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Cornflower, I can't believe it ... you've never read Dickens! You must do something about this straight away. You would love Dickens! And if you escaped him at school, (but how?) you will love him all the more.

Linda Gillard

If you read none of the others, please read "A Christmas Carol". It has the best opening of any book I know in English.

Christine Harding

Oh, you should read Dickens. Please, give him a try.I am sure you would enjoy him. Try Great Expectations, which isn't too long, and doesn't have too many sub-plots, and is a damn fine yarn, with excellent portrayals of people and relationships. Or read his account of his trip to America, which is wonderful. But whatever you do, don't read The Old Curiosity Shop, because it's dreadful, and Little Nell is the heroine I hate the most...


Or does it put you off when people tell you that will love him?

adele geras

I can only join the chorus. Great Expectations. A Christmas Carol. And Dombey and Son....I am sure, pretty sure anyway, that he'll appeal to you. He isn't UNIVERSALLY popular of course, but I think he's a COrnflowerish sort of writer.


You cannot be serious! Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield - these are among my very favourite books. Dickens is absolutely wonderful but I know some people just can't get on with him. Whatever you do, don't start with The Pickwick Papers , as it would probably put you off for ever.

Dark Puss

Why can't Cornflower be serious? I've read a number of Dickens' books (many of which are mentioned above) and I've found all of them hard going and I'm not inclined to work my way through any more of them at the moment. I think he adapts very well however and have enjoyed greatly recent version of, for example, Bleak House.

Ah well, you all know I'm not a proper reader ...

Susan in TX

I think it's not so much "you've never read Dickens?!?" as "how did you get through school without being made to read Dickens?" To me, that's the bigger surprise. Dickens is required reading in nearly every American high school, so I guess we just assume he would be required in the UK as well. It would like getting through school without having to read Mark Twain or Shakespeare. (That said, I've noticed around the blogosphere that many UK readers read To Kill a Mockingbird while in school, and that was one I didn't get to until I was an adult, but I'm starting to see it on more and more "required lists" over here.)
At any rate, I agree that A Christmas Carol or Great Expectations would be good starting lengths with Dickens, although I did love David Copperfield. Bleak House, as Dark Puss pointed out made a great adaptation, but I wouldn't start with the book form.

Dark Puss

Hi Susan, I was at School in Edinburgh at the same time as Cornflower and I don't remember Dickens being on our reading list; I'm sure she'll comment and she was a much more conscientious reader of set books than I was!


I have recently read the very excellent Claire Tomlin biography of Dickens and this has inspired me to read my first novel. I think it's going to be David Copperfield. I, too, was educated in Scotland and Dickens was not on the reading list.

Linda Gillard

Are Scots pupils required to read Sir Walter Scott for a Victorian novelist? Presumably they don't ignore Victorian novels altogether?

Dark Puss

No idea about Scott in the last 30 years in Scottish schools. I do remember going on a school trip to his house, Abbotsford, but I'm not sure we read much of his work, though Heart of Midlothian would have been appropriate. I honestly cannot remember reading anything Victorian other than poetry, Cornflower will certainly have a much better recollection (and can explain why I'm so vague about set books too!)

Linda Gillard

The only things that adapt well to TV & film are his characters (gifts to actors) & his plots. The essential Dickens is IMHO his narrative style & structure. The former doesn't translate to tv/film and the latter is sometimes ignored. (The re-ordering of one of the serialised BLEAK HOUSEs, revealing later bits of plot early on, incensed me.) These adaptations may make good TV and send people back to the books (hooray!) but they aren't Dickens. Dickens is a voice. Radio adaptations with an authorial voice Narrator are closer.

Dark Puss

I'm sure that is a completely valid point of view Linda, but as I like his plots and (some) of his characters more than I like his narrative style, that explains my preference I think. Perhaps it would have better for me to have said "Dickens inspired" adaptions. I'm in no position to argue with you about voice until I have made some effort to understand what is meant by it.

David Nolan (dsc73277)

Barbara, don't start with Pickwick is exactly what I was thinking. It has always defeated me.


Yes Scots have to read Scott - poetry and all ;)

My Father adored Dickens so of course I had to decide he was not for me just to annoy him. Lets have a Dickens for a monthly book group read. Great Expectations would be fine.


No offence intended, as you must know. I just wondered how Cornflower had managed to get through school without reading at least some Dickens.

