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  • By John Pateman
    Feb 3, 2012
    The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism contains most of the articles, reports, essays, reviews and other papers written by Charles Dickens between 1833 and 1870. While Dickens is principally known for his classic novels such as Great Expectations and David Copperfield, it is sometimes forgotten that he was also a consummate journalist. Indeed, he started his career as a reporter of Parliamentary debates for the Morning Chronicle. It was from here that Dickens’s talent for portraits and caricatures stemmed, and his Sketches by Boz, which appeared in the Monthly Magazine and the Evening Chronicle, became immensely popular. Having produced many of the novels which were to make him famous, Dickens returned to journalism when he edited and regularly contributed to the journals Household Words (1850-9) and All the Year Round (1859-70). A number of essays from the journals were later collected as Reprinted Pieces (1858) and The Uncommercial Traveller (1861). Traditional forms of... More > popular entertainment underwent fundamental and irrevocable change in the early nineteenth century as England developed from an agrarian society to a modern, urban, industrial state. The time-honoured amusements of the people came under widespread attack in a new social climate, and developing commercial interests planted seeds which would eventually grow into the mass entertainment industry. Charles Dickens, England’s greatest popular entertainer, lived during the most dynamic phase of these changes and was deeply convinced of their significance. His response was a vital impetus to his fiction, journalism and stage career. From his childhood, when “the Fat Pig, the Wild Indian and the Little Lady” in the show-van on the corner helped sustain him through his misery in the blacking warehouse, to the height of his career, when Chops the dwarf and Pickleson the weak-eyed giant were highlights of his repertoire of public readings to overflowing audiences, Dickens vigorously championed the right of all men and women to carefree amusements and dedicated himself to the creation of imaginative pleasure. Dickens had a great interest in all forms of popular entertainment, including street shows, theatre and circuses. Unlike many of his class, he made the effort to find out how ordinary men and women passed their leisure time. He did not always approve of what he saw, but he defended their right to see it – and this was at a time when the Sabbath and Temperance movements were attempting to restrict access by the masses to public houses and other forms of entertainment: “The fair in Hyde Park – which covered some fifty acres of ground – swarmed with an eager, busy crowd from morning until night. There were booths of all kinds and sizes, from Richardson’s Theatre, which is always the largest, to the canvas residences of the giants, which are always the smallest; and exhibitions of all sorts, from tragedy to tumbling… This part of the amusements of the people, on the occasion of the Coronation, is particularly worthy of notice, not only as being a very pleasant and agreeable scene, but as affording a strong and additional proof, if proof were necessary, that the many are at least as capable of decent enjoyment as the few. There were no thimble-rig men, who are plentiful at race-courses, as at Epsom, where only gold can be staked; no gambling tents, roulette tables, hazard booths, or dice shops. There was beer drinking, no doubt, such beer drinking as Hogarth has embodied in his happy, hearty, picture, and there were faces as jovial as ever he could paint. These may be, and are, sore sights to the blearied eyes of bigotry and gloom, but to all right-thinking men who possess any sympathy with, or regard for, those whom fortune has placed beneath them, they will afford long and lasting ground of pleasurable recollection – first, that they should have occurred at all; and, secondly, that by their whole progress and result, at a time of general holiday and universal excitement, they should have yielded so unanswerable a refutation of the crude and narrow statements of those who, deducing their facts from the proceedings of the very worst members of society, let loose on the very worst opportunities, and under the most disadvantageous circumstances, would apply their inferences to the whole mass of the people.” (the Queen’s Coronation, Examiner, 1 July 1838) Dickens channelled his love of entertainment into incomparable artistry. Circus, fair, theatre and street performances provided the novelist with subject matter and with the sources of imaginative stimulus essential to his art. Popular entertainment caught Dicken’s imagination as a child, as can be seen in his autobiographical article on Dullborough Town, a thinly disguised description of his childhood days in Rochester, Kent. The themes in this article include release for imagination, escape from dull routine, encouragement to fellow feeling, remembrance of past pleasures – in short, the traditional, communal, gregarious values which predate the entertainment of the Industrial Revolution, and which stand often in sharp conflict with the assumptions underlying the emergent commercial, disciplined, large-scale forms. Nowhere is this association with the past more apparent than in his major fictional renderings of popular entertainment. In Nicholas Nickleby the strolling actors form an extended family; faced with the world-wide decline of the provincial theatre, they emigrate to America. In The Old Curiosity Shop the itinerant showmen are seen as colourful relics from the past, and their willingness to violate bonds of friendship for financial gain is seen as a betrayal of the very basis of their vocation. In Hard Times Sleary’s circus is the repository of human fellowship, emotional security and imaginative vitality; the commercial underpinnings of its existence are nowhere in evidence. Although the subject of popular entertainment was maintained in generally low profile in the fiction of Dickens’s middle and late years, the periodical which he founded in 1850 gave him a major alternative outlet for its continued expression. In Household Words and its successor, All the Year Round, Dickens devoted a substantial proportion of space to a wide variety of public amusements. There were articles about exhibitions, large and small, commonplace and exotic, educational and absurd; it was typical of Dickens’s broadly tolerant tastes that he found a collection of stuffed humming-birds on display at the Zoological Gardens “as worthy” as the more celebrated inventions which were to be witnesses a mile away in the Crystal Palace during the Great Exhibition. There were articles about the theatre, describing productions and audiences in Paris, Bucharest, Pera, Penang, and the Adelphi off the Strand. There were articles about fairs, giving accounts of a great city fair in Munich and an unpretentious little fair in an Irish market-town; of a bazaar in Colombo, a carnival in Greece, and a May festival in Starnberg. The article on Greenwich Fair in Sketches by Boz includes descriptions of Richardson’s stalls and sideshows, and a “sunburnt woman in a red cloak telling fortunes”. In his journalism Dickens chronicles the origins and developments of particular forms of popular entertainment; he records with pleasure the survival of old amusements, and examines the evolution of entertainment for improvements as well as losses. Emphatically, he is aware of the contemporary state of entertainment: week by week his journals offer detailed accounts of theatres, parks, exhibitions, circuses, waxworks, street minstrels, and so on. Popular entertainment also presents an illuminating perspective on the public readings which dominated the last twelve years of Dickens life. In Doctor Marigold, one of the most popular as well as one of the most typical of Dickens’s public readings, the eponymous hero describes his acquaintance with a fairground giant. He is “an amiable though timid young man” named Pickelson, but the cheap jack is disposed – morally, at least - to look down upon his tall friend because his bid for popularity involves deception. The giant exhibits himself not simply as a human curiosity but in the guise of a Roman, under the sobriquet of Rinaldo di Velasco. Commenting on this practice, Doctor Marigold gives voice to a principle which serves as the basis for an assessment of Dickens’s role as a popular entertainer. The cheap Jack finds Pickelson’s exhibition unworthy: “For the general rule is, going around the country, to draw the line at dressing up. When a man can’t trust his getting a living to his undisguised abilities, you consider him below your sort.” Dickens spent a lifetime providing popular entertainment by dint of his “undisguised abilities”. We seriously misjudge this giant if we consider him below our sort.< Less
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Product Details

ISBN
9781447883906
Edition
Second Edition
Publisher
The Pateran Press
Published
October 21, 2011
Language
English
Pages
70
Binding
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
Weight
0.59 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
8.26 wide x 11.69 tall
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