Monthly Archives: December 2012

Dickens in December – The End

Dickens button 02 December felt like a really short month. For this event, I had planned to read some short stories, watch a movie or two, do “A Christmas Carol” read-along and read a novel. Well, you can scrap that last part.
What I did manage to do is watch two movies, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2001) and The Old Curiosity Shop (2007), read three short stories and participate in the readalong.
I was excited to see how many people joined Caroline and I for this event and I enjoyed reading their contributions. There are so many wonderful blogs out there!

A big thank you to Caroline, for helping make this event a reality.
If you’d like to see a list of all participants, it’s here.

For those of you who plan on reading another Dickens novel soon, Fanda is hosting Celebrating Dickens in February, an event which I will be joining and finally read that novel (fingers crossed!).

To everyone who has contributed to “Dickens in December”, thank you for your time, reviews and comments, and hope to have you along for similar events. Until then I wish you a great New Year, and may all your wishes (or at least most of them) come true!

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Dickens in December – Three Short Stories

These were the first stories I’ve read for the Dickens in December event, but I got so caught up in other stories that I didn’t get to write my thoughts on them until now. They are part of The Wordsworth Book of Horror Stories, a magnificent collection that kept me awake until the late hours of the night.

Dickens button 02 The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle

The voice of the narrator draws the reader in as he tells the story of an extraordinary night in the life of his uncle. Described as very jovial person, with a real honest smile upon his face at all times, fond of drink and making merry, the uncle seemed to be a well liked person. One night, as he was going home, he stopped at a waste ground where he saw a number of old, abandoned mail coaches, and being of a curious nature and an admirer of old coaches, went closer to have a look. As the clock struck 2, the whole place came to life, coaches were moving and people were moving about. To his astonishment, he found himself more or less ordered to get into one of the vehicles. Playing along, he did, only to discover that he was sharing the space with two wicked looking men and a very beautiful woman. What happened next astonished him even more, but by the end of the night he’d made the beautiful woman a promise that he kept to the end of his days.

From all 3 stories, this was the least horrific. I was, in the beginning, a little weary of the lengthy description, as Dickens is fond of, saying the same thing again and again in different ways as to make sure he gets his point across. I am in two minds about these paragraphs – on one hand I find them redundant but on the other hand they do serve the purpose of making one more familiar with the story and its characters.

To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt

Told by a first person narrator, this story begins with the news of a murder committed in England “many years ago”, and of a man who was arrested as the criminal, even though he wasn’t publicly suspected as being the author of the gruesome act.
After experiencing a strange vision of two men whose appearance is most unusual, the health of the protagonist is described as “not ill” but “not well”, as to serve as a possible excuse for the event. Not long after that, he and his valet both see a man which is described as “a dead man beckoning”, and whose identity is revealed later, as the narrator is asked to perform jury duty in the very same murder case he was reading about. Visions of the dead man, who – it turns out – was the murdered person, come to the narrator for the whole duration of the trial, as witnesses come and testify.

I enjoyed reading about the “ghost’s’ reaction to some testimonials – my favorite part of the story. The end is weird and it doesn’t really shed light upon the case. Was the man guilty or not, and what about those last words? Intriguing.

The Signalman

This was my favorite story of the three. Not only it was sufficiently mysterious to have me glued to the page, but the end had me truly astonished and also horrified. There are two protagonists – one is the signalman, whose job requires him to stand in a box near a tunnel and direct the incoming trains, and the other a traveler who was visiting the area for a short while. The two become acquainted in a rather abrupt manner, and the signalman ends up by telling his visitor of the strange things he’d been hearing and seeing. This involved the sudden apparition of a man who said the exact same words as the visitor had said when he first saw the signalman. Hours after he first saw the apparition, the signalman told his companion, a great accident took place near the spot where the strange man appeared. Several months later, the apparition came back but no words were spoken this time. The gestures, however, made it clear that this was some sort of warning as well. As the story progressed, I was anticipating some sort of horror but I was not prepared for what happened in the end. That’s what a great story does, it takes you by surprise, and this was definitely one of them.

It is said Dickens’s inspiration for this story came from the Staplehurst train crash which he survived, not before trying to help others and actually witnessing the death of few people, which affected him greatly.
The end comes with a thorough explanation of the facts which doesn’t make it any less easy to accept. A truly brilliant story.

Coming up on the 30th: a wrap up post of “Dickens in December”.

