is more than deeds.
It is an attitude,
an expression, a look, a touch.
It is anything that lifts another person.
The books reviewed today could all be described as works on kindness, the greatest of virtues, all others stem from there. Two of the great writers were helped by the kindness of others, and all wrote about kindness as a deciding factor in achieving success in life. They are role models for all of us, don’t you agree?
1812 – 1870
It is acknowledged that Dickens was the greatest English writer, the most ingenious one, in a class of his own. His books seem not to have been plotted by the writer but traversed with his gift of observation and inspiration, as physically present and psychologically unfathomable as possible to engage his genius. He leads his reader down murky alleyways, missleading avenues, often strange and vivid, a world of dreamscape, so compelling that it isn’t easy to put it down. In one of his books, the heroine is already dead, but as the story was first published in instalments, in New Year’s harbour crowds gathered awaiting the arrival of the ship, and calling anxiously to the crew, “Is Little Nell still alive?”
Little Nell and her grandfather from “The Old Curiosity Shop”
When we open one of his formidable tomes, the sense of excitement and expectation, of dynamism and pulsating reality, is overwhelming. His stories are ultimately about the fate of the hero but are more truly dependent upon discovering, one step at a time, the destination of his journey. Dickens’ “biographical” approach to writing is a reason why his supporting characters, who contribute so much to the pleasure of reading his stories, are so boldly drawn and might be described not as beings but as experiences. All of which provide the enduring popularity of all his books. Several have been adapted for film and television.
David Copperfield and Mr Micawber
“Of all my books, I like this the best”
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
This is how this wonderful story begins, a novel so filled with character, inventions, suspense, and inspired retelling that one finishes it with overwhelming regret. The turning of the last page closes the book on such a world that one immediately feels impoverished. This book is my favourite too.
David Copperfield and Peggotty
Dickens famously called Copperfield the “favourite child” of all his literary legacy, and its autobiographical frame goes some way towards explaining why. The eighth of his novels to be written, it is the first one to be narrated in the first person, and, from the opening words, the direct address of the protagonist is captivating. The coming-of-age tale that David relates has many points of contact with Dickens’ own experiences as the son of a debtor, as an adolescent employee in a factory, as a parliamentary reporter, and, lastly, as a successful novelist.
Mr Dick, David Copperfield and Betsey Trotwood
The book is crammed with enough memorable characters to sustain the careers of half a dozen storytellers. The cast includes – to mention only a few – David’s imperious aunt, Betsey Trotwood, who comes to his rescue with an asperity as sharp as her magnanimity is deep; Aunt Betsey’s simple-minded protege and muse, Mr Dick; the improvident, incorrigibly optimistic, and unabashedly grandiloquent Mr Micawber; the charming, caddish seducer Steerforth; the unforgivable, unforgettably named Uriah Heep, whose unctuous servility cannot mask his evil intent; and David’s childhood housekeeper and lifelong friend and ally, the stalwart Peggotty, whose caring nature reflects the unaffected nobility of her family of Yarmouth fishermen. Through all the plotting and sub-plotting, the overriding sentiment of Dickensian fiction – that there are kindness and goodness in the world that underpins everything; the facades of wealth and privilege, the social currency of fashion, even when we least expect it – carries the hero of this novel towards the satisfaction of a happy ending.
You shouldn’t read only one Dickens, but if you do, make it David Copperfield.
An extract from David Copperfield:
“My mother was sitting by the fire, but poorly in health, when lifting her eyes to the window opposite, she saw a strange lady coming up the garden. My mother had a sure foreboding at the second glance, that it was Miss Betsey. The setting sun was glowing on the strange lady, over the garden fence, and she came walking up to the door with a fell rigidity of figure and composure of countenance that could have belonged to nobody else.
When she reached the house, she gave another proof of her identity. My father had often hinted that she seldom conducted herself like any ordinary Christian, and now, instead of ringing the bell, she came and looked in at that identical window, pressing the end of her nose against the glass to that extent, that my poor dear mother used to say it became perfectly flat and white in a moment. She gave my mother such a turn, that I have always been convinced I am indebted to Miss Betsey for having been born on a Friday.
My mother had left her chair in her agitation, and gone behind it in the corner. Miss Betsey, looking round the room, slowly and inquiringly, began on the other side, carried her eyes on, like a Saracen’s Head in a Dutch clock, until they reached my mother. Then she made a frown and a gesture to my mother, like one who was accustomed to being obeyed, to come and open the door. My mother went.
