This is a diary. Read at your own risk. You know what happens when you read other people’s diaries, sometimes you find out things that you’d rather not know. Consider yourself warned.
I’m coming to this book without a lot of knowledge of any of the people or topics that it’s about. I’m not a great Charles Dickens fan. I read the abridged edition of A Tale of Two Cities in the fifth grade and thought I liked it, but what do you know in the fifth grade? I have seen A Christmas Carol more times than I can count, and in many different incarnations, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge of Dickens beyond the titles of his books. I know even less about Wilkie Collins. His novel, The Woman in White, is only familiar to me as the title off a classic that I have never had to read. But the story sounded good. I love to read stories that have hints of the truth and glimpse, fictionally, into the lives of real people.
So far this is a sprawling read. There is so much information that I am on overload. Too much information. There are so many names of people that are similar to each other and the names of residences, and the names of books and literary authors and acquaintances. There is so much information that I am catching myself reading paragraphs and pages and realizing that I am retaining hardly anything but atmosphere. It is a good thing that the names and relationships are repeated many times, and are slowly being reinforced because otherwise I would know nothing.
The narrator Wilkie Collins jumps around a whole bunch in the story and shares many distracting asides, which seem important because of the intricacy with which they are told, but I still wonder how much of it will have any bearing on the story. At the same time I am supremely interested in all the details of Dickens’ life, and the fantastic way that he and Collins rival each other in terms of being absolutely fascinating characters. Collins is a drug addict, who unoriginally, thinks he finds his truest self when he is under the influence of several glasses of laudanum (enough too kill eight men and two women, a physician who witnesses his habit tells him). An unreliable narrator at best he alternates between mocking and worshiping his mentor Charles Dickens. Dickens on the other hand has so far abstained from drugs, though he is mean to the wife that he is in the process of divorcing for an 18-year old actress whom he has cast in one of his theatricals. A rampant egomaniac, Dickens has tender sensibilities for the fortunate which is displayed in his work. He is also an exercise/walking fanatic who walks 4 miles an hour up to twenty miles per day. I am riveted by the contradictions in these two men and the nuances in the way that Collins feels about Dickens.
There is a such vivid description of the way it must have been to live in the city of London, back when sewage ran raw in the streets and straight into the Thames River. I have heard the talk and read artices about us becoming a society that is too clean, with our bleaches and anti-bacterials and limited exposure to germs. I think that any of us would die to live in the London that Dickens and Collins inhabit. I see dog poo on the streets and am grossed out, so the description of the rotting flesh of the graveyards and the heaps of excrement had me turning up my nose and screwing up my face in disgust. I had to remind myself to relax my face because I’m not walking down a filthy London street with a perfumed rag under my nose to try and disgusie the stench, which I guess is a good thing as it connotes great descriptive powers, or maybe I am just sensitive to vivid descriptions of you know what.
I am glad to be finally at the part where they are focusing on more tightly upon Drood and his origins. As I get further along and more into that part of the story my mind is less likely to wander as I now have my bearings and am being drawn into the horror and the mystery of this mysterious man.