Widdy Warnings: The Death of the Author and Men of Business
The first monthly part leaves Mr Jasper and the reader “to ponder on the instalment” we’ve had of Mr Sapsea’s wisdom, an instalment containing his shaped poem (I’m convinced Pete), in eulogy for his wife (or election poster for himself, lovely suggestion Sven). This month Stony Durdles takes up the mantle: “Durdles was making his reflections here when you came up, sir, surrounded by his works, like a popular Author”. Durdles’ artistry comprises the gravestones which he has professionally inscribed, continuing the infusion of death Ben drew out so wonderfully from instalment 1. I can’t help being put in mind of those pictures of Dickens, particularly popular just after his death, of the ‘Author Surrounded by his Works’, the unfinished Dickens Dream by Buss is the most famous of these. This makes me wonder about the extent of the differences between our reading of this novel in the certainty that Dickens dies before completing it (no spoiler intended), and the readings of the first serial readers.
Set against the deathly hallows is the unfolding plot of the Edwin/Rosa engagement. The star of this instalment for me is Mr Grewgious. The scene he has with Rosa might remind Tale of Two Cities fans of the early meeting between Mr Lorry and Lucie (another layering of the bedrock for regular Dickens readers – great exchange last week on this). I love Dickens’s tender hearted bachelors of business, and the way that he uses such figures to applaud different lives. While Mr Lorry felt he was a bachelor from his cradle, Mr Grewgious says “young ways were never my ways. I was the only offspring of parents far advanced in life, and I half believe I was born advanced in life myself.” Interesting! Thoughts welcome on those figures common in Dickens who feel from birth that their destiny is not a romantic one.
Great description too of Grewgious’ hair, “it was so unlike hair, that it must have been a wig, but for the stupendous improbability of anybody’s voluntarily sporting such a head”. Perhaps he might like Oldridge’s Balm of Columbia, featured in one of the many ads for this month. Working through the advertiser shows the close correlation between goods and services advertised and the key objects and plots of the unfolding novel. The inner face of the wrapper promotes a brand of piano-forte (at the centre of the instalment’s main drama with Rosa’s fainting under Jasper’s gaze), and the first inside page headlines apparel from Jay’s mourning warehouse. Further on enterprising advertisers make a direct connection to the novel, as the ‘Nun’s House’ (another major site of this month’s action) is used to promote a Ladies College in Rochester. More significant connections here for us to tease out I’m sure.
Sorry too long a post – and I’ve not even mentioned the Landlesses . . . A challenge of the monthly reading and blogging vs weekly is the wealth of gems worthy of comment, but at least we have a month to discuss!