Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth, 1845

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(scene from a staging of the theatrical version, per small caption)

The Cricket on the Hearth*

Here we are at the second-worst of Dickens’ Christmas books. It falls into that category of Dickens I’d read for elements I like rather than because I love the book as a whole. Chesterton writes that, properly considered, Dickens shouldn’t be thought of in terms of discrete novels, but rather in terms of slices of the overall personality of the writer. This point of view is a bit too author-driven for modern taste (though it is, after all, equally historically contingent and artificial to insist on the coherence of discrete works as analytic objects—and we do, no one is so Derridean as to actually overcome this tendency in practice for longer than the duration of a particularly pious article), but if this lens has its limitations it also has its appeal. Even bad Dickens has a lot to offer: I think of it like Classic Doctor Who, where I almost always find something to delight or interest me in a given episode (even one I quite dislike—bloody “and the Silurians”).

In The Cricket on the Hearth, a young woman nicknamed Dot (actually christened Mary) has wed an older carrier named John and produced a young child with him. Their household also includes a servant (a foundling girl) and Boxer (a dog). The family is friends with an older toy-maker, Caleb, and his blind daughter, Bertha. (Intergenerational friendship is so much more normal in this era than our own—it’s not just Dickens, it’s everywhere.) Caleb’s son was lost long ago whilst off making his fortune, but this son was once engaged to a girl named May Fielding, a friend and contemporary of Dot’s. May Fielding is now engaged once more, this time for purely practical reasons, to Tackleton the toymaker. May’s mother has egged on the match.

Tackleton is also Caleb’s tyrannical boss and landlord. To make her life easier, Caleb’s told Bertha that they live in a lovely house and that Tackleton is a wonderful man who’s forever smiling and winking while hateful crap topples out of his mouth. (Early troll-culture?) (No, not really.) Horribly, Bertha’s fallen a little in love with the person she thinks Tackleton is, and is saddened by his immanent marriage to May.

In the course of his rounds John picks up an old man who asks to stay with them for a few days due to some logistics snafu, and who’s willing to pay for the privilege. Some confusing business leads Tackleton to suspect that the old man is actually a young one in disguise, and to tip off John to Dot’s evident seduction by this mysterious stranger. After seeing some Othelloish ‘proof’ of their affair John contemplates terrible revenge, but after a hard night’s thinking (with supernatural (possibly? the book thinks it’s definitely magical, but more on why it doesn’t feel that supernatural in a moment) intervention in her favour) he decides to be kind to his young wife, and to bend over backwards to release her from their apparently ill-assorted union. Dot is pretty offended, but forgives him his mistake: it comes out that the old man was indeed a young one in disguise, but that he’s actually Caleb’s lost son, come back to confront May about her apparent desire to be with someone else and to marry her, if she’s still interested (and to her mother’s annoyance, she is). Dot is helping him in this endeavour. John and Dot make it up; Bertha is disabused of her illusions and forgives her father for having given rise to them, appreciating the huge efforts he’s gone to for her sake; and even Tackleton grudgingly forgives the bride he only wanted as a toy for choosing personal happiness instead of a life with him on such terms. Only May’s greedy mother is left piqued.

I know that’s a whirlwind summary, but one never knows how to deal with this! In academic criticism I’d assume you’d read this book already or were at any rate more here for critical/meta content than for a plot synopsis. In a book review I’d be positively discouraged from ‘spoiling’ the book (I do not personally believe in spoilage unless we’re discussing food, but I am aware other people are concerned about this (non-issue)). This is an awkward medium, so perhaps my awkward summary suits it.

Cricket is a simple story, designed to come out simultaneously with a theatrical production. Dickens was always getting plagiarised on the boards anyway, maybe he thought ‘why not gazump it?’ This type of simultaneous multi-media release is still rare even in our modern era of greater franchise-based organisation and marketing: it was something of a coup when Lloyd-Webber got out his Phantom sequel in every major market simultaneously, even if the musical itself was far from one. Dickens is deeply in conversation with Victorian pantomime and melodrama theatrical forms (he’s literally writing this for stage melodrama, with that dual-end in mind). As per last review, Simon Callow makes excellent points about the particular inherent interconnectedness of Dickens’ Christmas books and theatre. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that Dickens is, from a few antecedents, inventing the whole genre of ‘the Christmas story’ here. Cricket’s plot is perhaps best viewed as intentionally lean and silly, and thus potentially ideal for the several generic spaces it’s occupying. Dickens can certainly do dense: while I don’t love Cricket, some of the things I dislike about it are probably not errors, but choices.

(As a side note, “Vladimir Lenin left during a performance of the Cricket play in Russia, as he found it dull and the saccharine sentimentality got on his nerves. This incident might now be little remembered if George Orwell had not mentioned it in his essay on Dickens (from Wiki). One day, I will write an entire counter-essay on what a piece of malformed shit this Orwell essay on Dickens is. Orwell even manages, in this essay, not to get Lenin. ORWELL does. Stoppard whoops his ass in Travesties, it’s so embarrassing. I cannot think of Orwell’s Dickens essay without an eye twitch. Even now. And his review of Gaudy Night—I have to move on here before I black out and kill again.)

As with Our Mutual Friend and Battle of Life, here we have a familial relationship wherein one person conceals important information from another as an act of love, undertaking a great, burdensome feat of disguise and deceiving their loved one in order to help them. Lying to Bertha about the conditions in which they live exhausts and perpetually confuses Caleb, who lives in a clashing Orwellian (aha, yeah) double-think miasma. It also drains his already-limited finances; he buys her presents ‘from their kind benefactor’. Bertha’s blindness is a great opportunity for Caleb and a curse and a ‘blessing’ for Bertha, in that she can be thus insulated from the realities of her life.

Victorians, or at least Dickens, are far more comfortable with this kind of patronising treatment of truth and agency than we might be today. It seems unfair to entirely dismiss Caleb and John Harmon’s (OMF) acts as exercises of paternalistic control, when they demand real sacrifice from their perpetrators, and loss of agency and control. They also necessarily involve taking on labour and suffering, and are sometimes undertaken by the disempowered ‘child’ in the relationship. In Battle, the somewhat-infantilized younger sister deceives her elder sister/mother.  In addition to the great deception of OMF, i.e. John’s serving as the secretary for his own estate, Lizzie also deceives her father a little about her brother’s desertion, which she herself planned.