Dark Puss

Hello Barbara, I never for one second thought it would be taken for offence! You know I write a little spikily sometimes. I don't remember reading any Dickens, Austen, Hardy, Scott, Bronte or indeed any of a whole host of great British writers. Shakespear I do remember and T Williams and A Miller (all with pleasure) and a whole bunch of C19 and C20 British poets. I read (during Higher English classes) Turgenyev, Colette, Nin, Bellow, Grass and a host of other C20 European writers. I still got an "A" grade :-)

Dark Puss

Hello Sandy, is that recent? I never read any Scott at School (perhaps one poem) in the mid 1970's - but I only studied English to Higher level. Very happy to support your CBG suggestion especially as it is one of the Books by Dickens I have not read.


Hi Dark Puss. Recent is a relative term so I am tempted, tempted. Honesty makes me confess the it was the late 60's when I read such inspiring lines as
'"Charge Chester, Charge, On Sanley, on."
were the last words of Marmion.'

Despite this risible couplet, I did enjoy 'Marmion' & 'The Lady of the Lake' and read the Waverley Novels enjoying the settings more than the plots, I think.

Dark Puss

Great poetry indeed! When my mother moved to Edinburgh in the 1950's someone at the University suggested that she might read Heart of Midlothian because of the setting. It's the only Scott novel I have read and I'd agree that the setting wins over the plot.


I am another 70's educated Scot who did not have to read Dickens or Scott in school. We had George Mackay Brown forced upon us instead.

I have never read any Dickens either. I tried Great Expectations but didn't finish it.It just seemed so convoluted and dense.

For all that, I am an avid reader and can't understand those who don't read fiction.


I had to read Dickens at school and didn't get on with him at all. But just recently a friend of mine suggested that Dickens on audio book was a very different experience. I listened to Great Expectations read by the incomparable Martin Jarvis and thoroughly enjoyed it - and I really didn't expect to!

Linda Gillard

"Voice" is what every editor is looking for and probably what you like most about your favourite authors. It's what makes them different from each other and it's to do with rhythm and vocabulary. With a good author the voice will be there from para. 1 - distinctive, engaging, possibly unique.

Examples of very distinctive "voices" that are there from the opening line are anything by Wodehouse, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier & The Collector - John Fowles (a particularly brilliant example.)

Here's another opener... "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

That must be one of the longest, most beautifully & skilfully written sentences in English literature and it's "voice" - the bit that would get left out of the BBC adaptation of TALE OF TWO CITIES. ;-)

Linda Gillard

I defy anyone not to enjoy Anton Lesser's abridged reading of DAVID COPPERFIELD for Naxos. His Micawber is one of the funniest things I've ever heard and his female characterisations are pearls beyond price.

Dark Puss

Linda, thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

Dark Puss

Gosh, I'd forgotten about Mackay Brown!

Linda Gillard

You're very welcome. "Voice", though hard to define, is something I'm passionate about in writing. It's also something I fear gets "homogenised" out of writers by workshops, classes, writing groups and editorial pressure to be the next Ian Rankin/JKR/Stephenie Meyer. I don't doubt for one moment that a 21stC editor would have told Dickens that the above was far too long for an opening sentence. ;-)

B R Wombat

My tiny contribution to this is that no one has mentioned Our Mutual Friend which I read last winter (as if it isn't still winter!) and enjoyed tremendously. It too has a splendid opening sentence.


How could we forget "Consider the Lilies'? Talk about putting kids off reading!?! Maybe I should try it again as an adult, to be generous and kind, because I now know the angst of even trying to write a book. Sorry George.


I couldn't agree more. Great Expectations is my favourite Dickens and I think it's the perfect first Dickens. Along with A Christmas Carol as Linda recommended.

Linda Gillard

One more quick comment, then I'll leave you in peace! "Voice" is very often connected to, even created by punctuation. (The long Dickens sentence above is only possible because of his use of punctuation.) I spend an inordinate amount of time punctuating my novels because it makes such a difference to "voice". When Oscar Wilde said, "This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again", the comment might not have been entirely facetious.


I attended high school in California in the 1980’s and never had to read any Dickens for English Class either. I was always afraid of him; figured his books would be difficult. Then I read Martin Chuzzlewit a few years ago and adored it…seven Dickens novels later and I am still enjoying his books.

Julie Fredericksen

For the longest time, the students at Columbus High School read Moby Dick as juniors and A Tale of Two Cities as seniors. But there was a new teacher in senior year and we read ... Lord of the Flies. So I did "escape" reading Dickens in school. But I made up for it with David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities (on my own) and Great Expectations (for a college class).

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