I know I got a little bit whiny on you while I was reading the first volume of your “Miscellaneous Papers,” but after taking a break with Great Expectations I returned to the second volume with greater equanimity. This time around, there were several things that caught my attention, including your hilariously sarcastic observations on the spiritualist movement and séances (remind me never to introduce you to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I don’t think you’d get on), less racism than I expected, and some really interesting appearances of some unexpected guests.
These guests are none other than some of your famous characters, and the articles in which they appear are those where you step out from behind the “anonymous author” curtain to either defend your work or review another’s. Let’s start with, “Leigh Hunt: A Remonstrance.” In it, you defend yourself from accusations that Bleak House’s childlike Harold Skimpole bears a striking resemblance to your friend Mr. Hunt. Where most people would likely flat-out deny the similarities, you stand up and say, “Yes! Of course I took some of dear Leigh’s eccentricities and used them to create Skimpole, but only the good bits and no one could possibly infer that Skimpole’s less desirable qualities are in any way attributable to Mr. Hunt. And, anyway, I asked his friends to read it and totally changed the bits they thought were too much like him, so kindly shut up about it already. Lewsers.”
I’m not entirely convinced, Charlie, and I’m not entirely sure you were either.
The other place one of your characters puts in a prominent appearance is in your review of your buddy John Foster’s biography of Walter Savage Landor. In your review, you compare Landor to Bleak House’s Mr. Boythorn on two separate occasions. Reading the article, I’m struck both by how similar your fictional character is to the real life subject, and by how cavalierly you make the connection for the reader, without any of the previous article’s remonstrance that Boythorn is a separate and unique creation. Was it because you don’t make Boythorn as morally questionable as Skimpole, so no one was likely to give you a hard time about it?
In both articles, however, it’s fascinating to read about the real-life models for two of your famous characters.
And now we come to the part of the book that endears you to me. These are a collection of your early attempts at short plays and operettas. No, don’t blush, my friend, they’re the most adorably awful of your creations I’ve read. They’re like 19th century stage productions of “Three’s Company” episodes, with comic misunderstandings, impossible coincidences, and unbelievable and abrupt resolutions. I particularly love the title of your play, “Is She His Wife? Or, Something Singular!” Sounds less like high culture and more like a great tabloid headline.
You’re an amazing writer, Charlie, but I admire these cheesy, less than stellar early works because they reveal your enthusiasm for experimenting with different forms of writing, as well as just how far you progressed in the course of your career.
But to end this letter on a sentimental note, let me quote your dear friend. Even though Forster was writing about Landor, as I continue to read this volume I can’t help but apply his observation of that gentleman to you:
But, now that the story is told, no one will have difficulty in striking the balance between its good and ill; and what was really imperishable in Landor’s genius will not be treasured less, or less understood, for the more perfect knowledge of his character.
Thanks for giving me more windows into your character, my friend.