Caleb spends his days performing happiness for Bertha, telling her how wonderful things are in an attempt to enchant their domestic space, their enemies and their life. In doing so he even accidentally enchants his daughter into falling in love with the unworthy Tackleton. It’s a bit Life is Beautiful, really—perhaps we do still have some cultural space for this sort of lie, but only in the case of the very young, and in the direst possible circumstances. But consider Caleb as an actor/enchanter—and one within a play, as well. Charm is very associated with enchantment, manipulation, witchcraft, and a Freudian control over others’ psychologies. These elements also emerge strongly in Our Mutual Friend’s Bella/John fairy-tale romance arc.

Is there, perhaps, a core relationship between a willingness to hide unpleasant things from people as an act of love in Dickens’ work, charm, our current attitude towards charm and our current attitude towards agency? Is there something about our neo-liberal, almost Objectivist moment of strongly asserted independence, self-control and agency that is opposed to charm, opposed to the idea of our being swayed by external forces and actors? This frantic claim of self-determination occurs before the backdrop of the vast hierarchy of late capitalism, which makes a mockery of such assertions. Effectively resisting these hierarchies would require forms of solidarity we aren’t currently organised to employ. Does this insistence that we stand proud in our oysertish self-containment actually render us less able to understand and reckon with demagoguery, when it comes calling? Do (neo-liberal?) ‘independence’ formulations blind us to the play of hierarchies in our lives, and to the potential for collective resistance?

Questions of agency are especially fraught here because of Bertha’s blindness. There is something deeply uncomfortable and perhaps especially unethical about lying to Bertha, who depends on her father for information about the world she is unable to gather herself (to a perhaps unrealistic extent: you can smell and feel damp, etcetera, in a way the fairy-tale logic of Bertha’s deception cannot admit). Bertha is not a child, she is a young woman. This is not a temporary condition, but a permanent one. Her father’s lies have already caused her to feel heartbreak on Tackleton’s account: they have not shielded her from all harm, and have in some ways exposed her to additional pain.

Elsewhere Dickens has a tendency to ask people to contribute, in a hard situation, to the wellbeing of the family, and to measure their maturity by their willingness to try to do so. The siblings in Nicholas Nickleby chip in, and David Copperfield’s Dora is a bit of a failure for being unwilling and unable to do so. Bertha works hard at her father’s side, and yet doesn’t share the psychological and logistical burdens of their position. Her disability thus bars her from adulthood in a way that is disquieting. Her father is complicit in this process, and exacerbates it.

Yet one thing I hate is when people take a few examples from the canon and say Dickens ‘thinks’ (as though that’s quite the word we want, or something we care about—we all know his thinking is difficult to encapsulate, and that it isn’t entirely want matters to us as readers now) this or that about a topic important to contemporary discourse (a topic often constructed very differently, now, and in a wholly removed rhetorical context: imagine reading one person’s singled out memes and tweets in 100 years, without recourse to The Discourse). The fact is that Dickens has so many depictions of disability. He’s deeply interested in disabled people in the world (a topic that was perhaps more visible to Victorians than it is to us today), and gives them any range of personalities and experiences: vile Wegg; wonderful Jenny Wren; glorious Sloppy; ascendent, towering little Mowcher (who was apparently, quoth Cowell, going to be a villain until Dickens got a FURIOUS LETTER from a local dwarf chiropodist, along the lines of I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD INSULT ME THUS SIR!! Dickens was super embarrassed, though he’d no pre-existing idea of the woman’s existence, and re-wrote the whole ending so that Mowcher would be awesome and the real-life hairdresser proud to own the connection). These physically and mentally disabled characters are canny, productive, good-hearted, turned nasty by their situations and treatments, sulky, loyal, etc. They are, in short, people. **

I find it more productive to say that some Victorian story forms such as melodrama and some currents of popular thought exercise influence of various degrees in and through Dickens’ thinking and texts, as stories demand or as a project is more vulnerable to the pressure of them. Greater length and more of a sense of creative vision from Dickens himself can dispel these forces of cliche: they retreat or ‘come out of the cart’ in order to make more room for his developed characters and his own creative expressions. This is not to absolve Dickens from complicity in his poor representations and to reserve for his personality and agency only his contemporarily-laudable decisions and great works. It’s simply to say that without an understanding of Victorian contexts and how stock-tropes exert force on the creation of art, and without considering the breadth of his representations, it’s fairly useless to chat about ‘how Dickens thought about disability’.

Another thing that really bears some discussion is the erotic energy Caleb’s portrayal of a Tackleton generates. Bertha falls in love with her father’s words. Her affections are focused in part on:

1. something her father has created, so a sibling,

2. her father-as-artist,

3. on her father himself, the giver of gifts and ‘embodiment’ of her affection, and

4. on a refracted father-figure: Tackleton is, supposedly, their provider-benefactor, and of an age with Bertha’s sire.

When this deception collapses, Bertha credits her father with the benevolent spirit she romantically loved in Tackleton. She recommits her affections to her providing father. She has no mother to stand in the way of her serving as the lady of her father’s house, or to absorb or deflect her devotional, romantic energy. Her brother’s return does complicate this family circle, but his marriage draws him away from it, into a new family unit. I’m not saying anything as simplistic as ‘this is soft incest’. It decidedly isn’t. It is, however, a somewhat uneasy family romance that is a little difficult to reconcile neatly. 

I mean, were I a character in this story, especially Bertha or Caleb, I’d be fairly uncomfortable with this turn of events and what it might say about my affections and desires. Then again I am a psychoanalytic reader, and by definition a Dickens character cannot be. Freud himself was deeply influenced by Dickens, and his system of thinking about consciousness was influenced by the Victorian novel. I would not even hesitate to say that it was derived from it (and particularly from Dickens) in some measure, because Freud cops to exactly that on numerous occasions.

