My Favourite Dickens

09/02/2012 by Stacey Bartlett

We ask seven of today's authors most clued-up on Dickens to choose their favourite of his classics

Bleak House 

Lynn Shepherd
Author of Tom All Alone's
 
I love Bleak House: it’s English literature’s first detective mystery, and Inspector Bucket is its first great detective; it has the most memorable opening of any Dickens novel – perhaps any novel; its range and ambition is huge, encompassing the whole vast sweep of Victorian London; it has one of Dickens’ most haunting characters, the feared and fearsome layer Mr Tulkinghorn; and, finally, because all of Dickens is here – his finest comedy and his most scathing satire, his best writing and his most compelling story
 
 
David Copperfield 
 
Gaynor Arnold
Author of Girl in a Blue Dress
 
As a teenager, I adored the poetic drama of A Tale of Two Cities, but my overall top spot goes to David Copperfield. As Dickens’s own ‘favourite child’, it reveals much of the man himself. The child’s-eye view is incredibly poignant, and the idiocies of David as a young man (getting drunk, getting fleeced, falling in love) are so well drawn that you know they must have come from the heart. It is Dickens at his most life affirming.
 
 
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
 
Matthew Pearl
Author of The Last Dickens
 
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a favourite not only because it spurred my own novel. Like everyone else, I am fascinated by the fact that it is unfinished. But there's more. What is there is very different from most other Dickens novels. Dark at its core, compact and efficient, aloof. Even after becoming the most popular writer in the English speaking world, Dickens was still growing and experimenting creatively. To a writer, that's inspiring.
 
 
Little Dorrit 
 
Philip Hensher
Author of King of the Badgers
 
My favourite Dickens novel changes from time to time, but this week it's Little Dorrit – it's intensely sad without being at all depressing, and it's really Dickens at his most intensely observant. I love the board-stiff Mrs General closing her eyes when she says the word "passion" so as not to see its effect, but also the superb set-pieces, Dorrit's last dinner, Merdle's pathetic farewell, and, best of all, Pancks unmasking, denouncing, and destroying the hat of the hypocrite Casby. It often feels like a novel in which real, flesh-and-blood people have wandered into the artifice and theatre of a Dickens novel, and it's the only novel of Dickens that always, infallibly, makes you cry on the last page.
 
 
The Old Curiosity Shop 
 
Peter Ackroyd
Author of Wilkie Collins
 
One of my favourite novels by Charles Dickens is no longer one of his most popular even though it was, in his lifetime, a sensational success. The Old Curiosity Shop concerns the strange pilgrimage of Little Nell and her grandfather through a world of dwarves and giants, of wax-works and circus performers. It provides a combination, sometimes comic and sometimes tragic in true Dickensian style, of The Pilgrim's Progress and One Thousand and One Nights.
 
 
A Christmas Carol 
 
Ruth Richardson
Author of Dickens and the Workhouse
 
My favourite book by Dickens is A Christmas Carol. It is concerned with the terrible poverty which pervaded 19th century London and contains an emphasis on generosity and kindness, as well as on meanness, violence and greed. I love the way Dickens creates atmospheres: he takes you through the cold streets, and right inside the workhouse, lets you hear the voices of the time, allows you to be the witness. Every time I reread, I am struck by the clarity and wit of his observations, the pungency of his characters, and his fine use of language. The opening pages are stunning, setting the scene so simply yet so effectively, it is almost Shakespearean. It grabs you, and you're hooked!
 
Toby Litt
Author of Kind Death
 
A Christmas Carol is the only bit of Dickens that I really love. He’s a great children’s writer, and I’m no longer a child. I don’t need to learn that some people are grotesquely bad and some people are blandly good. But I do need to learn, every year, to forgive Christmas for being as bloody Christmassy as it is. Around the start of December, I self-consciously de-Scrooge myself. A Christmas Carol is a wonderful antidote to cynicism, and a brilliantly worked fable.
 
 
 
Pictures from Dickens's Victorian London 1839-1901 by Alex Werner, published by Ebury.
 
 

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