I took a break from my strict 2019 Reading Challenge and searched for some historical fiction to provide a quick, happy read. Three books by Rebecca Connolly caught my eye, and in two days I had finished the first, The Lady and the Gent. The book did not disappoint; I was smiling by the time I reached the epilogue.

Wealthy and lively Lady Margaret has had three London seasons to no avail; for some reason, she fails to catch any man’s eye. At twenty-two, she is now considered old. Facing the possibility of their daughter becoming a spinster, her parents take matters into their own hands. They suggest finding her a husband in the continent.

However, Lady Margaret loves England and wants to stay. She convinces them to let her try for one more season; meanwhile, they return to the continent, scouting out potential suitors. None of them will do for her, though; she has already given her heart to a man she has never spoken to. She only sees him for ten seconds a day while on the streets.

It is perhaps not a new plot, but something about Margaret’s questionable taste struck a chord in me. I am a daydreamer; I would do the same thing. Margaret knows nothing about this man, but he is so mysterious that she cannot forget him. He is everywhere and nowhere; though he always finds her, she cannot find him.

He is a spy called The Gent by those who know him, and he is London’s best and worst kept secret. He is friends with gypsies and orphan children and all sorts of undesirables. He seems too perfect to be real, but I believe that’s why I enjoyed this story. We see his darker side when he is forced to choose between love and work, leading to disaster. When I reached the point where I wondered if even The Gent could fix it, I knew the book had hooked me.

The Lady and the Gent is a love story with a happy ending. I think we all need those every now and then. Whether or not the plot is realistic, our hearts want to believe that there is the chance of love prevailing. We want to believe two people can fight for it against all odds, risking work and reputation, always choosing each other.

This book was the highlight of my week, and I recommend it to fans of romance and historical fiction. I have Connolly’s other two books and will be reading them soon. These days I can’t help but long for stories that take me back in time.

I am also reading The Pickwick Papers, and predict at least two blog posts about it. The first will come in the next week or so. I always have a lot to say about work by Charles Dickens, and Mr. Pickwick’s crowd have given me much laughter.