Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Twenty years is nothing

And yet so many things have passed since I bought this Royal Mail Christmas 1993 Presentation Pack.

I was living in London for a term, on my first research stay for my Ph.D. and the letters I started receiving as Christmas was approaching bore stamps from Dickens's Christmas Carol. I was looking forward to going back home for Christmas with my family, but also sad for having to say goodbye to so many people I did not know if I would see again, and anxious about a new avenue in my life. I experienced my first London Christmas season; the first of many to come. I wanted to take home some of that Christmas flavour and this included my first ever Royal Mail Presentation Pack. I strongly remember my looking forward to seeing my Misi again. As I write this, Michi is next to me. Twenty years. Misi was then just one year old. He would have turned 21 this November, Michi is two and a half. Wow, so many things, so many days, so many friends. Who says that twenty years is nothing? It's a wealth of seconds, minutes, hours, days spent and shared. 20 Christmas.
Going through life implies having to learn to live with absences, which are more present than ever during the Christmas season, to remind us that they're not really gone. I have two absences to add this Christmas, and tears cannot really convey the pain this causes me, but I'm sure they're eager for me to know that they're just round the corner, so I won't allow my heart to grow too sad. I will celebrate the Christmas present and past and live in hope for the Christmas yet to come.
"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"

Friday, 8 February 2013

A year and one day

Tempus fugit

367 days - 2012 was a leap year - since I wished Mr Charles Dickens a happy bicentenary and looked forward to celebrating the whole year reading him. Time really, really flies, Mr Dickens celebrated yesterday his 201st birthday and I am far, very far from accomplishing what I intended to do 367 days ago. As usual, time is always more elastic in my mind than it actually is and I tend to think that I can do all sorts of things in 24 hours. What was I thinking, I wonder? Was it too much to devote just half an hour a day to Dickens? Well, it turned out to be impossible some days and I was left with this sense of guilt for letting him down. What started as a celebration was dangerously becoming an obligation, so I decided to take it easy.
Still, I am deep into Bleak House, even if I cannot open its pages every day. I am sure it will accompany me into the spring, when I will have the opportunity of relishing that implacable November weather that I adore (possibly because here in Granada, is not so implacable).
Happy 201st birthday (and one day) Mr Dickens!!!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bleak House

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

I come back to this blog after a long absence, prompted by a wonderful gift from my even more wonderful friend Mauricio: a precious edition of Bleak House. Therefore, I am abandoning the original schedule, I am not going to read Dickens's works in chronological order but in the order that this gift demands. It's so fitting for this rainy November weather!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Poor little blog

Paul Cox's illustration, evoking the Summer Exhibition of 1888.
Homage to W.P. Frith's A Private View at the Royal Academy (1881)
This poor little blog started with lots of energy but has been losing steam along the way. It's been a really hectic academic year, complicated by some disagreeable departmental problems and bureaucratic delays in virtually everything. It has left me exhausted but, paradoxically, stronger. It has taught me a lot about human nature (aren't we always learning about that?) and, although I have always believed that there's something good in virtually everyone, some really strong disappointments have taught me that, with some people, it's best to keep an educated distance. You don't want to be contaminated, you know?
So, my holidays start tomorrow. I am leaving for a couple of weeks and I am taking Dickens with me. I now know I have not achieved what I intended to do when I started this blog: reading Dickens for half an hour every day until I read the complete works. However, knowing that it would be an impossible task to do that in one single year, I also wrote that I would continue with this blog until I completed the whole bunch. So, that's what I will do. During the holidays I won't have internet access, so I will write about my reading when I'm back.
Happy holidays!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Still here, albeit embarrassed and apologetic

I am afraid keeping this blog updated on a daily basis has proved to be impossible. I have had tons of work in the last weeks and I am afraid I have abandoned - only temporarily - my daily intake of reading Dickens's and writing about it. I'll be back, though. I cannot promise when but I hope to write something in the upcoming week.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Susan Hill on Dickens

I am halfway through Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing. A Year of Reading from Home and I am enjoying it enormously! It's so comforting to know that I am not the only one who has still so many books bought years ago and not yet read. The book by Hill itself is a very good example. I bought it in the summer of 2010, together with sixty-odd others, during my latest visit to England and it's only now that I am reading it. She's such an honest, non-prejudiced writer that it's a real pleasure reading about herself recording her reading experience. The book is the result of "a year reading from home"; that is, a year in which she travelled through the books in her home, those which she had read and wanted to re-read, those she forgot she had and those she had never before read. Delightful.
She devotes a chapter to Dickens, entitled "Great Expectations Behind the Sofa" in which she confesses that one of the reasons why she married her husband, Stanley Wells, because both of them had read, as children, Dickens behind a sofa. In the case of Wells, it was Pickwick Papers, which he read behind the sofa in his family house. For Hill, it was Great Expectations, which she read behind a sofa at her great-aunt's bungalow. I would love to quote here the whole of the chapter but I hope this entry makes you want to read the whole book, so I've just selected some parts. Enjoy!

