Monday, February 6, 2012

Tomorrow is Dickens' 200th birthday

Home to the largest collection of Dickens manuscripts and letters in the world, New York City's Morgan Library has a special exhibit of Dickensiana on display through February 12. The highlights, viewable online, include Alfred Bryan's caricature of the author (superimposed on the autograph manuscript of Our Mutual Friend at right) and  20 of the more than 1500 Dickens letters they possess, all of which he wrote with a goose quill pen. The end of a letter to Wilkie Collins (below) shows his typical initialed signature.
The handwritten ms of 1843's A Christmas Carol appears in high-resolution, digital format. Sadly, the initial enthusiasm engendered by their descriptive paragraph was greatly diminished by how devilishly hard it is to navigate and view any sizeable chunk at a time. They write:
The original manuscript of A Christmas Carol reveals Dickens's method of composition, allowing us to see the author at work. The pace of writing and revision, apparently contiguous, is urgent, rapid, and boldly confident. Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen and replaced with more active verbs—to achieve greater vividness or immediacy of effect— and fewer words for concision. This heavily revised sixty-six-page draft—the only manuscript of the story—was sent to the printer in order for the book to be published on 19 December, just in time for the Christmas market.
I have endeavoured, in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it!

Their faithful friend and Servant,
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self contained and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
Getting back to Our Mutual Friend, Dickens was traveling back from Paris with part of the manuscript when he and Ellen Ternan were in a train wreck between Dover and London. Ten passengers were killed and more than 50 injured; Dickens’s car derailed and hung over a precipice. In an 1865 letter he writes of helping to take out “the dying and dead, which was most horrible.... I was in the only carriage that did not go over.” Before long  he realized his manuscript was in his luggage and he risked life and limb to retrieve his only copy, the same one owned by the Morgan.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Early Birthday!! The Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite Christmas novels. I remember reading it back in school, and at the time thought it was pretty boring, but after reading it years later I realized how much of a classic it really is