Caleb’s deception involves the use of performativity to express the authenticity of his love for Bertha. Performativity and authenticity are two important terms when we’re thinking about charm, but this also aligns with Dickens’ thinking about the theatre as enabling and accessing essential truth or hyper-reality by means of show in Nicholas Nickleby. (A theme Callow picks up on and deals well with: his biography really has much to offer. It is not perfect, but like the similarly-situated Chesterton work, it is insightful, loving and informed.) Charm arising from artifice and display is sometimes considered pernicious, a particularly feminised evil (painted whores, lying bitches). Dickens himself is somewhat down on artifice in the orchard dancing sequence of Battle of Life. But I think in general his attitude about artifice and charm is relatively nuanced, evincing positivity towards premeditation and the theatrical and also a vexed, complicated attitude towards coquetry. I’m thinking of Dora in DC, and perhaps Mrs. Nickleby, as well as the avatar for his own ex-fiancé in Little Dorrit.

Dickens is shockingly cruel to Mrs. Nickleby for still imagining herself desirable. But then he’s young when he writes cruelly of her, and latently furious with his mother, who Mrs. Nickleby is said to resemble. And like Austen, he doesn’t so much learn to play nice or blunt his edge as learn his kindness with time (this process becomes obvious when you consider Austen’s satiric juvenilia). It’s striking how kind Little Dorrit ultimately is to the character who serves to provide a parody of aged girlish affectations of unaffectedness. Dickens comes back to re-write Mrs. Nickleby and his former fiancé alike here, and to do better justice to them as a more mature man. He really gets the theatricality of performed gender, and doesn’t condemn it. I’m fairly confident in saying that Dickens is pretty mature about performance, especially feminised modes thereof, and sees no strong divide between it and The Real. (As a side-note, it’d be the worst hypocrisy for Dickens to come down against premeditation, theatricality and coquetry. Deprived of these, he would have neither career nor character-traits.)

This is of a piece with his general understanding of the performativity of marginal life: the charm-effort needed to survive for those who lack power, agency and resources. Uriah Heep probably expresses Dickens’ most brutal deconstruction of these social demands, and how we repudiate such shows with visceral dislike even while demanding their execution. Besides, not everyone ‘gets’ what Heep is doing and is made uncomfortable by his hypocritical fawning, as David is. This tactic serves Uriah well. We have the proof of this in his various ascensions. It’s almost impossible to divide Heep’s motives from his show cleanly, though these at times twist in opposite directions. Heep is one of Dickens’ most theatrical and pre-meditating characters (all his life is a play), and yet Dickens is fascinated by this manipulative creep: he always loves his grotesques more than his pantomime-pretty protagonists.

Concerns about performativity and authenticity also wind through John and Dot’s conflict. John wonders whether his wife’s affection and duty have just been shows to dupe him, or even efforts to convince herself that she’s happy when she isn’t. Performativity becomes reputation and chastity: Dot is seen doing something that is perhaps suspicious-looking, aiding in a disguise, and thus her own authenticity comes into question. Chastity and reputation are of course always domestic and public performances, even where underlying feelings of love and loyalty are their origin. I’m thinking a little of Paul Dombey Sr.’s ill-assorted second marriage. While his (decidedly unloving) wife Edith is still faithful to him (indeed she is never actually adulterous), it is insufficient for Dombey that she simply be so. She must come and dance at his party before his associates, like Esther’s predecessor, despite the fact that Edith prides herself on having never hitherto implied more feeling towards him than was actually in her.

Like David Copperfield, Cricket features May-December romantic relationships and apparent tension concerning them. We are supposed to believe Dot may be faithless or unhappy because her husband is older, even as we and the other characters are supposed to believe Annie Strong might be (though it seems to me as though Dot’s conduct is intended to be more suspect than Annie’s). Dot might have made a foolish marital choice, even as Betsey Trotwood implies Clara Copperfield might have done (though Betsey’s blame largely accrues to David Senior, there). Tackleton seems to have an easy time reducing his prospective marriage to May to a Dombeyish transactional affair because of her youth and beauty, while Bertha is able to cathect Tackleton a little like a father-lover. Indeed Tackleton finds the prospect of a young woman feeling real affection for him a proof of her insanity. Bertha’s tactfully-demonstrated affection is contemptible to him.

Possibly, across the Dickens canon (and maybe in Victorian thinking more generally?), May-December marriages are acceptable and even productive if they’re somewhat paternalistic (and it’s always father-daughter). But if they don’t fall into that model, they may be objectifying and exploitable. There’s not really a model for older wife-younger man. It’s not impossible that there would be—remember the Hot Widows of Regency theatre? There’s also not really a model for age-stratified relationships that are radically egalitarian (possibly the Dedlocks?). Bleak House threatens a paternalistic Jarndyce/Esther union, rendered especially familial because he’s her guardian and employer and has known her since childhood. It then curves around to favour a match between Esther and her age-mate, Allan Woodcourt. May-December marriages in general, though, seem to bear special risks of exploitation and infidelity.

Michael Slater made an excellent point in his lecture on Dickens and Christmas that all the Christmas books are, in some way or another, about memory. In Cricket, it’s Dot’s qualities and her past good behaviour, as well as the memories the couple share, that enable John to snap out of his Othello-ish rage and to be more than decent to May when he believes she’s cheated on him (or wants to), forgiving her fully the very next day and acting to promote her happiness at the expense of his own. John travels from a murderous rage, a dangerous excess of chauvinism, to a state of superlative goodness and self-transcendence. There is a feminising process in play: a magical quintessence of the forces of domestic preservation, in the form of the preserved cricket, gentles and elevates him. Even Tackleton is eventually impressed by John’s forbearance, and is himself gentled and elevated by it. The fantastic agent, the cricket, simply enables a supernatural expansion of natural processes of memory, thought and reflection, and serves as a fairy-repository of the common and ritual actions Dot has done and the couple have undertaken together in order to make their homelife successful.

This is a somewhat unusual treatment of a common theme: cheating wife, vengeful and jealous husband. Again, Dickens could be directly rethinking his adored Shakespeare. (Molly Katz points out that she’s not entirely sure this is a ‘counterblaste’ to Othello so much as, possibly, a development of the themes of Emilia’s speech. I think that could be right!) But Dickens’ emphasis on the Christmas book as a vehicle for explorations of forgiveness makes something strange and appealing out of the material. The husband is in a Deep Jealous Rage, but when he sits down, rather than concocting a revenge plot, he’s visited and affected by an externalised karmic essence of the goodness of the household and the love and work he and his wife have put in to it. He is forced to consider all these memories of her having been a good person and good to him, and by morning he’s transformed, through a night of thinking, from murderous to absolutely clement, understanding and releasing Dot.

