Dickens…A Librarian’s Dream

Librarians think a lot about the “appeal factors” of books and authors. If you’ve ever asked a librarian, “so . . . what should I read next?”, we’re trained to ask exploratory questions to get you to identify what appeals to you about the books you enjoy. Then, we can lead you towards books with similar appeal factors. Wearing my librarian hat, I’ll identify some appeal factors that I find in Dickens’ work. In the spirit of full disclosure, however, let me state this right up front: I am an unabashed Dickens fan and, if you’re not one yet, I’m out to convert you . . .

1)     Humor: If you like a little humor in your fiction, you cannot beat Charles Dickens. In Nicholas Nickleby, you’ll find humor of all types – slapstick, caricature, dry wit and satire. I’m a sucker for one of Dickens’ frequent devices – the wonderful verbal tics he gives some of his characters. My favorite in Nicholas Nickleby is how Mr. Mantalini incorporates a certain mild oath into almost everything he says.

2)     Pathos: It would be a hard-hearted person who could remain unmoved by Dickens’ use of pathos. If you’re the type of reader who gets choked up at Beth’s death scene in Little Women, make sure your tissues are nearby when you get to chapter 58 of Nicholas Nickleby.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3)     Description: Some people complain that Dickens is so loooong, so wordy. Well, perhaps. But what you get with those words! When I came upon this scene about what Nicholas sees when he looks around the sleeping room at the horrible Dotheboys Hall, my mind’s eye created such a vivid mental picture that I felt as if I was looking through a window:

“As [the boys] lay packed together, covered, for warmth’s sake, with their patched and ragged clothes, little could be distinguished but the sharp outlines of pale faces, over which the somber light shed the same dull heavy colour, with here and there a gaunt arm thrust forth; its thinness hidden by no covering, but fully exposed to view in all its shrunken ugliness.”

There may be a more succinct way to describe the scene, but I’ll trade the mental image Dickens provides for word count any day.

These are only three of the many appeal factors to be found in Dickens, and many more await. So use your library card and check out Dickens for yourself. You will be richly rewarded.

Marian “the Librarian” Fragola is the Humanities and Adult Programming Coordinator at Durham County Library. She received her Master in Library Science degree from UNC-CH in 2008. In addition to reading, she likes to hang out with her two terrier mutts, Li’l G and Honey, and her husband, Jeremy Arkin.