Perhaps because everyone said I ‘must’ read him — and when I hear the word ‘must’ I ‘moularono’ — I never read Dickens when I was young, but I’m making up for it now, and probably enjoying him all the more for coming to him late in life.
But even now, when I hope I’ve learnt that being told I ‘must’ do something is not always a good reason to refuse, force of circumstance played a part: just as, about thirty years ago, I was ‘forced’ to try Jane Austen again by being stuck in Bangla Desh with nothing to read but ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (which I had been quite literally forced to read at fourteen at school, presumably in an attempt to make me as philistine and oafish as my teachers), so, about twenty years ago, I was ‘forced’ at last to read Dickens by being stuck in an empty Greek village with no book but ‘Great Expectations’; surely Dickens’s masterpiece.
I had to give up ‘David Copperfield’ when the hero — and all too evidently Dickens as well — got infatuated with some totally vapid girl living in Highgate. (In my experience that part of London specializes in such creatures) and now I’m trying ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. I can only hope Little Nell will turn out to be less emetic than the nauseating young women in some of his other novels. As Oscar Wilde said — I’m quoting from memory so this is inexact — ‘He must have a heart of stone who can read the Death of Little Nell without laughing.’
On this day, the third of October, in 1967, Woody Guthrie died.