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Bringing back Christmas

I’m a little late with my Christmas post this year. I had planned to do it yesterday, but when I was done with my “experiment” I wanted nothing more than a shower and the bliss of lying down with a book in my hands.

When Christmas comes around this part of the world, it’s a rather melancholy affair for me – thinking of family and friends who live thousands of kilometers away, the holiday visits and symbolic gifts, the tree twinkling with lights, and coming in from the cold, hands all red and frozen, thawing slowly in the aromatic warmth of the kitchen where various culinary delights are cooking or baking, well, all that is apt to put me in a less than cheerful mood. Not that I miss the cold, far from it, and I do have a Christmas tree (plastic, of course), but still it wasn’t enough to make me feel like the holidays have arrived. So, I asked myself, what should I do? Why, bake, of course!

xmas cake4 As a child I have often watched my grandmother, aunt, and my mother bake a traditional dessert for Christmas. It’s basically a roll of dough filled with Turkish delight of various colors, or ground walnuts, spices and baking essences – rum is the favorite one for this particular dessert. There was no house without it at Christmas, and in those times, the women would follow their own particular recipes, and they were all slightly different but amazingly delicious. Just the thought of cutting into that rich sweetbread and releasing those wonderful aromas, made me nostalgic. So I decided to bake one, or several, and see how they would turn out. And bake them I did. It wasn’t difficult, but being my first time with this recipe, there were things I hadn’t considered and had to speed things up a bit. Nevertheless, a few hours later, when it was all done, and the baked dessert was cooling, and the smell was in every room, I finally felt like it was Christmas. Did I enjoy the whole baking experience? Very much. Would I do it again? I’d like to, next Christmas!

Happy holidays!

xmas cake3

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And the winner is….

Amy! You can visit her blog here.
This was the second giveaway of the “Dickens in December” event hosted by Caroline and I. The wrap up post will be on the 30, so if you’d still like to participate with a review of a novel or short story, go for it!
Congratulations Amy, “Dickens at Christmas” is coming to you!

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Dickens in December – A Christmas Carol read-along

Xmas carol1 Today marks the day of A Christmas Carol read-along for the Dickens in December event that I am hosting with Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat). The questions below were sent to those who signed up for the read-along. If you haven’t signed up but would still like to participate, feel free to answer on your blog (or here if you don’t have one) and leave your link in the comment so that we can add you to the list of participants. I look forward to visiting your blog and reading your answers.
Here’s Caroline’s post on the read-along.

Is this the first time you are reading the story?
Yes. I remember watching various movie adaptations when I was younger but never actually reading the original story.

Did you like it?
Very much. It was sad but also funny. I particularly liked the use of the word humbug, that word expresses Scrooge’s nature so well. It really made my day.

Which was your favorite scene?
It’s quite difficult to pick just one but there are a couple of paragraphs two or three pages into the story which describes the cold weather and as I am a summer loving person, it left a very strong impression. It goes like this:
“It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement-stones to warm them.” Very evocative, I did not envy those people.
And there’s another one:

“The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed.”
That small fire that “looked like one coal” really made me shiver.

Which was your least favorite scene?
The scene at Fred’s house, where the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge. It’s not to say that I disliked it, but if I were to make a “top scene” list, this would be the last. I know Scrooge wasn’t a likeable character but to see him made fun of, compared to “a bear” and the like, it grated on my nerves a little. Maybe it’s because I was already beginning to feel sorry for him.

Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?
The first Spirit’s story was pretty moving because it shed light on Scrooge’s past and made him more human. It shows the reader a possible reason why Scrooge turned up the way he did, shunning Christmas and being grumpy all the time. Even though I did not think his attitude was justified, it gave me a glimpse into his life and made me more understanding of his rejection of anything Christmas-related. After all, people can hurt you, money can’t.

Was there a character you wish you knew more about?
I did wonder about Scrooge’s sister, who is just briefly mentioned, and would have liked to know more about his family. Nevertheless, I don’t think the brief details took away anything from the story.

How did you like the end?
Did you think it was believable?

It fits the festive mood of the season, after all it’s a time for celebration and being happy. As for being believable, I’m standing in the middle here, leaning towards a positive answer.

Do you know anyone like Scrooge?
I know of a few people who could be great candidates for the role in time, but definitely not to that extent.