I have just been down to the sitting room to look at that same set of Dickens, which my great-aung finally gave to me when I was twelve because, she said, I obviously got more out of it than she ever would. I have three other complete sets and now I read the Oxford, in hardback, because it has the original Boz and Phiz illustrations but rather better print. My great-aunt's set is bound in specked brown, the titles are in gold, and the pages have yellowed with age. the paper is of poor quality so that the print is unclear, and it is very small. I do not wear glasses for reading but the type is too small for me all the same. But sometimes I like to open Bleak House or The Old Curiosity Shop and leaf through a few pages because they still smell of my great-aunt's house and the warm den behind the sofa.
      I could spend my year of reading from home with Dickens alone - well, almost. In the silly game of which authors to throw overboard from the lifeboat and which one - just one - to save, I would always save Dickens. He is mighty. His flaws are huge but magnificent - and all of a piece with the whole. a perfect, flawless Dickens would somehow be a shrunken, impoverished one. Yes, he is sentimental, yes, he has purple passages, yes, his plots sometimes have dropped stitches, yes, some of his characters are quite tiresome. But his literary imagination was the greatest ever, his world of teeming life is as real as has even been invented, his conscience, his passion for the underdog, the poor, the cheated, the humiliated are god-like. He created an array of varied, vibrant, living, breathing men and women and children that is breathtakin in its scope. His scenes are painted like those of an Old Master, in vivid colour and richness of huge canvases. His prose is spacious, symphonic, infinitely flexible. He can portray evil and create a menacing atmosphere of malevolence better than any other writer - read Little Dorrit, read Our Mutual Friend, read Bleak House if you don't believe me. He is macabre, grotesque, moralistic, thunderous, funny, ridiculous, heartfelt. Nobody has written as he wrote about London, nobody has described the Essex Marshes so well, nobody has opened a book to such effect as he does in Bleak House. There is no area of life he does not illuminate, no concern or cause he does not make his own, no sentences, no descriptions, no exchanges, no sadness or tragedies or betrayals ...

Hill's account is not a panegyric, as it has been manifest at the beginning of the quote but, in case anyone doubts, she continues as follows:

   There are one or two of his novels that I never want to read again, A Tale of Two Cities being the first. I don't think he felt comfortable writing historical fiction, and it shows. Though I am glad to have read it, I am happy to leave David Copperfield on the shelf, in spite of Mr Micawber, and my husband is welcome to laugh at Pickwick because I never could ...

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A hectic week

I have to admit it: I have abandoned Dickens this week. It's not just that I did not have time to write in this blog, but that I could not find the time to read a single letter written by him. I have carried my iPad everywhere with me to no avail. I had over 100 exams to correct plus twenty-something essays and the second semester has just started, with its new classes, new students, new timetables. I've been snowed under with work and just managed to find some time to attend yesterday's concert by the Granada Symphony Orchestra, watch Julius Cesar at the Retroback Film Festival on Wednesday, and the pre-release of Hugo, the latest film by Martin Scorsese, on Thursday.
So, yes, I abandoned Dickens but I found his traces in Scorsese's film. What a beautiful story! I spent all day yesterday telling everyone I met that they had to watch it. Very Dickensian in tone but particularly in the care with which every single character is introduced on screen until it becomes a full-bodied individual. The narrative is beautiful, the photography superb, with an elegant and intelligent use of the 3D, which does not look for the cheap effects that I particularly find so annoying. On top of that, a magnificent performance of Asa Butterfield, the boy with the big blue sad eyes which are, in fact, Hugo's. Scorsese plays homage to the beginnings of cinema, but the film is more than that: it's a story about loss, hope, faith, and the power of narratives to connect people's lives and to help us live our dreams. Beautiful, moving, elegant film. One of those which will remain lodged in my soul forever. Don't miss it!