This is the sort of incredibly bold transformation few writers besides Dickens really have the balls to just tell you can happen. We’re all afraid of it being unbelievable, but Dickens is just as head-down set in this in Christmas Carol. Cricket is not a good book, but there’s a power and feminism here. I could hedge on that term, but I choose not to. Cricket confronts the then-terrifying possibility of the angel in the house being a betrayer and insists that infidelity would not make her one. It says that whatever unfaithful women do, they do not deserve violence or even less physical forms of cruelty at the hands of the men who exercise power over their lives. John says a lot of quite keen stuff about having thought now about how Dot was young when she married. He suggests that she perhaps felt pressured, or simply found the union not to her liking after the fact. This method of forcing this character and the male reader to consider womens’ positions is really remarkable: how many ‘Why DID that woman do that thing you find reprehensible? Really enter her perspective, her gendered situation.’ takes do we have coming out now? I have trouble thinking of a contemporary popular, mass-culture narrative as invested in deconstructing toxic masculinity as Cricket is.

Thus it’s a little weird for Wikipedia to flatly say that in Cricket Dickens “abandoned social criticism, current events, and topical themes in favour of simple fantasy and a domestic setting for his hero’s redemption.” This formulation only works if your conception of the political issues does not include gendered violence: still a huge killer of women in England and elsewhere today. You’d have to shunt gender right out of your whole idea of the political, like Orwell does. (Ooooooh.)

Dickens is using the structure of melodrama to empathise in convincing ways with Dot’s position, and her having been ‘innocent’ all along does not unmake the central climax and the importance of the key work of forgiveness. Again we see emotional labour recognised as work, and as valuable. It’s interesting to see forgiveness staged, and the act of forgiving presented as itself redemptive. Dot’s resentment and hurt at having been thought unfaithful is also valuable, as is the maturity with which she herself forgives the suspicion and rises above it. (Dickens himself was never so sanguine, where he felt himself in the right: one of the stickiest points of his character was his defensiveness where he felt guilty, but also felt he hadn’t actually done wrong. Perhaps Dot’s comparative sang froid is due to her more total innocence.)

Dot’s true feeling eventually reveals itself via display, and this is what ultimately convinces John she is honest. But is such display also what made him feel her honesty could be in doubt? Perhaps it’s even possible to question Dot’s ‘womanhood’ (because to be a woman is, in some ways, to be a wife, a mother, a ‘good’ woman—I say this not in agreement with that position, but as an analysis of the cultural nexus that constitutes gender) and her marriage because, from the start, the occupation of such categories relies on performance. As Butler would tell us, womanhood is always performatively enacted.

Look at the mannered, intentional, ludic wifely displays Dot engages in:

Then, Dot—quite well again, she said, quite well again—arranged the great chair in the chimney-corner for her husband; filled his pipe and gave it him; and took her usual little stool beside him on the hearth.

She always would sit on that little stool.  I think she must have had a kind of notion that it was a coaxing, wheedling little stool.

She was, out and out, the very best filler of a pipe, I should say, in the four quarters of the globe.  To see her put that chubby little finger in the bowl, and then blow down the pipe to clear the tube, and, when she had done so, affect to think that there was really something in the tube, and blow a dozen times, and hold it to her eye like a telescope, with a most provoking twist in her capital little face, as she looked down it, was quite a brilliant thing.  As to the tobacco, she was perfect mistress of the subject; and her lighting of the pipe, with a wisp of paper, when the Carrier had it in his mouth—going so very near his nose, and yet not scorching it—was Art, high Art.

Art is specifically flagged up! We also have Dot’s ritualistic fussing over the baby (which must itself be dressed and displayed), Dot’s concern over her appearance (specifically her well-formed and well-attired legs), and this passage:

The packages and parcels for the errand cart, were numerous; and there were many stoppages to take them in and give them out, which were not by any means the worst parts of the journey.  Some people were so full of expectation about their parcels, and other people were so full of wonder about their parcels, and other people were so full of inexhaustible directions about their parcels, and John had such a lively interest in all the parcels, that it was as good as a play.  Likewise, there were articles to carry, which required to be considered and discussed, and in reference to the adjustment and disposition of which, councils had to be holden by the Carrier and the senders: at which Boxer usually assisted, in short fits of the closest attention, and long fits of tearing round and round the assembled sages and barking himself hoarse.  Of all these little incidents, Dot was the amused and open-eyed spectatress from her chair in the cart; and as she sat there, looking on—a charming little portrait framed to admiration by the tilt—there was no lack of nudgings and glancings and whisperings and envyings among the younger men.  And this delighted John the Carrier, beyond measure; for he was proud to have his little wife admired, knowing that she didn’t mind it—that, if anything, she rather liked it perhaps.

Like Agnes in DC, Dot is like a portrait of herself. Dot spectates, and herself invites spectation. She likes to be admired, and her husband, rather than being jealous, likes that she likes it, or even likes her being admired for his own part. In this figuration perhaps it is Dot’s beauty that charms, or her extensive preparations. But equally, it is her position overlooking others at work, the display she makes now and the thwarted desire of men.

Tackleton also speaks of the appearance of their happiness as a show, making John subconsciously doubt the validity of their feelings:

‘Tchah!  It’s of no use to be anything but free with you, I see,’ said Tackleton.  ‘Why, then, the truth is you have a—what tea-drinking people call a sort of a comfortable appearance together, you and your wife.  We know better, you know, but—’

‘No, we don’t know better,’ interposed John.  ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Well!  We don’t know better, then,’ said Tackleton.  ‘We’ll agree that we don’t.  As you like; what does it matter?  I was going to say, as you have that sort of appearance, your company will produce a favourable effect on Mrs. Tackleton that will be.  And, though I don’t think your good lady’s very friendly to me, in this matter, still she can’t help herself from falling into my views, for there’s a compactness and cosiness of appearance about her that always tells, even in an indifferent case.  You’ll say you’ll come?’

Other people—though not Tackleton himself, by his own account—are ‘taken in’ and think this couple, mis-matched in years, as happy as they seem. ‘Tea-drinking’ people. It’s not necessary that Dot actually agree with Tackleton about the advisability of Tackleton’s own May-December match: the fact that she looks attractive and well-kempt, and thus appears happy, will support his argument.

