Saturday 29 June 2019

Dickens the Fan

…remembering that when FIELDING described Newgate, the prison immediately ceased to exist; that when SMOLLETT took Roderick Random to Bath, that city instantly sank into the earth ; that when SCOTT exercised his genius on Whitefriars, it incontinently glided into the Thames ; that an ancient place called Windsor was entirely destroyed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth by two Merry Wives of that town, acting under the direction of a person of the name of SHAKESPEARE; and that MR POPE, after having at a great expense completed his grotto at Twickenham, incautiously reduced it to ashes by writing a poem upon it…
Preface (1850) to Oliver Twist
My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company.
David Copperfield (1849-50), ch. 4

Who stands and who falls? Of the classics listed by Dickens in the examples above, only Gil Blas and Scott haven't quite stood the test of time. The Scott is an interesting one. The Fortunes of Nigel (1822), set in Jacobean London, was well regarded in its time, but has long been out of print - I suspect not least because of its slightly ridiculous title.

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