Did he deserve to be saved?
Given the way he turned out to be afterwards, I’d say a definite yes.

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Dickens in December – A giveaway of “Dickens at Christmas”

DaC For the second give-away of Dickens in December, Caroline and I have decided to offer two different books. For a chance to win make sure you visit her blog to see what book she is giving away.

It took me a long time to pick the book for the second give-away – so many to choose from! – but the moment I saw it in the bookstore I knew this was the one. I am giving away a copy of “Dickens at Christmas”, which is a collection of short stories written especially for the festive season.
For those of you who enjoy short stories, this might be the perfect choice. I have read two stories from it, The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton and A Christmas Carol and liked them both. From the blurb:

“It is said that Charles Dickens invented Christmas, and within these pages you’ll certainly find all the elements of a traditional Christmas brought to vivid life: snowy rooftops, gleaming shop windows, steaming bowls of punch, plum puddings like speckled cannon balls, sage and onion stuffing, miracles, magic, charity and goodwill.

This beautifully produced Vintage Classics edition gathers together not only Dickens’ Christmas Books (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Battle of Life, The Cricket on the Hearth and The Haunted Man) but also stories that Dickens wrote for the special seasonal editions of his periodicals All the Year Round and Household Words and a festive tale from The Pickwick Papers.”

The giveaway is open internationally. To sign up for it, just leave a comment below and tell me what your favorite Christmas food is. I look forward to the answers. 🙂
The winner will be announced on the 26th.


Coming up: A discussion of “A Christmas Carol” on Friday the 21st. For the participants in this read-along, Caroline and I have prepared a list of questions which we have sent to those who signed up. If you haven’t got them but would like to, just send me an email and I will gladly forward them to you.

The wrap up post for “Dickens in December” will be on Sunday the 30th. Until then you can visit Caroline’s blog for a list of the participants and their reviews. Please let us know if we have missed your review so we can add you to the list. I am really happy to see how many people have participated so far, I know it’s a busy time of the year (probably the busiest for some) and this makes your contribution even more appreciated.

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Dickens on screen – movie adaptations

Today I decided it was the day to sit down and immerse myself in the wonderful world of Dickens on screen. Encouraged by the success I had with The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, I was looking forward to watching David Copperfield and The Old Curiosity Shop. Perhaps I hoped too much.

DC David Copperfield (2000) started with an overly dramatic melody that seemed to try too hard to set the mood for the coming story. Having gotten a taste of the wonderful acting in Nicholas Nickleby, I was hoping for more of the same. Sadly, it was not meant to be. The acting seemed too theatrical and stiff, the characters uninspiring and after one hour I just decided to give up watching it. I couldn’t help laughing watching Michael Richards (who will forever be associated in my mind with the role of Kramer he played in Seinfeld) who just seemed odd in the role of Mr. Wilkins Micawber, as did Sally Field who portrayed Aunt Betsey Trotwood. Maybe I just picked the wrong version to watch.

OCS The Old Curiosity Shop (2007) was better. The story of young Nell and her grandfather trying to escape from the hands of the greedy creditor, Mr. Quilp, was a little more interesting. Derek Jacobi (who also played a part in Gladiator) in the role of the grandfather, and Toby Jones (acted in The Hunger Games) in the role of Quilp, were the most interesting characters to watch. Extra points go to the latter for giving an excellent performance of a greedy, disgusting, manipulative character.

After watching two and a half (well, almost half) movies based on Charles Dickens’s novels, to which I can add Great Expectations (even if that was years ago), it all seems like a formula to me: a funeral, a wedding, a chief villain, suffering children, the mysterious benefactor and various kind hearted characters here and there. There is the forever bleak London in which gray seems to be the predominant color, the persistent mud, and the accent which can be a challenge to understand at times.

Great Expectations is the only Dickens novel I have read so far. I remember watching the movie (the 1998 version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow), thinking it was great, then reading the book and thinking the movie was awful by comparison, then watching the movie again years later and thinking it wasn’t too bad. Mrs. Havisham (or Ms. Dinsmoor in this version) was by far my favorite character. Apart from her brilliant performance, what I remember most from it was the dusty, desolate house and one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a movie. That song is imprinted in my memory – it still gives me goose bumps when I listen to it.
Perhaps it’s too hard to expect from a movie the same depth of feeling a book can give, the emotions, the carefully placed words that can mean so much in a story. Perhaps it calls for a deeper understanding of Dickens’ fictional world to fully appreciate the movie. Perhaps one day, after reading the books and watching the movies again, I will be able to see them with different eyes. Perhaps. As of today, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and Great Expectations remain my favorites.