In the next passage Tackleton suggests that Dot and John should kill the noisy, irritating cricket on their hearth:

‘Bah! what’s home?’ cried Tackleton.  ‘Four walls and a ceiling! (why don’t you kill that Cricket?  I would!  I always do.  I hate their noise.)  There are four walls and a ceiling at my house.  Come to me!’

‘You kill your Crickets, eh?’ said John.

‘Scrunch ’em, sir,’ returned the other, setting his heel heavily on the floor.

Curiously and typically, Dickens delights both in the family that cherishes and preserves and never would smash a cricket, but just as much, if not more, in his grotesques. He relishes cricket-smashing Tackleton, describing his flawed character with great interest and vigour and giving us (in addition to Tackleton’s delightful name) a great deal of information on his backstory and person:

Tackleton the Toy-merchant, pretty generally known as Gruff and Tackleton—for that was the firm, though Gruff had been bought out long ago; only leaving his name, and as some said his nature, according to its Dictionary meaning, in the business—Tackleton the Toy-merchant, was a man whose vocation had been quite misunderstood by his Parents and Guardians.  If they had made him a Money Lender, or a sharp Attorney, or a Sheriff’s Officer, or a Broker, he might have sown his discontented oats in his youth, and, after having had the full run of himself in ill-natured transactions, might have turned out amiable, at last, for the sake of a little freshness and novelty.  But, cramped and chafing in the peaceable pursuit of toy-making, he was a domestic Ogre, who had been living on children all his life, and was their implacable enemy.  He despised all toys; wouldn’t have bought one for the world; delighted, in his malice, to insinuate grim expressions into the faces of brown-paper farmers who drove pigs to market, bellmen who advertised lost lawyers’ consciences, movable old ladies who darned stockings or carved pies; and other like samples of his stock in trade.  In appalling masks; hideous, hairy, red-eyed Jacks in Boxes; Vampire Kites; demoniacal Tumblers who wouldn’t lie down, and were perpetually flying forward, to stare infants out of countenance; his soul perfectly revelled.  They were his only relief, and safety-valve.  He was great in such inventions.  Anything suggestive of a Pony-nightmare was delicious to him.  He had even lost money (and he took to that toy very kindly) by getting up Goblin slides for magic-lanterns, whereon the Powers of Darkness were depicted as a sort of supernatural shell-fish, with human faces.  In intensifying the portraiture of Giants, he had sunk quite a little capital; and, though no painter himself, he could indicate, for the instruction of his artists, with a piece of chalk, a certain furtive leer for the countenances of those monsters, which was safe to destroy the peace of mind of any young gentleman between the ages of six and eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer Vacation.

What he was in toys, he was (as most men are) in other things.  You may easily suppose, therefore, that within the great green cape, which reached down to the calves of his legs, there was buttoned up to the chin an uncommonly pleasant fellow; and that he was about as choice a spirit, and as agreeable a companion, as ever stood in a pair of bull-headed-looking boots with mahogany-coloured tops.

Still, Tackleton, the toy-merchant, was going to be married.  In spite of all this, he was going to be married.  And to a young wife too, a beautiful young wife.

He didn’t look much like a bridegroom, as he stood in the Carrier’s kitchen, with a twist in his dry face, and a screw in his body, and his hat jerked over the bridge of his nose, and his hands tucked down into the bottoms of his pockets, and his whole sarcastic ill-conditioned self peering out of one little corner of one little eye, like the concentrated essence of any number of ravens.  But, a Bridegroom he designed to be.

In fact Dickens so loves this crabbed old sinner that he cannot resist giving him a redemption arc, unearned but fun anyway:

There was a tap at the door; and a man came staggering in, without saying with your leave, or by your leave, with something heavy on his head.  Setting this down in the middle of the table, symmetrically in the centre of the nuts and apples, he said:

‘Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and as he hasn’t got no use for the cake himself, p’raps you’ll eat it.’

And with those words, he walked off.

There was some surprise among the company, as you may imagine.  Mrs. Fielding, being a lady of infinite discernment, suggested that the cake was poisoned, and related a narrative of a cake, which, within her knowledge, had turned a seminary for young ladies, blue.  But she was overruled by acclamation; and the cake was cut by May, with much ceremony and rejoicing.

I don’t think any one had tasted it, when there came another tap at the door, and the same man appeared again, having under his arm a vast brown-paper parcel.

‘Mr. Tackleton’s compliments, and he’s sent a few toys for the Babby.  They ain’t ugly.’

After the delivery of which expressions, he retired again.

The whole party would have experienced great difficulty in finding words for their astonishment, even if they had had ample time to seek them.  But they had none at all; for the messenger had scarcely shut the door behind him, when there came another tap, and Tackleton himself walked in.

‘Mrs. Peerybingle!’ said the Toy-merchant, hat in hand.  ‘I’m sorry.  I’m more sorry than I was this morning.  I have had time to think of it.  John Peerybingle!  I’m sour by disposition; but I can’t help being sweetened, more or less, by coming face to face with such a man as you.  Caleb!  This unconscious little nurse gave me a broken hint last night, of which I have found the thread.  I blush to think how easily I might have bound you and your daughter to me, and what a miserable idiot I was, when I took her for one!  Friends, one and all, my house is very lonely to-night.  I have not so much as a Cricket on my Hearth.  I have scared them all away.  Be gracious to me; let me join this happy party!’

He was at home in five minutes.  You never saw such a fellow.  What had he been doing with himself all his life, never to have known, before, his great capacity of being jovial!  Or what had the Fairies been doing with him, to have effected such a change! […] Well! if you’ll believe me, they have not been dancing five minutes, when suddenly the Carrier flings his pipe away, takes Dot round the waist, dashes out into the room, and starts off with her, toe and heel, quite wonderfully.  Tackleton no sooner sees this, than he skims across to Mrs. Fielding, takes her round the waist, and follows suit.

Chesterton says that Christmas Carol’s Scrooge goes about villainy in such a jolly, full-tilt fashion that he was probably always sneaking toys to children when the narrative’s back was turned. Tackleton is something of a delightful demon even as Scrooge is, and his unnecessary, superlative redemption arc is reminiscent of Scrooge’s. Dickens just can’t stand to end the story with anyone he likes left out of the tableaux, out in the cold, barred from the final feast.

