The Chimes by Charles Dickens

I have The Chimes on The Landing Book Shelves, in two editions. The one that I have had for the longest time is an abridged version contained within The Children’s Treasury of Classics, mentioned in a previous post. A second version is in an edition of Dickens’ Christmas Books (Collins Clear Type Press) that I bought second hand in Birmingham. It has no publication date printed inside (Collins brought this collection out in 1906 but I am not sure if my copy dates from then) but there is an inscription dated 1967. Both versions of the story are illustrated with black and white sketches; the latter is by Arthur. A. Dixon and the former by an un-credited artist. I must have read the children’s story at one time but I didn’t recall it very well, when I came to re-read the unabridged version recently. The drawings of The Treasury did however stay in my memory, the daunting image of the ghostly figures made quite an impression on me as a youngster. Dixon did not do an illustration of the ghosts so I don’t have a comparison to make. You can check out the link above to see his work for the Christmas Books and other Dickens works in the Collins editions.The Chimes

Dickens wrote this story in 1844, after the publication of A Christmas Carol and a year before he wrote The Cricket on the Hearth. As I featured the first of Dickens’ Christmas stories here previously I thought that it was high time that I moved on to the next one in the series. Actually, The Chimes is more of a New Year’s tale as it is set just as the old year is preparing to give way to the new. People are settling their accounts so that they may begin the New Year afresh. However, The Chimes is similar to its predecessor in that it is also a seasonal ghost story. A series of spirits show the main protagonist Toby (Trotty) Veck the error of his ways in the manner similar to that suffered by Mr Scrooge. Unlike wealthy but misanthropic Scrooge, the likeable Trotty is a poor ticket porter who struggles to earn more than a few pennies a day. His crimes against his fellow humans are less than are Scrooge’s but despite this, the spirits from the church bell tower take him to task over the course of an eventful New Year’s Eve.

But what are Trotty Veck’s crimes against humanity? Trotty is judged to be guilty that day of losing all hope in the future, of believing that the poor must really be as bad as the newspapers and the paternalistic middle classes say they are, and of losing compassion for the desperate plight of others of his class. Toby was sitting reading the paper on New Year’s Eve and he came to a report about a woman who was so desperate not to return to the workhouse that she tried to drown herself and her baby (Dickens was inspired by a real case):

“Unnatural and cruel!” Toby cried. “Unnatural and cruel! None but people who were bad at heart, born bad, who had no business on the earth, could do such deeds. It’s too true, all I’ve heard to-day; too just, too full of proof. We’re bad!”
The chimes took up the words so suddenly – burst out so loud, and clear, and sonorous- that the bells seemed to strike him in his chair.
And what was that they said?
“Toby Veck, Toby Veck, waiting for you, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, waiting for you, Toby! Come and see us, come and see us! Drag him to us, drag him to us! Haunt and hunt him, haunt and hunt him! Break his slumbers, break his slumbers! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, door open wide, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, door open wide, Toby-“ Then fiercely back to their impetuous strain again, and ringing in the very bricks and plaster on the walls.

The Chimes title page

First edition

The spirits of The Chimes show Trotty a glimpse of the future, or at least a version of it. They tell him that he has been dead for nine years after falling from the church steeple. The future presented by the spirits turns to out to be very bleak for Trotty’s family and friends. I don’t want to give any more away to anyone who has not read this story, so I will just hint that if you think about Scrooge’s prospects after the spirits have visited then you may reassure yourself before you read.

The story has been overshadowed by the success of that of Ebenezer Scrooge, though The Chimes was very well received upon publication. I can’t help thinking that the spirits were rather hard on poor old Toby, but Dickens was making the point that Toby shouldn’t give up hope and start to believe that the poor were not entitled to a better existence. Dickens was also satirising those who people claimed to be friends of the poor – as long as they stayed in their place:

Oh, let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations.

This nineteenth century story still has something to offer us and gives us an apt lesson for the beginning of the New Year. Less a resolution than a philosophy of life.

Happy New Year!

Credit: Additional illustration from Wikipedia, with thanks.

 

 

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Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin

Book jacket

Old Penguin edition, now re-jacketed

I have recently been re-reading a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 -1797) by Claire Tomalin that I bought some years ago. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft is one of several literary biographies by Tomalin that I have read and enjoyed. This biography was first published in 1974 and I came across the revised and expanded 1992 paperback edition when I was working in a Birmingham bookshop. Of Tomalin’s other books, I can also recommend The story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens and Jane Austen: A Life; particularly Nelly’s story as there was a real prospect of her history being lost forever amongst the Dickens mythology. I still haven’t managed to get around to buying Claire Tomalin’s volume about the great man himself, despite having listened to her give an excellent talk about Dickens which fired my interest.

