What the Dickens?!

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

It was bound to happen sooner or later. After many decades regarding him as a great writer, I seem to have suddenly fallen out of love with Charles Dickens. It happened while re-reading David Copperfield, one of my hitherto favorites of his. All of a sudden, early in the book, I just didn’t feel like continuing after Mrs Copperfield married the cruel Edward Murdstone.

Shortly thereafter, I started reading Wilkie Collins’s No Name, which I found enthralling. Where Dickens puts together a series of humorous or tragic character sketches, Collins has a rogue hero named Captain Horatio Wragge who is a mixed scoundrel, but one who seems to have a good heart. And his tall, slightly retarded wife Matilda is a compassionate portrait of a disabled woman of the 19th century.

I will try reading Dickens again—probably either The Pickwick Papers or Bleak House; but I feel that somehow I have thrown in my lot with his competition. Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope are, to my mind, better writers of fiction. Though perhaps not quite so deft with memorable character sketches.

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)

Interestingly, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens were not only close friends, but partners who co-wrote some works and who had a marked influence on each other. It was Dickens who won all the fame, but Collins who singlehandedly invented the detective novel (The Moonstone) and who retained in his work much of the edginess which has become more popular today.

In his major novels, Collins seems to distrust marriage, seeing it almost as an existential stepping off into the void. He himself was never married, though he had a lifelong relationship with Caroline Graves and her daughter from a previous marriage.

If you are interested in learning more about Collins, there is an excellent website dedicated to his life and work.