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Friday, October 21, 2011

On Craft And The Last Words Of Charles Dickens

I find a sort of comfort in Charles Dickens novels~ like I'm slipping into the world of a storyteller in a way that's so effortless, I hardly remember I'm reading.

The inspiration for this post came from our early snow a couple of weekends ago (see THIS post for photos), when we went sledding, had hot chocolate, watched a holiday video (or three) and lit a pine-scented candle in our candle holder that looks like the one that dude in the nightcap held in The Night Before Christmas:

Because I’m sentimental like that.

Of course, my eyes drifted to our bookshelf, where we have a red-covered copy of Christmas Books by Charles Dickens. That got me thinking about good ol' C.D.

Now, if this were back in the 80s, I would have shuffled over to our set of Encyclopedia Britannicas (my younger readers are thinking, “what?”) and found…well, not too much about one of my favorite authors.

But a quick internet search gave me more information than I could ever hope to read, including the following statements (thanks to Wikipedia):

-Dickens' work has been highly praised for its realism, comedy, mastery of prose, unique personalities and concern for social reform by writers such as Leo Tolstoy, George Gissing and G.K. Chesterton.

-Others, such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf, have criticised it for sentimentality and implausibility (which, by the way, are two things that Jess likes).

-Dickens loved the style of the 18th century picturesque or Gothic romance novels, although it had already become a target for parody.

-Dickensian characters—especially their typically whimsical names—are among the most memorable in English literature. Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, The Artful Dodger, Pip, Miss Havisham, David Copperfield, Abel Magwitch, Daniel Quilp, Samuel Pickwick, Wackford Squeers, and Uriah Heep are just a few gems.

More than anything, his last words are what struck me and stuck to my heart.

-Dickens's last words, as reported in his obituary in The Times were alleged to have been:

Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.

Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air. For writers studying craft, there are always new techniques to learn and rules to memorize. Rules of grammar, rules of plot and structure, suggestions, things to employ, things to avoid…it becomes a little overwhelming (though I will say that I'm a big believer in “you’ve got to know the rules before you can properly break them”).

I find value in books on the craft of writing, but I find inspiration in the last words of Charles Dickens.

..the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.

Thank you, Sir, and may you rest in peace :)


  1. A big thank you to CD, and to you Jess, for posting it. I feel that same breath of fresh air.


  2. You forgot Sydney Carton! Love me some Dickens.

  3. This is a wonderful post, even to someone who isn't a huge Dickens fan. Very inspiring.

  4. I get overwhelmed by all the advice, too. These were great words to read!

    By the way, I hope everyone at your house is feeling better.

  5. That gave me chills, Jess. Thanks for sharing that. We've had warmer than normal weather and I'm so ready to get into the holiday mood. Loved your snow pics.

  6. Inspiring last words. I love Dickens too, but I hadn't heard that before.

  7. I love the way a Dicken's story pulls you completely into its world. The language is delicious as well.

  8. Hard Times is probably one of my favorite novels. Thanks for this :)

  9. Very wise words from a very wonderful author. Great post Jess and thanks for the nice links.

  10. I think I just got an across the centuries crush on Charles.

  11. So interesting, makes me want to reread Dickens. It's been a loooong time!

  12. Those are some amazing last words, and you're right, great inspiration -- one of those rules to come back to at those times you're not sure what to do.

  13. Jess, this really touched me. Recently, that is exactly how I have felt. Overwhelmed. Reading about the "rules" on writing, not just publishing a book, even rules with our blogs. I know there is a place for these standards and guidelines & I do appreciate all the information but sometimes it makes me feel boxed in. I love CD's last words. I guess it is about finding the line in-between. Thank you for sharing!

  14. And I thought my wife was a holiday nut. Egg Nog in your fridge? Already?!?

    Mr. Dicken's words ring so true!

  15. awwww! that's one hard fast rule to adhere to for sure!

  16. This was beautifully written. Thank you for this. So glad I found your blog and can't wait to see what you share in the future.

  17. I recently re-read A Tale of Two Cities. It was free on the internet. Isn't the internet great?

  18. I love Charles Dickens too! I don't think there will ever be a novel that compares with 'A Christmas Carol'. One my favs would have to be 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

  19. Awesome! I never knew those were his last words. How inspiring.

  20. What an awesome quote. And I hear you about how overwhelming everything can get. No wonder it takes most of us a few books to get it right. :D


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