By David E. Sharp
Originally posted July 30, 2019
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES DICKENS
DS: It’s time for another fake interview with a deceased author. Today, from his grave in Poet’s Corner, we have the inimitable Charles Dickens. Mr. Dickens, you are known for painting the modern picture of Victorian England, creating larger than life characters that still capture our imagination today, and publishing your stories a chapter at a time in serialized formats. Thank you for being here today.
CD: We are so very ‘umble.
To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it.
DS: Charles, you had a difficult start in life. Your father went to Debtor’s prison, and you had to stop school and work in a factory at the age of twelve.
CD: I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously, and unintentionally, the scantiness of my resources and the difficulty of my life… I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a vagabond.
DS: Is it fair to say you were a reader at a young age?
CD: Little Red Riding Hood was my first love. It is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected. Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time.
DS: Agreed. A love of writing naturally follows a love of reading. In spite of your limited education, you went on to write multiple novels, short stories, and kept a journal for twenty years.
CD: I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.
DS: You were diligent. I must admit, I struggle to focus on one idea at a time.
CD: An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself. Curiosity is and has been from the creation of the world, a master-passion. To awaken it, to gratify it by slight degrees, and yet leave something always in suspense, is to establish the surest hold that can be had.
DS: So, perhaps carving out some time to muse on our ideas and let our stories have a chance to tell themselves to us is the best first step.
CD: The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.
DS: But you also mentioned punctuality and diligence. Can you speak more to that in the life of a writer?
CD: Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him. Rattle me out of bed early, set me going, give me as short a time as you like to bolt my meals in, and keep me at it.
DS: And I’m sure your chapter by chapter deadlines didn’t hurt either. Well, you were prolific! But it’s one thing to write a lot. It’s another to create captivating stories and memorable characters.
CD: There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.
DS: Yes, there are. You are known for your characters. How do you set about inventing a human being?
CD: A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. The mysteries of this machine called man! Oh, the little that unhinges it, poor creatures that we are!
DS: Some of your characters are imperfect creatures, indeed. How would you describe their emotional journeys?
CD: Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. The broken heart. You think you will die, but you just keep living, day after day after terrible day. But there is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair. The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.
DS: And you were quite an advocate of children in your day. Due in no small part to your time working in a factory.
CD: In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to, but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high.
DS: You were also known for your dastardly villains. Shall we talk about those?
CD: If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.
DS: How do you make a good villain?
CD: Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!
DS: I believe Shakespeare said something similar. So villains may not be villains in their own eyes. How do they become villains?
CD: We forge the chains we wear in life. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.
DS: As for your heroic characters, they are often ordinary people with the power to form strong bonds with one another.
CD: A loving heart is the truest wisdom. Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we’d give blood.
DS: Excellent. Do you have any other words of wisdom to share with our community of writers?
CD: Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism, are all very good words for the lips.
DS: Uh… Yeah, I guess they are. Well, thank you so much for being here.
CD: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.