I have very little experience with Charles Dickens. I’ve read Oliver Twist, Bleak House and A Christmas Carol and that’s it. I’d love to read him from start to finish one day – but that’s a project for another year.
At the moment I am finishing up A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps this is because I am not overly familiar with Dickens’ style, but I’ve been continually surprised at the cinematic quality of his description. A few posts back I mentioned the scene with the tipped wine cask from early in the novel and his description of everyone on the streets grubbing around to get a drink of the spilled wine. But since then, I’ve come across multiple scenes with a similar quality. I’m thinking about the longish description of Dr. Manette’s house in Soho, the hilarious and snide sketch of the chocolate bearers for the French king or the scene when Young Jerry spies on his graverobbing father and then runs home, imagining the coffin chasing him.
It isn’t just that these descriptions are vivid and detailed, but that they seem to rely more on visual detail than any of the other senses. I’m not sure why this struck me as a little unusual, perhaps it is not. Perhaps Dickens just had a visual brain or a sharp photographic memory and so his writing reflects that skill. Either way, it makes for a story which presents itself as a progressive layering of wonderfully rich images.