Monday, December 21, 2009

The Theatre of Dickens

From Adam Thirwell's New Republic review of the new Dicken's biography by Michael Slater:

Around 1843, when he was writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens changed the way he wrote. He developed a more performative system of punctuation: a musical notation of semicolons. And it was also in A Christmas Carol that Dickens allowed his prose to become an electric message between the novelist and the absent reader: “Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.” When he came to give his famous performed readings, he chose to begin with A Christmas Carol--but he cut that passage, because at last there was no need to remind the absent reader of the absent novelist’s presence.

Before he became a novelist, Dickens had considered becoming an actor. With his assiduous precision, he had practiced “even such things as walking in and out, and sitting down in a chair.” His hero was Charles Matthews, who would come on stage as himself, in evening dress--and then play all the parts, culminating in a final bravura “monopolylogue.” It was an early form of stand-up. And this solo performance of multiple imitations formed the nucleus of Dickens’s style: a new form of prose, based on mimicry.

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