‘Mrs David Copperfield, I think,’ said Miss Betsey; the emphasis referring, perhaps, to my mother’s weeds, and her condition.
‘Yes,’ said my mother faintly.
‘Miss Trotwood,’ said the visitor. ‘You have heard of her, I dare say?’
My mother answered she had had that pleasure. And she had a disagreeable consciousness of not appearing to imply that it had been an overpowering pleasure.
‘Now you see her,’ said Miss Betsey. My mother bent her head, and begged her to walk in.”
“A simple smile.
That’s the start of opening your heart
and being compassionate to others.”
Below is a medley of the carol Silent Night sung by Tiny Tim, the prisoners, the sailors on a hurricane-tossed ship, and as the last unmissable clip, a beautiful voice of a tenor, the Spirit on the hill.
A Christmas Carol
You know the story of this quintessential Christmas tale, but have you ever read it? So many times has the tale been told – in numerous stage and screen adaptations – that we are apt to think that we know the story very well indeed. Yet, no retelling comes close to capturing the humour, human sympathy, and kindness, the delicious spookiness, and ultimate good cheer of Dickens’s original narrative.
In less than a hundred pages, A Christmas Carol relates, with an imaginative richness that belies its brevity, how the crabbed soul of an uncaring old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, is summoned back to generous life by the visitation of four spirits: first the shade of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and then the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.
A compilation of interesting clips from the film with Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
Through their hauntings, Scrooge is moved by fear and understanding to embrace the abandoned affections of his youth, confront the meanness of his current existence, and recognise the sordid end he will meet if he does not change his ways.
All of the author’s famous gifts are on display in this cheering fable of a miser’s Christmas Eve metamorphosis from misanthrope to a man of goodwill, including his talent for deft characterisation, for poignant sentiment, and for indigenous monikers; was ever any curmudgeon more aptly named than Ebenezer Scrooge? A Christmas Carol is my second much-loved book and every Christmas I read the story and watch the film adaptation with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and cry my eyes out, moved by kindness the greatest virtue of all.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come
An extract from A Christmas Carol:
“A churchyard. Here, then the wretched man, whose name he had now to learn, lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walled in by houses; overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up by with too much burying.
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it has been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
‘Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?’
Still, the Ghost pointed to the grave by which it stood.
‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the end will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!’
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and, following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.
‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ he cried upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
‘No, Spirit! Oh no, no!’
The finger still was there.
‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at his robe, ‘hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’
For the first time, the hand appeared to shake.
‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it, ‘your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?’
The kind hand trembled.
‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!’
In his agony he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!”
A typical Christmas feast in England,
in many homes now vegetarian by sparing the turkey
“Please, sir, I want some more” is among the most famous utterances in Dickens. It’s spoken by a very small orphan named Oliver Twist to the man in charge of ladling out the meagre portion of gruel. Oliver lives with other parentless children in a workhouse established by society to house impoverished youngsters.
In a single sentence, it conjures up all the forces at the heart of Oliver’s tale: innocence, want, mischief, hunger, boldness, desperation, misfortune. And, last but not least, institutionally sanctioned cruelty: “The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle.”
Oliver Twist was its author’s second novel, telling a continuous story in a way his first, the delightful but episodic Pickwick Papers, did not. What is innovative in the book is not its shape, but its focus. Never before had a child been put so centre stage in a novel, more importantly, never before had childhood been treated in a prolonged narrative as a state of being in its own right, with all the colours and contours of an emotional landscape as fully developed as an adult’s.
Fagin and his pupils
As Oliver progresses from workhouse minion to undertaker’s assistant to conscript in the thieving army of urchin pickpockets led by the Artful Dodger and in thrall to the seedy ringleader Fagin, the reader is treated to a searing social satire on the treatment of paupers and bereft children, a vivid portrayal of the urban criminal underworld, and a suspenseful if murky plot that is a rollercoaster of dramatic events, hopes, and fears, degradation, and redemption. It’s an exhilarating chase, led by a young writer learning to harness his extraordinary creative energy.
“As long as there is breath,
there will always be HOPE
because nothing is pre-written,
and nothing cannot be re-written.”
