Classics Circuit: Austen vs Dickens


Jane Austen. Charles Dickens. Two authors I hadn’t ever really read before– half of Pride and Prejudice and a bad run at Great Expectations in high school don’t really count. Neither does, I think, A Christmas Carol, the only Dickens I’ve ever fully read. It’s so different from his other books that it’s not a “proper” Dickens experience, at least in my mind. So! I looked forward to finally finishing a book by each author.

Well, er, that didn’t exactly work out. I finished my Austen book, Northanger Abbey, but I’m only 7% into my Dickens book, The Pickwick Papers. I guess I should have checked lengths of the books before I picked them– I went with Northanger because people said it was funny, and I picked Pickwick for the same reason. But Northanger is WAY shorter than Pickwick, and Pickwick is so large it’s actually a chunkster! And here I was thinking I could finish it in two days. Yeah, er, no.

That was a boo-boo. But don’t despair! I’ve still got Northanger done and I can at least talk about the first 7% of Pickwick, and so here’s my post.

We would totally have been BFFs, I just know it.

Northanger Abbey

Okay, so I don’t know what was up with me not finishing P&P, but I just wasn’t into it back then (like over a year ago, I think). Northanger, though: I was totally into Northanger. I love it when authors get all snarky and sarcastic and make fun of each other, and I especially love it when they manage to do all that and yet still have likable characters and a coherent plot. Northanger is fun because it’s Austen being smart-alecky and because the characters are all so adorable.

Catherine and Mr Tilney? omg, so cute. Mr. and Mrs Allen? Adorable old(er) people! Captain Tilney and Isabella Thorpe? …okay, less cute. But basically everyone else, even General Tilney (who desperately needs to get remarried, by the way), were lovable in some way, which made reading Northanger Abbey an extremely enjoyable experience.

Also, the snark. I love the snark. I love how Austen deliberately made Catherine almost the exact opposite of the then-conventional romantic heroines. It made things so much more interesting! I mean, Catherine loved DIRT when she was younger! When was the last time you read about a heroine rolling around in the mud, even during her childhood?

I also love how Austen would set up events that, in a conventional romance, would mean heartbreak and tears for hero and heroine for at least three chapters– and then she’d cut it off at the knees. “Oh, you think it’s going to happen like this, do you?” she’d sneer. “Well, it’s really going to happen like THIS!” And then I’d laugh so hard that breathing became difficult for a while afterwards.

One of the more interesting rants Austen went on in Northanger was about the fact that the literati didn’t like “novels,” that they thought “novels” were trashy and if they read them they immediately disparaged them afterwards. Saying “oh it’s only a novel,” and the like. (“Written by some WOMAN.” Jane Austen, please marry me.) I equated that to how the literati think of what we call “genre novels,” where anything but straight up fiction is uncouth and only losers read vampire novels (or novels by women about “womanish things”). Interesting how things haven’t changed much from Austen’s time, eh?

So basically, in conclusion, I love Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey rocks, and I really want to read The Mysteries of Udolpho now.

"Fear me, schoolchildren (and Anastasia Finch)."

The Pickwick Papers

Like Fleur, I wanted to read The Pickwick Papers mostly because of Little Women. Also because I was told it was Dickens’ funniest book– but mostly because of Little Women, actually.

We got off to a rocky start, Pickwick and I. I’ll admit to being prejudiced against Dickens from unhappy English class experiences in high school, and I’ll admit to even being somewhat afraid of actually trying to finish one of his books. They’re normally depressing, his books, and I don’t like being depressed while I read, usually. But he also deliberately provokes me with his writing style. Compared to, say, Jane Austen’s writing, Dickens’ is a much tougher steak to chew. While I don’t entirely mind working to understand a book (looking at you, Mr Joyce), I do mind not understanding what the hell just happened in a scene because I couldn’t parse the sentences.

Turns out that, like Joyce, I just had to stick with it to be able to understand it. (Thanks for that tip, Jo M.!) By the time I reached chapter two I was going strong and really getting into the story. I even laughed out loud at one point in chapter three! Charles Dickens! Made me laugh out loud! Never thought I’d ever type those words, to be honest.

While I’m only 7% (somewhere in chapter four, I think) into what is, for me, a very long book, I think as long as I keep a steady pace I can make it through to the end. I’m interested in seeing what’s going to happen with the Pickwicks’ stranger (who is definitely a rascal), and more of the Pickwicks’ adventures. I just hope I have the stamina.

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13 thoughts on “Classics Circuit: Austen vs Dickens”

  1. Well, I am impressed first of all that you attempted to post about both authors — I’ve read all of Austen so I’m sticking with Dickens, but good for you! And I still haven’t tackled Pickwick, something about it just doesn’t appeal to me. I tend to prefer his later novels though I do love Oliver Twist. I agree that he takes sticking with, especially later on when the novels get really complex and there are tons of characters thrown at the reader in the beginning — you begin to wonder what all these people have to do with one another, which can be frustrating. But it all comes together in the end, and it’s so worth it.

    1. I’ve decided to compare Dickens to, like, a weird vegetable. Maybe the first time you try it you don’t like the way it tastes, but if you keep eating it at dinner every night eventually you get used to it and might even start to like it. Like literary Stockholm syndrome!

  2. I did a report on The Pickwick Papers in high school. I chose it because it was his first book I think…? And it’s definitely funnier than the rest of his books. But it’s also just about a bunch of men with Peter Pan complexes, so, meh.

    1. Yeah, I can see myself becoming annoyed with the Pickwicks after 900 pages of their antics. But I think the mysterious con man/stranger whatsit might keep things from getting TOO repetitive…I hope.

  3. I am reading PICKWICK for the tour and I’ve been reading for a month and only am at page 450 out of 800 pages, so don’t feel bad about not finishing it in two days! lol I am also finding it funny and it also took me a LONG TIME to get into it and get to the point that I want to pick it up. Those first pages were rough going, just because I had to adjust to Dicken’s writing, etc. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading NA. I need to read that and Mansfield Park and I’ll have read all the main Jane Austen books!

    1. Oh yay! Now I don’t feel like such a loser for only have one book done. 😀

      (Also I’m looking forward to meeting you at BEA!)

  4. These are the two I signed up for! I just loved, loved, loved Northanger Abbey!!! But Pickwick Papers definitely has its moments–its good moments.

    1. Oh, neat! I’m glad you like Northanger Abbey as well, and that Pickwick Papers went so well for you. 😀 I look forward to seeing your post!

  5. Yes, I completely loved Austen’s sarcasm. She has a way with making fun of people/things while sounding unbelievably smart. LOL.

    And, yes, I did remember the March sisters’ Pick Papers-inspired newsletters. I haven’t read Little Women in years, so this post makes me want to reread Little Women and dip into Pickwick Papers. 🙂

    1. I think rereading Little Women might inspire me to keep up with Pickwick. After writing this post I haven’t even LOOKED at Pickwick, so I think I need something to convince me to keep going.

  6. I’m so glad I could help! I, too, started out a Dickens-hater (I blame Oliver Twist) but then was converted to a Dickens-lover when Tale of Two Cities was assigned when I was a senior. Can’t wait to hear the rest of your thoughts on Pickwick!

    And if you want another funny Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby is HILARIOUS!

    1. Is it really? And here I was thinking it was one of Dickens’ “oh how I will make them cry” sort of books. I tried watching the 2002 movie a while ago, and while the first bit was funny by the time Smike showed up I was getting premonitions of something horribly depressing happening in the rest of the story. I’m a coward when it comes to depressing, so I never did finish the movie.

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