A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare's Old England to Frost's New EnglandAuthor Elliot Engel is an English professor and this book shows that anyone who takes his classes is lucky. This superb collection of brief biographical essays not only helps us understand famous literary personalities but explains what they wrote. It is simply amazing that Elliot Engel managed to do this so effectively and entertainingly in such brief pieces.
I was actually pleased to see that the book doesn't take up space with samples of the famous works. I can get those anywhere for the most part. This book is chock-full of Elliot Engel's brief, fascinating biographies and discussions of why these authors still appeal to us today. And that's what I really wanted.
David Copperfieldwe may recall) I had my first glimmerings of interest in reading David Copperfield. Both books tell the story of boys growing to adulthood. I knew that Great Expectations began with an inherently selfish person and David Copperfield seemed its opposite, with sweet David innocently unable to see the obvious in front of his face. Or so I'd gleaned.
I was curious to see what Charles Dickens did with such different internal motivations. I enjoyed about 2/3 of it quite well and was really fascinated by Dora's place in the scheme of things. Then Dickens suddenly seemed to turn very Victorian and become intent on wrapping up every loose end in a nice package with a bow on it. And somehow it stopped being quite so enjoyable.
I have a copy of G.K. Chesterton's Appreciations and Criticisms of the Work of Charles Dickens (free on the Kindle, read it here from Project Gutenberg). He sums up a lot of my problems with David Copperfield in ways that I won't share because they'd spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. However, he hits the nail on the head about the book overall:
David Copperfield begins as if it were going to be a new kind of Dickens novel; then it gradually turns into an old kind of Dickens novel. It is here that many readers of this splendid book have been subtly and secretly irritated.By the way, the Librivox recording features T. Hynes' lovely Irish accent and is wonderfully read.
Dombey and Son
I'm about a third of the way through and am finding it enjoyable in many ways, chiefly through the characters. The plot, less so. However, I've still got about 500 pages to go so it may get less predictable.
For a good, free recording try LibriVox's Mil Nicholson. She does some of the best voices I've ever heard although I don't enjoy her straight reading of the rest of the text quite as much.
I plumped for David Timson's reading which has some of the best expressive reading of the plain text I've heard, without being at all over the top about it.