A few final notes:

Some of the description of Tackleton’s terrifying toys is very reminiscent of “Christmas Tree”’s. I have here the note “god, nursemaid, toys, journey”, but no more idea than that what the hell I might have meant when I wrote it. Something pertaining to this!

May’s grasping mother slides somewhere into the spectrum of ‘Dickens’ mothers’. Someone must have done a very good paper or even infographic about them all, yes? I love her surly resentment when the plan doesn’t come off, and how she has to be coaxed out of it.

The restoration of Bertha’s brother is some great melodrama shit, and his fairy-taleish return as an old man, disguised thus to test his love’s fidelity (Could he have so disguised himself? Eh, who cares—), does that peculiarly Dickens trick of building and establishing the charm of his own work out of the elements of, or within the skeleton of, pre-existing forms of charm.

***

SUMMING UP:

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS IN CRICKET:

Again, the key theme for all the Christmas’ books use of the supernatural is memory, and the key frames are theatrical/pantomime/melodrama and fairy tale (possibly with a side of himself-supernaturally-interested Shakespeare). Cricket is perhaps the most ‘for the stage’ of any of the Christmas books, with the closest relationship to pantomime structures, but its particular iteration of ‘supernatural memory’ is perhaps also the most mundane. John is literally just remembering things: the force causing him to do so and organising his perceptions is said to be a sort of Shintoish house spirit, but it could just as easily be his own conscience or reason. It’s an interesting depiction of forces outside one’s own person and resources directing and curbing one’s behaviour, or of an intervention in personal life by some greater power: perhaps Christian Victorian readers took that element somewhat more seriously than I do? Memory itself could be said to be magical, here: it transports you to other times, it alters your mood, it exercises a great and unstoppable power over you.

HOW CRICKET CONSTRUCTS CHARM:

We’ve already talked about Cricket as fairy tale and theatrical performance, specifically as melodrama, pantomime and as Shakespeare reworking. We’ve also looked at artifice and authenticity and gendered charm (including something like amae behaviour) in terms of Dot, and about Caleb as a deceiving enchanter/performer. Both Dot and Caleb’s charming perhaps throw light on Dickens’ own charm labour. Charm is an audience effect, both performed and seen in story (characters charm and are charmed) and at a meta level: the reader is charmed, sometimes by the charming and charmed qualities or states of characters within the text.

If Dickens, a consummate and enthusiastic semi-professional director, can be seen as writing theatre in his prose, it’s possible that he wants characters to function as a the ultimate actors. Characters are actors Dickens can utterly control, and whose whole lives are ‘authentically’ available for the audience and useful as performance. They have no private, ‘off-stage’ existences to disrupt this. They look and emote exactly as he wants them to; they never tire of rehearsal or flub their lines. Dickens also wants living subjects to act for him on the stage and to take part in his real-life proto-psychoanalytic efforts, but here he’s making his own (which he becomes increasingly good at: Dickens gets better at character as he goes on). The actors he makes are by turns psychologically realistic and bigger than life, as he needs them to be.

Dickens is also making bank out of the Christmas stories, inventing and promoting a highly marketable nascent genre. He’s charming his contemporary reader for money, and for love: he needs that sustaining audience relationship, both for his bread and for his sense of self (more on this in re: Christmas Carol and touring). Your love is his posterity, too. It’s charm’s capacity to get the charmer what they need and want, at others’ expense (someone must Be Charmed) that really disquiets people: that, and the realisation that emotional labour is being monetised. That it is always-already labour, in ways that exist outside of and exceed capitalist definitions of the term. “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.” Silvia Federici can tell us so much about why acknowledging the connections between feeling and work is deeply uncomfortable and difficult to do. She would suggest it’s because capital is interested in mystifying these connections and obscuring the fact that  it’s predicated on the large-scale uncompensated appropriation of female labour (including feminised emotional labour). (Fanon would say something similar (though by no means contradictory—quite the reverse!) about capital’s reliance on the uncompensated appropriation of the labour of ‘raced’ peoples.)

There are only three specific uses of the word charm or any form thereof in the text. One is in the passage quoted at length above:

Of all these little incidents, Dot was the amused and open-eyed spectatress from her chair in the cart; and as she sat there, looking on—a charming little portrait framed to admiration by the tilt—there was no lack of nudgings and glancings and whisperings and envyings among the younger men.  And this delighted John the Carrier, beyond measure; for he was proud to have his little wife admired, knowing that she didn’t mind it—that, if anything, she rather liked it perhaps.

This element of a female audience herself being watched makes me think strongly of Molly Katz’s work on female audiences on stage and off in Shakespearean and Jacobite drama (specifically Malfi, which works with the same themes—female spectatorship, jealousy, mismatched marriage—to very different ends).

Another, here:

She sat plying her needle, before the fire, and singing to herself.  Such a blithe, thriving, steady little Dot!  The fairy figures turned upon him all at once, by one consent, with one prodigious concentrated stare, and seemed to say, ‘Is this the light wife you are mourning for!’

There were sounds of gaiety outside, musical instruments, and noisy tongues, and laughter.  A crowd of young merry-makers came pouring in, among whom were May Fielding and a score of pretty girls.  Dot was the fairest of them all; as young as any of them too.  They came to summon her to join their party.  It was a dance.  If ever little foot were made for dancing, hers was, surely.  But she laughed, and shook her head, and pointed to her cookery on the fire, and her table ready spread: with an exulting defiance that rendered her more charming than she was before.  And so she merrily dismissed them, nodding to her would-be partners, one by one, as they passed, but with a comical indifference, enough to make them go and drown themselves immediately if they were her admirers—and they must have been so, more or less; they couldn’t help it.  And yet indifference was not her character.  O no!  For presently, there came a certain Carrier to the door; and bless her what a welcome she bestowed upon him!

Again the staring figures turned upon him all at once, and seemed to say, ‘Is this the wife who has forsaken you!’

It’s Dot’s beauty, but also her domestic skill and her self-contained defiance that render her charming, here: her show of indifference, but also her keen feeling.

And the last:

‘Father,’ said Bertha, hesitating.  ‘Mary.’ [i.e. Dot]

‘Yes, my dear,’ returned Caleb.  ‘Here she is.’

‘There is no change in her.  You never told me anything of her that was not true?’

