I may call you by your Christian name, may I not? After all, after having just finished your “Sketches” in their entirety, I feel I know you quite well now. And, before I forget, I must reintroduce you to my Aunt. I was on the phone with her the other day and she said had made your acquaintance some time ago but found you difficult to get along with! However, she had never read your “Sketches,” and I’m confident that if she did, she would have quite a change of heart over your disposition.
As I look back over the contents of this second volume, I’m amazed by the variety and breadth of your writing. The rest of your “tales” were just as entertaining as the first few – you can almost visibly trace the comedic lineage from your tales through writers like Wodehouse and Sharpe, all the way to our modern sit coms (although, unlike poor Mr. Watkins Tottle, our modern comedies don’t usually conclude with the unfortunate protagonist’s suicide). “The Black Veil,” however, was disturbingly different – a spooky little moral tale that hints, I suspect, at darker writings to come.
After that, your portraits of types of men young ladies should avoid, and types of couples everyone should avoid, again had me laughing out loud. Would it shock you to know that “poetical young gentlemen” would today be referred to as “emo” and are paid large sums of money to form rock bands? Or that “the loving couple,” who are prone to repeated public displays of affection, are just as prevalent and subject to ridicule nowadays? I said it before and I’ll say it again – you may have been looking around you and writing about what was immediately apparent to you, but your ability to observe archetypes of human behavior that are just as observable almost two hundred years later is astounding. And awesome. And frickin’ hilarious.
We finish with your accounts of the fictional town of Mudfog, and its scientific and learned conferences. Here I have to look back to Jonathan Swift’s satire of the Royal Society, when Gulliver travelled to Laputa and observes their various pointless experiments. Were you a fan of Swift? You must have been — your learned men’s accounts of their discoveries are no less satirical and patently ridiculous – such as establishing a walled park in which young gentlemen with nothing else to do can knock down and assault artificial policemen, instead of the real thing, or the proposal to establish schools for young fleas, that they may contribute to the economy of the country.
It’s now quite obvious what aspects of society pissed you right off. I can only hope that by calling attention to those things in such an entertaining way, you were able to effect some kind of change, or at least awareness.
Because I understand that your Pickwick Papers are also quite light in tone, and serialized for bite-sized enjoyment, I thought I would save them for a bit and instead turn to your next novel: Nicholas Nickleby. So until next week, I will bid you a fond farewell and remain,
“Mr. Crinkles exhibited a most beautiful and delicate machine […] by the aid of which more pockets could be picked […]. The President observed that, up to this time Parliament had certainly got on very well without it; but, as they did their business on a very large scale, he had no doubt they would gladly adopt the improvement.”