I had a funny self-imposed reading assignment yesterday which was to reread Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood for inspiration so as to write a new ending for a short story that has been accepted by Nick Mamatas for publication in Clarkesworld Magazine.
(I had not written a short story for many many years, and then I wrote one that had been on my mind for a while and that's like a kind of demented alternate-universe Light Reading post; I didn't know quite what to do with it, and then as if by magic Nick asked me if I had anything to submit to this very cool new magazine thingie and it was a miraculous reprieve from anxiety. By the way, do click on the Clarkesworld site and read the hilarious list of story ideas that are unlikely to lead to acceptances--however I feel the need to observe here that the sequel to Dynamite No. 1 does in fact feature a talking cat, the mechanics of its speech though have yet to be determined--it may be better to make it psychic conversation, otherwise there is the voicebox problem of mechanical implausibility.)
I had a kind of obsession with Drood when I was in college, I wrote a long essay on it & if I still had the right software on my computer I would right now be pasting in huge long crazy quotations from the critics who became obsessed with the futile struggle to "decode" the clues in Dickens' novel and decipher his intended ending. But I do not have the right software, and in any case it will be more of a treat to indulge in one or twoof the book's finer passages. (I've been tearing my hair out on the new story ending, but just now finished something I'm reasonably happy with; I will sleep on it and see how it looks in the morning, and then with any luck send it off.)
Even aside from its being unfinished, this novel's made on a more modest scale than the really great ones (my personal favorites, I think, are David Copperfield--that's the number-one favorite--and Our Mutual Friend after that and then Bleak House and Little Dorrit tied for third place, but I love almost all of his novels so much that it is impossible to sort them out, except that Hard Times and Nicholas Nickleby are the two that don't really stir me and there are a few other less good ones too like--dare I say it?--Martin Chuzzlewit and Barnaby Rudge; interesting, but not as compelling. And I adore The Old Curiosity Shop BTW). But it has some amazing stuff in it, especially the voices of these minor characters (Mr. Sapsea, Durdles and the Deputy, the Billickin). Here is Mrs. Billickin the landlady:
"Five-and-forty shillings per week by the month certain at the time of year, . . . is only reasonable to both parties. It is not Bond Street nor yet St. James's Palace; but it is not pretended that it is. Neither is it attempted to be denied--for why should it?--that the Arching leads to a mews. Mewses must exist. Respecting attendance; two is kep', at liberal wages. Words has arisen as to tradesmen, but dirty shoes on fresh hearth-stoning was attributable, and no wish for a commission on your orders. Coals is either by the fire, or per the scuttle." She emphasised the prepositions as marking a subtle but immense difference. "Dogs is not viewed with faviour. Besides litter, they gets stole, and sharing suspicions is apt to creep in, and unpleasantness takes place."
I especially love Durdles and the Deputy, and here is a link to chapter five which has a particularly appealing interaction of theirs (format slightly eccentric, sorry).
There is this surreal hallucinatory more-than-usually-three-dimensional quality to Dickens' prose that I am completely addicted to, I had forgotten how much I love it; it's almost as if certain phrases are printed in a different color, they so clearly jump off the page at you.