Moving away from the literary world to the stage was Mrs Jordan’s Profession, the history of actress Dorothy Jordan who became William, Duke of Clarence’s mistress. She bore him around ten children (I think) and they were a very happy family until the duke was forced to end his morganatic relationship and marry respectably. The future of the crown was at stake after the death of the Prince of Wales’ only daughter Charlotte in childbirth. Both this book and the biography of Nelly Ternan give you some idea of how precarious life on the stage was for women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Neither fish nor fowl, their place away from the theatrical world was ambiguous. Nelly Ternan and Dorothy Jordan had to live their lives around society’s expectations of ‘respectable’ women and both suffered because of these expectations.

Mary Wollstonecraft portrait

A Studious pose by J. Opie.

Mary Wollstonecraft similarly lived an unconventional life, though in her case it was for the reasons of her political and philosophical views. As a young woman, she became involved in the Dissenting circles that had grown up in Newington Green, at that time still a village outside the bustle of London. Her introduction was through Dr Richard Price, the minister from the Dissenting Chapel who was well known to radical intellectuals, reformers and scientists of the day. He corresponded internationally, with Condorcet in France and with Franklin and Jefferson in America so he was very well informed. Taken together with his local political and reforming connections, he was an ideal person to begin the process of stimulating Wollstonecraft’s yet unfocused intellect and energies.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a fascinating and complicated woman, far ahead of and often out of step with the social attitudes of her time. However, I’m not sure whether we would have been bosom pals judging by Claire Tomalin’s observations on Mary’s ‘sense of grievance’ (which I feel is never an attractive character trait). But perhaps this sense of grievance was the necessary spur that drove her onwards and paved the way for Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792 as a response to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.

Vindication

American edition

Mary Wollstonecraft certainly had reasons to question the way things were done: her father had tended towards drinking and violence to the extent that Mary had needed at times to protect her mother. Education for Mary and her two sisters was barely adequate whereas their brother Ned attended school and went into law. Ned was also to inherit a considerable portion of his grandfather’s estate but the girls received nothing. I wonder if feminist history would have been vastly different if Mary had not experienced the unfairness of societies attitudes from such an early age? But perhaps her enquiring and lively mind would have taken her in much the same direction whatever her personal circumstances.

This was yet another diversion from reading more of the unread books on The Landing, and I am even contemplating another re-read of the books I’ve mentioned above. At this rate, the day that I can safely say that the day I have read everything tucked away on the book shelves is still a long way away!

 

How are your challenges going, fellow readers?

Picture credits: Wikipedia, with thanks

 

 

Ladies who take tea: Cranford

Over the last wee while, I have been reading Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford aloud to the Bookworm (usually on a Sunday morning for some reason) and we are now roughly half way through. I can’t honestly be sure if I have ever read it before but I do recall watching a BBC series some years ago. After a bit of searching I tracked down the series from 1972 that I remember watching with mum (it was dad’s cue to go and do the washing up, as he wasn’t a fan). When we get through the novel, unless I can dig up a copy of that series from somewhere, we are going to watch a DVD of the newer series from 2007 that I missed first time around, .

Cranford

Dust jacket long since gone

My edition of Cranford is a modest little Thomas Nelson hardback volume (undated) which is somewhat shabby after previous handling. Judging by the flyleaf I am the fourth owner of the book, but who knows for sure (I haven’t written in it, though I often do put my name in books). Heber Thompson illustrated the book with black and white sketches of various scenes from the story. I have chosen to scan a couple for the blog post that relate to events in the early chapters (see below).  We were particularly fascinated by the manoeuvres of the sedan chair men, not having realised that it was customary for the chairs to be carried into the house. And did you know that it was possible (and perhaps expected) to give up your dimples at a certain age?

 

Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (1810-1865) married Rev William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister in 1832. She published most of her work under her married name including a collection of poems (Sketches Among the Poor) co-authored with her husband. The exceptions were early short pieces of fiction that were published under a pseudonym and Mary Barton (1848) her first novel which was initially published anonymously. Mrs Gaskell became very well-known for the first biography of Charlotte Bronte, which she wrote at Patrick Bronte’s request after his daughter’s death. She produced a highly sanitised version of Charlotte Bronte in the biography; I was reading a Guardian article by Tanya Gold who was quite scathing about the book. Not having read it, I can’t really comment though I have heard that criticism levelled at Gaskell before, who apparently began the mythologizing of Bronte’s life and work.

