“The thing that Dickens’ genius could never succeed in describing”

Dullness was the thing that Dickens’s genius could never succeed in describing; his vitality was so violent that he could not introduce into his books the genuine impression even of a moment of monotony. If there is anywhere in his novels an instant of silence, we only hear more clearly the hero whispering with the heroine, the villain sharpening his dagger, or the creaking of the machinery that is to give out the god from the machine. He could splendidly describe gloomy places, but he could not describe dreary places. He could describe miserable marriages, but not monotonous marriages. It must have been genuinely entertaining to be married to Mr. Quilp. This sense of a still incessant excitement he spreads over every inch of his story, and over every dark tract of his landscape. His idea of a desolate place is a place where anything can happen, he has no idea of that desolate place where nothing can happen. This is a good thing for his soul, for the place where nothing can happen is hell.

— Charles Dickens (1906).

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 3:38 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Chesterton is right. I just racked my brain for a dull character in Dickens and drew a blank. You can criticize Dickens for creating characters who are bigger than life. But you can’t accuse him of having boring ones.

    Contrast that with H. G. Wells, who created some marvelously interesting plots but, to my knowledge, never created a character that is memorable. Even Dr. Moreau seems more a personification of sadism than a person.

    –Michael W. Perry, Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II


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