Carl Filby

Chair of Creative Royston
Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

It might seem that I am being something of a literary snob in choosing a Dickens novel for my book review and you may wonder what relevance his stories have for the modern day.

To answer the first point I would say that Dickens wrote most of his novels in weekly instalments in popular magazines of the day, so they can hardly have been regarded as highbrow literary works at the time of publication. Also, I don’t have my nose stuck in a Dickens novel whenever I have a spare moment and the truth is that I have only read around half of them over a long period, but not necessarily because I had better things to do!

I chose Martin Chuzzlewit simply because I did actually read it in the early days of lockdown this year and you do need to persevere at first with the 19th Century language. It is worth it though because you come across such rich and interesting characters as Tom Pinch and Mr Pecksniff in this particular novel and that perhaps is the enduring strength of Dickens. Although perhaps his description of women is sometimes 2-dimensional and rooted in his own time, the counterparts of the male characters which Dickens describes can certainly be found in modern society. (In my very ‘umble opinion, Michael Gove is my idea of Uriah Heap for example, though I will leave you to work out why I might think that!)

However, I would not recommend starting your journey into Dickens with Martin Chuzzlewit, albeit a worthy read in itself. I enjoyed reading Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers, in particular, but my favourite Dickens novel is probably David Copperfield. It has been regarded as Dickens’ autobiography, though I think he denied that and it does apparently differ in some key respects from his own life. However, I feel as though it is written by someone very close to the main character, and whilst that could be said to be true to some degree of all novelists and their main character, Dickens does paint an extraordinarily vivid portrait of many of the main characters in this novel.

So, give Dickens a go, whichever novel you choose to start with, and if you enjoy it, and music, and political satire, then give Gilbert & Sullivan operettas a try as well. You will be surprised how much 19th Century literary and musical entertainments still resonate for the 21st Century, perhaps because what drives human beings does not change much even as the environment we live in changes almost by the day.