1 April 2023 Susannah

Returning to Dickens

Returning to Dickens

Sometimes I read a book which makes me very jealous and leaves me thinking “Oh, if only I’d written that book!”

One such book was What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan. It is one of the best books ever written about the genius of Jane Austen’s fiction. But now, Professor Mullan has done it again, with The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist. I wish I’d written that book too. His prose is lucid and convincing, his knowledge of Dickens is phenomenal, and he made me see the great Boz’s works in new and fascinating ways.

Reading this book made me want to return to Dickens, as it is quite some years since I read his works. The very best way to experience Dickens is to listen to his books on audio – he wrote with the aim of his books being read aloud, and they are superb on audio when read by Martin Jarvis, Miriam Margolyes, Simon Callow or Juliet Stevenson. I think I might begin with Dombey and Son, which I last read as a student at the University of Edinburgh.

You may enjoy this video of John Mullan in conversation with Patrick Millikin of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore discussing this book.

Why not read John Mullan’s brilliant book yourself, and then join me in a Dickens pilgrimage? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Comments (6)

  1. Bleak House is the best Dickens book for me. A tale of extreme wealth and extreme poverty and the characters are so clearly defined plus his genius for names. Lord and Lady Deadlock !
    Intertwined is his dislike of the legal profession. Just a brilliant book

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also think it is his greatest novel. The way he controls all those various plot strands and groups of characters, then draws them all together by the end, showing how they are linked, is so masterly. It’s a brilliant novel and John Mullan’s excellent book made me appreciate it even more.

  2. A friend bought me this and I devoured it. I’m a huge fan of John Sutherland’s work and John Mullan is taking over from where his colleague left off (at least I hope he hasn’t left off just yet?!). I’ve read all of Dickens including his more peripheral work, but I had never realised before this book that he had a smell obsession…and more besides. I also have this book to hand in my workshops for a few choice quotes and examples pointed out by John. This book is such a great resource for booklovers/writers in general, not just Dickens fans.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t it a wonderful book. I loved the way he chose unusual themes and then showed how they had been portrayed in the different novels. John Mullan is so fabulous!
      I also love John Sutherland and, like you, hope he produces more.

  3. John Power

    Fabulous interview, thanks! John Mullan used to speak at the Jane Austen Festival every year in Bath and was superb. He played to the audience there, so personally, this interview suits me a little better. I spoke with him a few times in Bath and liked him. He may well be a tough professor, but I do not know. Anyway, thanks especially for this.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks to you, John, for giving me your copy of the book. I SO enjoyed it.
      I am currently in Japan, but will be in touch when I get home.

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