- Life and work.
It is not easy to choose whom one likes when one has several authors. As we pass on from one class to another. In our school life we begin to like more and more writers whose works we read in elections. By the time we reach the degree classes, we would have read many stories, poems and essays prescribed in the syllabus. Each piece that we read has some fine quality in it which endears it to us. We begin to like one author after another in the course of our earlier education. A time comes when the number of these writers grows larger. And this is not all. We hear the names and stories of other writers whose works are not prescribed in our courses. We hear of those writers from our elders at home. These are equally attractive for us. We hear the stories of our own literature in those of foreign countries. The result of this is that we are very often unable to vote for one particular writer when the choice is so wide.
And yet we do make a choice because some writers appeal to us more than others. We may like several authors but we love only a few. We have many acquaintances in life but we have only a few friends, and of these friends we have often one or two very intimate ones. This is quite natural. As friendship grows with familiarity, so our love of authors grows with repeated reading. This kind of study cannot be done with several writers. Constant reading of one or two writers brings more delight than a casual reading of many writers. This is how we love our own people and homes where we live and our being literary patriotism is like local patriotism. We may for example be the citizens of Pakistan but we feel more at home in our towns and villages. So it is with the world of literature. It is very wide and expansive world, but we like to dwell in a part of it. And living thus we begin to love it more and more.
This does not mean that we become narrow-minded by choosing to live in one kind of place. Indeed our living at one place makes us fit to appreciate places, because men are the same everywhere. They may differ in dress and language but they are all one in their instincts and impulses. So it is with the world authors. They give us their own words but beneath all differences there is oneness and unity. This unity is felt when we get more and more acquainted with these words. That is why we do make a choice in reading.
Among several writers that I have come to like Charles Dickens more and more. He has delighted me more than most writers. I have selected him as my choice among English writers because he made me very happy by making me laugh most heartily. Few people can make us laugh as Dickens does we are happy when we laugh because in real life it is seldom that we laugh. Life is a serious and solemn affair, all told. There are many worries and anxieties in life. And anyone who frees us from these is very welcome. We are grateful to such people, Charile Chaplin on the screen and Dickens in his stories are two of the most delightful people in the world to meet with. They have the sense of comic which is most delightful. Dickens has this sense of the comic which he shows in most of his novels. That is why I like him very much. He shows a world of his own where men, women and children live a very wonderful life.
Now the wonder is that Dickens who laughs so well was not a very happy man in the early part of his life. I read his biography after reading some of his novels. I thought that this man who laughs so whole heartedly must have been a very happy fellow in this world I imagined him to be one who was born in very happy circumstances and in a very rich family. I thought that one who writes so mirthfully must have lived a mirthful life. But I was surprised to find that he was a very miserable lad in his life. I found that he was born of middle class parents who were poor. They were so poor indeed that they did not send him to school, for they could not do so. Dickens had to teach himself! He was forced to do this because his parents could not put him to a regular course of education. He did go to school for a few days but he did not learn anything there beyond that alphabets. He was on the other hand, forced to work at a very early age. He was employed in a factory which produced a substance called blacking. This was used for making leather black. Dickens was ten years old when joined this factory and he worked here for two years. it was a very dirty job with dirty people around him. Smoke, dirt, blacking were his environments. He was surrounded with such things from morning till night. It was the blackest period of his boyhood. He never forgot it. And the wonder is how he became such a writer of bright stories full of joy, fun and mirth.
Dickens learnt much from his own favourite authors. He was in school for some time after his apprenticeship in the blacking factory. But he was never interested in the lessons of the school because the schools of his days were badly conducted. Most of the teachers were pedants, that is to say, they spoke big words which meant nothing to the little boys. Dickens makes fun of such schools and schoolmasters in many of his novels. But Dickens had a thirst for knowledge and he went to the old writers and read and re-read them repeatedly. There were the writers of the eighteenth century, such as Fielding, Somollets, Sterne and Goldsmith. These were his favourite authors and from them he learnt good deal of life and also of style. He also read the romantic stories of the Arabian Nights and Don Quixote. He found these books in the store room of his house and he picked them up and studied them. He forgot the blacking of the blacking factory while reading these stories which are full of sunshine and open air life. It is these books which did not allow him to become and experience. The actual poverty and living conditions gave him no chance to learn, but he got all that he needed form his favourtie writers whom he went on reading and enjoying. He had the genius, and he made use of the genius by writing his own stories, sketches and novels. In short, he got inspiration from his favourite writers.
I like and love Dickens because he gives me abundance of life and experience. When I open one of his good novels I enter a world which is full of sunshine and jollity. Of course, there is also much evil and sorrow and suffering in that world. There are good men and bad men in his novels. It is a very lively world; there are all sorts of people in this world of Dickens, but the wonder is that none of them is dull or uninteresting. Everyone of his characters is amusing. The wonder is greater when even his villains and bad persons become delightful to us. The spirit of delight is the unifying principle of his works. This is so because he himself took delight in studying bad people and their behavior. He got excellent delight in showing how bad such people are. That is why his stories give us such abundant joy. We being to love the good characters and we being to sympathies with victims of his bad characters. We get great fun in seeing the exposure of the villainy of his bad characters. We begin to love the good life when we see Dickens exposing the vices of the bad people. And so we get all-round fun and delight in reading his novels. Dickens never wrote a dull page. This is the secret of his genius, and that is why he is my favourite writer.
I have read a few of the stories of Dickens, and I have enjoyed reading them. It is not possible for us in modern days to read lengthy stories, and Dickens’ stories are very long indeed; they require a very leisurely life to enjoy reading them. We have no such leisure now-a-days because we are living in an age of speed and hurry. But there are good, abridged editions of his novels which are cheap as well. In reading these we get the essence of his art of storytelling. He wrote several masterpieces but there are a few of these which every educated person should not miss. I have, for example my own choice of Dickens stories. “These are David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and A Tale of Two Cities. These four stories are enjoyable for several reasons. David Copperfield, for example gives us much information about the early life of Dickens. It is a sort of self-revelation. It is an autobiography in the form of a novel, the hero is young Dickens. His adventures in London and in the countryside are described with great gusto. There is much fun in all this because Dickens sees the comic side of life in every experience. Humour and comedy are his ruling passions. There is nothing that has not some comic side to it for Dickens.
That is how he makes everyone and everything interesting. In Pickwick Papers’ for example, there is Mr. Pickwick, the principal figure and his servant, Sam Weller. These two persons are extremely funny and enjoyable. Sam Weller is famous for making remarks which seem to be proverbial. It is rare experience to read the adventures of these.
Side by side with comedy, there is also suffering and tragedy in the world of Dickens’ as there is in real life. This is brought out for example, in the story of Oliver Twist. This is the story of a young lad (like David Copperfield) named Oliver Twist who suffers very much from poverty, want, neglect and abuse. He falls into the company of thieves and pickpockets and he is very much abused by these people. Being good and innocent, Oliver becomes the victim of these bad characters. He is finally saved and he escapes from this sad stay with a bright ending. In “A Tales of Two Cities” we get a story of the days of French Revolution, it is a splendid, heroic story of love and romance and self-sacrifice.
For these reasons I have come to regard Dickens as one of my very favourite authors. As I said in the beginning, it is not easy to choose only one writer as one’s favourite, when there are number of good writers. But as I also said we have to make a choice because only intimate and intensive reading of one or two authors gives us a good deal of experience and joy. It is, therefore, to be understood that when I say that Dickens is my favourite author it does not at all mean that I have no other favourites.