Hans Christian Andersen
1805 – 1875
Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of the most treasured stories of the past two centuries, but his life was more like a Dickens novel than a fairytale. Born poor in Denmark, the son of a cobbler and a washerwoman, he was an awkward, dreamy youth who imagined a theatrical career for himself and left home for Copenhagen when he was fourteen. He suffered a period of privation before being rescued by patrons who sponsored his education and allowed him to immerse himself in two transformative activities: travel and writing.
The writing brought him acclaim, first as a novelist and later, resoundingly and lastingly, as an author of tales for children, the first volume of which he published in 1835. Despite his success as a writer, Andersen remained something of a social misfit with a gift for alienating even his friends (even Dickens himself with whom he overstayed his welcome on an 1857 visit to England.) No doubt, Andersen’s loneliness inspired the affection for outcasts and sorry souls that distinguishes many of his most beloved tales, such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Match Girl” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.”
“The Ugly Duckling”
“The Little Match Girl”
While the emotional sophistication of such stories can make them seem darker than their child-friendly frames at first suggest, there is no shortage of humour or high spirit in Anderson’s tales. Only a dozen or so of his 150 tales were drawn from existing folk tales, the rest came straight from his own imagination. Despite their relatively recent invention, Anderson’s best tales – “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Nightingale,” and “Thumbelina” to mention a few – have taken such strong root in our collective imagination that many readers fail to recognise that they have an author. Famously insecure in life, Anderson would almost certainly be stung by this failure to recognise his genius; but what better tribute to his stories than the assumption that they are as old as time?
The Emperor’s New Clothes
An extract from “The Princess and the Pea:”
“Once upon a time there was a prince and he wanted to marry a princess, only she had to be a real princess. So he went all over the world looking for one. But every time there was something the matter: princesses there were in plenty, but whether they were real princesses or not, he could never really make out, there was always something not quite real about them. So he came home again and was very sad because he did so want a real princess.
Now, one night there was a terrible storm. It thundered and lightened and rain poured down – it was frightful! All at once, there was a knock at the city gate, and the old king went out to open it. There, standing outside, was a princess. But dear me, what a sight she looked, in the wind and rain. The water was running down her hair and her clothes, and it was running in at the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And then she said she was a real princess.”
“The Little Mermaid”
An extract from “The Little Mermaid”:
“I will make you a drink, and before the sun rises you must swim ashore with it and sit on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then split in two and shrivel into what human beings call nice little legs. But it’ll hurt: like having a sharp sword go through you. All who see you will say you are the loveliest little human being they have ever seen! You’ll keep your graceful movements, and no dancer will be as graceful. But every step you take will be like treading on a sharp knife that draws blood. If you are ready to suffer all this, I am willing to help you.”
‘Yes! said the little mermaid in a trembling voice, thinking of the prince and of winning an immortal soul.
‘But remember this,’ said the which: ‘when once you have gained the human form, you can never more become a mermaid! You will never be able to come down into the sea to and your father’s palace: and unless you win the prince’s love, so that for your sake he forgets his father and mother, and clings to your with all his heart and allows the clergymen to place your hands together so that you become husband and wife, you will never win an immortal soul! The morning after he marries another, your heart will break and you will become foam on the water.’
‘I am willing!’ said the little mermaid, turning as pale as death.’
“The sun now rose from the sea, its beams falling gently and warmly on the deadly cold foam. The little mermaid had no feeling of death, but saw the bright sun and, soaring above her, hundreds of lovely transparent creatures; through them she could see the ship’s white sails and the red clouds in the sky; their voice was music, but so spiritual that no human ear could hear it, just as no earthly eye could see them. They glided through the air without wings by their own lightness. The little mermaid saw that she had a body like theirs, which rose higher and higher out of the foam.
‘To whom am I coming?’ she said, and her voice sounded like that of the other beings, so spiritual that no earthly music can reproduce it.
‘To the daughters of the air!’ they replied.
‘A mermaid never has an immortal soul, and can never get one unless she wins the love of a human being! Her everlasting life depends on a strange power. The daughters of the air have no everlasting soul either, but by good deeds, they can create one for themselves. We fly to the hot countries, where the warm, plague-filled air kills human beings, and there we waft cool breezes. We spread through the air the scents of flowers, bringing refreshment and healing. When for three hundred years we have striven to do all the good we can, we get an immortal soul and share in the eternal happiness of human beings.”