Cranford title page

Miss Matty looking a tad disapproving…

The Gaskell’s social circle included many from dissenting backgrounds and the couple were friends with reformers such as William and Mary Howitt and literary luminaries Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Elizabeth Gaskell’s concern for the welfare of the poor and interest in women’s lives comes over in her work. In Cranford (based on Knutsford in Cheshire where she spent her early years), Gaskell details the lives of the female population of the town.

All of the petty economies made by widows and spinsters in straightened circumstances and the eagerness with which a new diversion to the predictable daily round was received, are minutely and sympathetically explored. The book doesn’t have a plot as such, being a series of episodes in the lives of the genteel ladies of the small town. This provides plenty of opportunity for gentle humour, as social events and minor scandals take place. These are seen through the eyes of a young woman Mary Smith, who  lived in Cranford as a child and now comes to stay for extended visits.

There are several sad episodes and one rather touching one is where an elderly spinster, Miss Matty relents in her prohibition of her maid Martha having ‘followers’. Poor Miss Matty has been recently reminded of how she lost her chance of marriage, and is willing to allow Martha to have a young man provided he passes inspection,

“God forbid!” said she, in a low voice, “that I should grieve any young hearts”.  She spoke as if she were providing for some distant contingency and was rather startled when Martha made her ready eager answer. 

” Please, ma’am, there’s Jem Hearn, and he’s a joiner making three-and -sixpence a day, and six foot one in his stocking-feet, please, ma’am; and if you’ll ask about him to-morrow morning, every one will give him a character for steadiness; and he’ll be glad enough to come to-morrow night, I’ll be bound.”

Though Miss Matty was startled, she submitted to Fate and Love.

Perhaps catching up with Elizabeth Gaskell’s books on both page and screen will become another offshoot of my TBR Pile reading project. I am certain of having read Cousin Phillis (1864), and Wives and Daughters (1865) in the dim and distant past, though they have now mysteriously disappeared from The Landing Book Shelves. There are a couple more novels that I would like to read as well as the Charlotte Bronte biography.

The Sedan Chair

It doesn’t look very safe..

I’m not sure how many more Sundays worth of reading lie ahead of us (distractions are many as I’m sure you’re aware) but I enjoy ‘grown-up’ reading aloud so I’m not in a hurry to finish. It doesn’t seem that long since we were on A very hungry Caterpillar; the years have suddenly flown by!

Do you ever read aloud? And if so, what are your favourites?

A Christmas Classic: A Christmas Carol

I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas break and managing to fit in a spot of reading in between dealing with the left-over turkey and stuffing. Here on The Landing we’ve been revisiting the old favourites, one of which is DickensA Christmas Carol (1843). I’ve been reading this aloud (but not, alas, in a very Dickensian manner) over the last couple of evenings. Last year we all went to see Clive  Francis performing his one man show of A Christmas Carol at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum, Dublin. While I can’t hope to emulate that fine version of the story, I have enjoyed our own reading of Scrooge’s Christmas journey towards a kinder, more generous life. And I still find Mr Fezziwig’s jolly party to be one of my most favourite episodes in Scrooge’s history.

A Christmas Carol

Searle’s take on Dickens

Last Christmas I featured Dickens’ A Christmas Tree in my Advent series so it’s about time his most famous story got a look in here. This edition of A Christmas Carol contains illustrations by the wonderful Ronald Searle and was first published by Perpetua Books in 1960. I can’t remember when I acquired it, suffice to say it was several years ago when I was living in Birmingham. According to the title page, the book used to belong to a family from Moseley; now it seems to be quite settled on The Landing in Dublin.

I would like to give you more of Searle’s illustrations, but I’ll have to content myself with scanning in the back cover for the present. You’d be hard pressed to find a better impression of Bob and Tiny Tim anywhere in print. And how else should the back cover be decorated except with a picture of Tiny Tim ‘who did NOT die’ and to whom Scrooge ‘became a second father’?

Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit

A jolly way to end…

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas from The Landing Book Shelves! 

Advent Reading Challenge: updated Dickens

5th December

Mrs Scrooge: A Christmas Tale by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Posy Simmonds (Picador, 2009)

Mrs Scrooge

Mrs Scrooge and a rather jolly ghost

A fresh spin on a Christmas classic and a welcome addition to our ever-growing collection of seasonal literature. I try to buy something new each year and as far as possible I choose a book that will appeal to adults and children alike. This entertaining story certainly fits the bill and Posy Simmonds’ illustrations are a humorous delight.