‘I should have done it, my dear, I am afraid,’ returned Caleb, ‘if I could have made her better than she was.  But I must have changed her for the worse, if I had changed her at all.  Nothing could improve her, Bertha.’

Confident as the Blind Girl had been when she asked the question, her delight and pride in the reply and her renewed embrace of Dot, were charming to behold.

Here Bertha’s delight and pride in her friend, and their embrace, are charming to behold. For who? Perhaps her father, who’s relieved to be forgiven—are we the audience supposed to experience this relief with him, or in sympathy for him, and to be charmed as a part of that process? Or are we supposed to be charmed simply by their affection? Or is Caleb supposed to be the one charmed to see their affection? Feeling between women, and spontaneous expressions thereof not aimed at producing success in courtship, are constructed as charming here, as they were in Battle.

***

* Some sections of this essay feel repetitive and clumsy to me, and for that I’m sorry. I suspect I need a beta to make the whole thing better, but this is just a blog post, and I’ve no intention of putting my girlfriend to the trouble of 8,000 odd words of editing when she just did the 12k “Kirk Drift” for me Saturday, over a book she’s not read, and again—for my blog. You want this article-polished, you can email me with a publication offer, can’t you.

** Funnily enough, Molly Katz points out I unconsciously stole the thrust of this from the ‘actually-quite-imitable-as-it-turns-out’:

to Mary Hurnall:

Dear Madam.

I have been in Scotland for some weeks past, and find so many letters to answer on my return, that I am obliged to send a more brief reply to yours than I desire. Accept my sincere thanks, both for your note, and the Invitation it contains. I fear it is not likely it will ever be in my power to accept it in deed, but in spirit I do, and so do Mrs. Dickens and my children—you are right; I have four. Be assured that I am not unmindful of my promise, and that if you should come back to London at any time, I shall, please god, make a point of seeing you. Your remark—a very natural and proper one—on the blind man in Barnaby, is only another proof to me, among many others which present themselves in various forms every day, of the great disadvantages which attend a detached and desultory form of publication. My intention in the management of this inferior and subordinate character, was to remind the World who have eyes, that they have no right to expect in sightless men a degree of virtue and goodness to which they, in full possession of all their senses, can lay no claim—that it is a very easy thing for those who misuse every gift of Heaven to consider resignation and cheerfulness the duty of those whom it has deprived of some great blessing—that whereas we look upon a blind man who does wrong, as a kind of monster, we ought in truth and justice to remember that a man who has eyes and is a vicious wretch, is by his very abuse of the glorious faculty of sight, and immeasurably greater offender than his afflicted fellow. In a word, I wished to show that the hand of God is at least as manifest in making eyes as in unmaking them, and that we do not sufficiently consider the sorrows of those who walk in darkness on this earth, when we set it up as a rule that they ought to be better than ourselves, and that they are required to be by their calamity. Calamity with us, is made an excuse for doing wrong. With them, it is erected into a reason for for their doing right. This is really the justice of rich to poor, and I protest against it because it is so. All this you would have seen if you could have had the whole book before your mental vision. As it is, I can only hope to bring my meaning before you by very slow and gradual degrees, and after you have formed a first impression on the subject. That it is a real pleasure and delight to me to know that I afford you any consolation or amusement, you may believe with your whole heart. And believe also that I am,

Dear Madam with an unaffected interest in your happiness

Faithfully Yours

CHARLES DICKENS

Quoth Katz:

Also interesting that Uriah also brings up “cheerfulness” in a very similar phrasing: “from nine o’clock to eleven, that labour was a curse; and from eleven o’clock to one, that it was a blessing and a cheerfulness”.  And I also wonder about “very slowly and by gradual degrees” when we have the “slow fire” that Uriah puts David on. He means “I will slowly bring the reader into this consciousness”, but there’s an element of Uriah’s signature slow roast to it, to me.

That sort of hint of vindictive ‘forcing to see’ might look ahead to a rather more modern, social justice call-out formulation. Also, the extent to which Dickens isn’t just represented by David in Copperfield is often overlooked.

Games We Like

Well, or at least games we still own…

Since I’ve only reviewed games we’ve decided to ditch thus far, I thought I’d give some indication as to games we’ve had better luck with. I don’t really review these, or at least I haven’t yet, because I often feel I don’t understand the gameplay well enough, even after a lot of plays.

This is almost entirely my partner Katy’s collection, by the by. She has both the dosh and the willingness to spend in this family.

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TOP SHELF/TRADITIONAL:

Clue(do)
Twister
Draughts/Checkers
Scrabble
Jenga
Monopoly
hard chess board

SECOND SHELF:

Rokoko
Discworld
Diplomacy
Dixit
Through the Ages
Trivial Pursuit

THIRD SHELF:

Alhambra (with expansion)
Puerto Rico
Castles of Burgundy
Power Grid
How to Host a Mystery: Star Trek, TNG

FOURTH SHELF:

Star Trek, Five Year Mission
Shadows over Camelot
Carcassonne
Virgin Queen: Wars of Religion
Race for the Galaxy (with 2 expansions)
London
Twilight Struggle

FIFTH SHELF:

SMALL GAMES:

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Eight-Minute Empire
Battle Line*
The Grizzled*
Star Realms
Kodama
Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game* (we’d need another deck to play, this was just a good shout at £2)
Game of Blame
Jane Austen’s Matchmaker
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri
Hanabi
Sushi Go
Coloretto
Set*
Jaipur
Magic the Gathering (bag)

GAMES WE’RE THINKING OF GETTING RID OF:

(the previous * titles fall into this category too)

Name Chase
Literati
Trivial Pursuit 20

CHESS SHELF:

tournament board and set, books (also playing cards and Tarot)

BOTTOM SHELF:

Settlers of Catan
Catan Traders and Barbarians
Catan Seafarers
Catan Cities and Knights
Ticket to Ride Europe
Thurn und Taxis

ARRIVING THIS WEEK: T.I.M.E. Stories (& Asylum Expansion)

Happy to answer questions about any of these!

The Victorian Gamer (Game Review)

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

The Victorian Gamer is exactly the sort of game someone gets you for Chanukahmas when you are known to like:

1. board games, and

2. Victorians.

It’s a fair cop, guv’nor, and if this game didn’t suck I’m sure that it and I could have been very happy together (in an embarrassing ‘shit I’m easy for’ sort of way). Alas, it sucks more royally than Edward II.

