Charles Dickens Month: The Man Who Liked Dickens

“We will not have any Dickens today … but tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that….”

As part of Charles Dickens  bicentennial celebration, Amanda @ fig and thistle, is holding a Charles Dickens Month, this January. So read, review, and write about Dickens as part of the celebration.

A lot is already known about Dickens, that Eminent Victorian, so instead I am going to talk about a story that deals with obsession: [Arthur] Evelyn Waugh’s terror-inducing: The Man Who Liked Dickens.
The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

After being told by his wife that she loves another man, Henty, a genial Englishman, joins an ill-fated expedition to Brazil. The last survivor of his group, his life is saved by one James McMaster who lives and lords over the Shiriana Indians. As Henty recovers his health, McMaster tells him about his love for the works of Dickens.

“You are fond of Dickens?”

“Why, yes, of course. More than fond, far more. You see, they are the only books I have ever heard. My father used to read them and then later the black man … and now you. I have heard them all several times by now but I never get tired; there is always more to be learned and noticed, so many characters, so many changes of scene, so many words … I have all Dickens’s books except those that the ants devoured. It takes a long time to read them all—more than two years.”

“Well,” said Henty lightly, “they will well last out my visit.”

“Oh, I hope not. It is delightful to start again. Each time I think I find more to enjoy and admire.”

A grateful Henty starts reading Dickens to McMaster. Days pass into weeks, weeks into months… Henty starts getting restless, he is eager to get back to London…only McMaster doesn’t seem so inclined. Then a stranger arrives at the village but before he makes his way out, Henty is able to slip a note in his hand telling about his predicament. From then on it becomes a waiting game, surely somebody will come to his rescue…

If you haven’t read the story, read it to see how Waugh slowly builds up an atmosphere of menace and foreboding. The last paragraphs shuttling between hope and despair are some of the most moving. How easy it is to dream and yet how fragile are those dreams.

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