I have quoted a few lines from the story below, but without, I hope spoiling the story for anyone new to this quirky tale. Mrs Scrooge is  a widow (her husband ‘doornail dead’) who lives with her cat Catchit and is an avowed enemy of consumerism and champion of the environment and of free range turkeys:

‘She hated waste, consumerism, Mrs Scrooge, foraged in the London parks for chestnuts, mushrooms, blackberries, ate leftovers, recycled, mended, passed on, purchased secondhand, turned the heating down and put on layers, walked everywhere, drank tap water, used public libraries, possessed a wind-up radio, switched off lights, lit candles (darkness is cheap and Mrs Scrooge liked it) and would not spend one penny on a plastic bag.’

See what happens when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future make their appearance. You will not be disappointed and may even shed a tear…

Advent Reading Challenge: Dickens

1st December

 

 

A Christmas Tree

Christmas with Dickens

A Christmas Tree

by Charles Dickens

Illustrated by HM Brock (Guild Publishing 1969, 1986). This little book has sat on the shelves for quite a while and was bought second hand in Birmingham.

What better way to begin our Advent Reading Challenge than with  a little bit of Dickens? Just for a change though, I have not chosen to feature the more obvious Christmas Carol.

Here is a Christmas tree covered in all manner of delights including, ‘tambourines, books, work-boxes, paint-boxes, sweetmeat boxes, peep-show boxes, and all kinds of boxes…humming-tops, needlecases, pen-wipers, smelling-bottles‘ and much more besides.

After describing the tree, the narrator goes on to ask what item ‘we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days’.

Now, if you were inspired by Charles Dickens,  there is a question for you. What do you remember best of all? Drop a comment in the box…

Fireside scene

Back cover – fireside tales

 

A Dickens of a Challenge: a little light relief

book cover featuring Dickens' characters

A little light Dickens…

My Reading Challenge has just taken a useful turn, as the members of my book club (all four of us) have decided to read Charles Dickens this month as a contribution towards the centenary year. This means that I can read a book for my book challenge and tackle the latest book group choice at the same time. I am rather pleased about it, though unfortunately I cannot claim credit for the book club’s good idea.

I ran through a mental list of the Dickens titles that I have not yet read (the dreaded TBR Pile) and I thought of choosing Hard Times. My rationale was that Dickens based the story upon his experiences of Preston (re-naming it Coketown), and as I have lived in that very city it seemed a good reason to choose the book. Although, as I retain a great fondness for the Lancashire city, this may not prove to be wise move on my part. I have metaphorically crossed swords before now with authors who portray my favourite places in a bad light. I wouldn’t want to fall out with Dickens at his time of life.

Finally, I have settled on a compilation volume that I have had on the shelf for some time, The Humour of Dickens edited by R.J. Cruikshank. I have read this volume before, so is not a TBR Pile candidate, but for sheer pleasure, it deserves a re-read especially in view of the brilliant illustrations it contains. The Humour of Dickens was published in 1952 (my copy has an inscription saying ‘Xmas 1953, from Mairi’) by the News Chronicle, London. The original price of the volume was a princely three shillings and sixpence. I did a quick out of print book search and discovered that copies of the Dickens anthology can now fetch up to around thirty pounds depending on the condition. You can also pay as little as sixty three pence plus postage, which would be more like my price. I can only hazard a guess that I probably paid a pound or so for my copy several years ago in (I think) Birmingham.

The collection has excerpts from fifteen of Dickens’ novels including Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, Hard Times and The Pickwick Papers. I mentioned the illustrations above; there are twenty of these by well-known contemporary (and by now highly collectible) illustrators. One of my all time favourites is Edward Ardizzone (remember the Tim stories?) whose frontispiece drawing of ‘Dinner at the Veneerings’ endows the dinner party guests with more charm than they probably deserve. Other great cartoon artists represented in the collection regularly featured in the newspapers of the time: Horner of the News Chronicle, Low of the Daily Herald and Giles of the Daily Express to name but three. All are different in style but equally vivid in their interpretation of Dickens’ characters.    

I shall be in the right mindset to tackle Dickens since I am reading David Lodge’s novel about HG Wells, A Man of Parts at present. After rubbing shoulders with HG, Henry James and Edith Nesbit I shall slide back into Dickens quite smoothly I think. Apart from seasonal re-reading of A Christmas Carol it must be a long time since I have read any of Dickens novels. I was all prepared to take the plunge again after our book group had an outing last year to hear Claire Tomalin speaking about her Dickens biography. That plan fell by the wayside (until now), along with the intention of reading said biography. Dickens is still on my ‘to read’ list as I have previously very much enjoyed Claire Tomalin’s books.

In the meantime, Reading Challenge satisfied, I will be content with Charles Dickens’ funny bits….