Sunday 4 December 2016

The Dickensian

I return to the topic of an earlier post (‘Comparisons’). One writer whom Brookner was never compared with was Dickens. Yet he was one of her favourite writers. In almost every interview she spoke of how at the age of seven she was set to read Dickens’s novels, which were advertised to her by her uncertain and uprooted family as the key to Englishness.

That Dickens felt himself to be excluded from the happy years of his early childhood; that the Dickensian world was itself one of deracination; that that world was ever far from being a reliable portrait of any reality – must have sent out confusing messages to the young Anita. When she went to school, she said, she was quite surprised to find that everyone didn’t have a funny name.

She continued to read Dickens at the rate of a novel a year, and throughout her adulthood she pursued the habit. Dickens features significantly from time to time in her fiction: in the Dickensian porters and comic domestics; in the helpful older characters like the saintly Mr Redman in The Bay of Angels, who recalls the brothers Cheeryble in Nicholas Nickleby; and in Jane’s panic-stricken reading of David Copperfield, her passionate longing for a happy ending, as her mother slowly dies in A Family Romance. And Anita Brookner’s London is perhaps as unreal and as original as Dickens’s.

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