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The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – the movie (2001)

Poverty, destitution, death, physical cruelty but also kindness, a great secret and happiness, this movie has them all. Set in the early Victorian era, the story follows the fate of young Nicholas Nickleby and his family after the death of his father. Left destitute, the Nickleby family turns to Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’s uncle, for help. The many adventures that follow, as they are aptly called, deal mainly with the efforts young Nicholas, nineteen years old at the time, makes in trying to provide for his mother and his sister, Kate.

Ralph Nickleby is the rich uncle who appears to make some effort in helping the poor family. In him Dickens has created a perfect example of the lonely, cold hearted man whose only goal in life is money, the only power he accepts and understands. His offers to help both Nicholas and Kate end badly.
Through his connections, Nicholas is offered a position as a tutor at a school for boys in Yorkshire, a place he soon comes to see for what it truly was: a sort of prison for small boys whose relatives send them there to be educated and, in the case of young Smike, abandons them. Soon, Nicholas leaves the place, taking Smike with him and the two become good friends. Smike’s mysterious past comes into focus when a strange man comes asking after him at the boy’s school after he has left it. The man makes a few appearances here and there – he reminded me of Magwitch, a similar character in Great Expectations, and in the end it is him who reveals Ralph’s secret and sheds light on Smike’s past.

The whole atmosphere of the movie was very well created. The poverty-stricken population, the wealth of the noblemen, the cruelty of both poor and rich, the kind-hearted people – I was captivated by the story and for a little over three hours I was totally immersed in the lives of the characters. Charles Dance was very convincing in the role of the ruthless uncle, and young Nicholas played by James D’Arcy (who had several roles in Cloud Atlas) brought to the screen a believable fresh-faced innocence combined with the rashness and passion of youth. I haven’t read the book so I can’t make any comparison but if the movie is any indication, it probably is a masterpiece.

Here’s the movie (2 parts), if you want to watch it:

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​Dickens in December – The first giveaway

I had no idea this book existed until I read a review on Caroline’s blog. It’s one of those books I’d love to read someday, (the fact that it has illustrations made me want to read it even more) but until then, this will be the book for our first giveaway.
Many thanks to Icon Books who have offered us two copies for this event. We are giving away one book per blog. Here’s the blurb:

For fans old and new, a fascinating tour through Charles Dickens’ novels in the hands of a master critic.

Oliver Twist…Great Expectations…David Copperfield – all contain a riotous fictional world that still leaves and breathes for readers the world over today. But how much do we really know about Charles Dickens’ dazzling imagination, which has brought this all into being?
To celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens – 2012 – Victorian literature expert John Sutherland has created a gloriously wide-ranging alphabetical companion to Dickens’ novels, excavating the hidden links between his characters, themes, and preoccupations, and the minutiae of his endlessly inventive wordplay.
Covering America, Bastards, Childhood, Christmas, Empire, Fog, Larks, London, Madness, Murder, Orphans, Pubs, Punishment, Smells, Spontaneous Combustion and Zoo to name but a few – John Sutherland gives us a uniquely personal guide to Charles Dickens’ books.

If you’d like to win a copy of this book, just leave a comment. If you want to improve your chances of winning you can leave a comment here and one on Caroline’s blog. That way your name will be in both draws but you can only win once.
The giveaway is open internationally. The winners will be announced on Tuesday 11 December.

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​Dickens in December – Start!

The only way to tell it’s finally December here is by looking at the calendar. The weather doesn’t help. It rained today and the air is humid and a little cooler than usual, which means we’re still in the 30 degrees Celsius range. But no matter if you’re at home, sitting comfortably in your favorite reading spot with a blanket to keep you warm, or just taking advantage of the cool air of the evening after a hot day, it’s time for Dickens!

Like I said in my introductory post, I will start with three short stories which I found in the book I’m currently reading, The Wordsworth Book of Horror Stories (and what amazing stories, I’m so glad it’s such a big book!).
Caroline (( and I are co-hosting this event, so don’t hesitate to visit and leave comments that include the link to your Dickens-related review so we can add you to the list. Thanks to everyone who decided to join us, I’m looking forward to reading your reviews!

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