Your first clue is in the sense in which the company means ‘Victorian Gamer’. Check this flavour text:

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I guess they mean that some sports were developed and professionalised during this period, but the implication that Victorian English people invented sports is pretty funny.

TVG features rowing, horse racing and relay races: three things that can be entertaining enough to take part in yourself, but which are boring to watch others take part in. Perhaps they’re less so if you’re a person who likes sports (which I’m not), but even so, watching basketball is more of a recognised activity than watching rowing. (You can shove whatever you’re thinking of saying about the Oxbridge boat race, Wimsey.)

The other element this game revolves around is gambling. I know some people actually want to go to Las Vegas et al, but for me the whole thing is a combination of risky and dull, like taking a high-stakes standardised test.

The game is cheaply made. In fact it’s as bad as anything I’ve seen in that regard. The little slivers of paper money make Monopoly look posh. The graphics are clip-art as hell and the cardboard thin as a tissue box. You have to put the stickers on the 6-sided dice yourself. It’d take a Pantone colour expert to differentiate between the plastic ‘gold’ and ‘bronze’ tokens.

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Why must you make this call? Because you’re given two relay-race runners, a rower and a jockey, and you must assign one of your runners (the other’s neutral-black) and your other two kept sportsmen skill-levels. These hold throughout the game. You then challenge or are challenged by someone else in a particular event. You meet their stake, or don’t, and you bet, or don’t. The amount of the bet is up to you, and a little table determines odds and payoffs. (The rules are simple, yet somehow also not very clearly explained in the instructions.) A ‘round’ consists of however many people are playing’s one on one battles, and then an all-in event. There are three rounds to a game.

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The person with the most money at the end’s won. I like a neat, singular scoring mechanism, but Victorian Gamer’s about as bare-bones as it gets. I do appreciate that the three forms of racing have slightly different rules, but it really is simply a question of rolling your die again and again, and the better-ranked player winning the mathematically likely percent of the time. It is not a game for people who like board games, and it’s not really going to do much for people who like this period in history, either.

We honestly only played one of the three rounds through, because we’d tried all the events and could see the whole mechanism, and that it wasn’t going to get any more interesting. The game’s at once substantially themed (it’s like stepping into a naff Victorian Ladbrokes) and insufficiently built up. There’s nothing to do but endure the tedium (and my god this game would be awful with a the 6 players it can accommodate: there’s the potential for a lot of downtime, and rounds would take ages). And yet this is still more of a game than the ignoble Wonderword.

VERDICT: We could see immediately we were going to have to rid ourselves of TVG, but we’re still working out how. Shockingly, no one wants to buy it. Need to find someone else desperate for a Victorian-themed present. Possibly steampunks…

All Adaptations of Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’

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(poster for 1935 Hollywood version)

This is a list of all filmic David Copperfield adaptations I’m aware of. I’ve omitted stage and radio productions, but am very interested in any information you have on these, and may at some point start to look at them as well. Please comment if you know any more television or film adaptations! I suspect the list may not be very complete outside the Anglosphere.

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(still from 1935 Hollywood version)

Some notes:

  • There are three productions for children, including two animated versions, one of which departs radically from the plot. Two of these cut Uriah Heep.
  • There are five BBC miniseries.
  • There are eight tv miniseries, counting BBC offerings and not counting television films.
  • Not one version double-casts Uriah, though we meet him when he’s about 15 to David’s 11 (and Steerforth’s 17) and “Explosion”/the climax of the novel comes when David’s roughly 23 to Uriah’s 27 (based on Molly Katz’s timeline). At least four double-cast Steerforth (it is sometimes difficult to determine and a child actor is more likely to be ambiguously or uncredited), while the rest that include him rely on a youthful actor. Only two I can think of could be said to have a youthful Uriah: Italian 1965 and the BBC 1974 (this one reads as perhaps mid-20s throughout rather than 15). 1999 DC Uriah’s actor was 38 and 2000 DC actor’s Uriah was 33.  Italian 1965 Uriah’s actor was 30. As happens today, working-class Victorians were subjected to a variety of physical hardships that could indeed appear to age them more rapidly than their better-off contemporaries. David initially thinks Uriah older than 15, but he’s a child looking up at an older boy, and there’s a world of difference between a teenager looking old for his years and one actually being played by a 35 year old.
  • All other adaptations persistently age Uriah up to perhaps his 30s, which visually locates the problem with his desire to marry Agnes in his age rather than his class. If he looks 35 when David and Agnes are about 11, even if he still somehow looks 35 when David and Agnes are in their early 20s, a relative age has been conceptually established that does not permit the modern viewer to treat the prospect of their union as reasonable. Consider for example Austen adaptations, which almost uniformly ‘soften’ the canonical age differences between Brandon and Marianne and between Emma and Elton for a modern audience via casting, rendering Georgian marriage practices and stories concerning them acceptable to contemporary viewers. A union between Uriah and Agnes thus becomes not a problem of class and (to the extent you can separate these elements) personality, as in the novel, but of age and personality (even if age is not explicit mentioned as an issue: we have been visually cued). Class is elided in this formulation, as are the ‘there but for the grace of god’ parallels between David, Uriah and Steerforth.
  • There are six foreign language productions (counting the silent Danish version with cards). Only one (Brazil 1958) adaptation seems to have been made outside of either Europe or the Anglosphere.
  • None of them that I’ve seen seem interested in ‘Easter Egg’ nodding to other Dickens’ productions, one another, the events of the period or those of Dickens’ life. I could be wrong here! This is a casual observation.
  • All of them go with ‘David Copperfield’ as their title (unless they’ve been listed wrong where I grabbed them), choosing to use no other elements of the actual book title (The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)) (or of the 14 variant titles Dickens employed).
  • I’ll probably use this page to link to reviews of all of these as I work (it may be some time before I’m done).

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David and the only even slightly age-correct Uriah (possibly still a little too old-looking for 15?), Italian 1965 version

For comparison: Young Bruce in the very Dickensian Gotham, as played by 15 year old David Masouz.

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Title (year and medium), national origin, adult actor for David if known, any other identifying information

  1. David Copperfield, consisting of ‘The Early Life of David Copperfield’, ‘Little Em’ly and David Copperfield’ and ‘The Loves of David Copperfield’, (1911 film) American, Ed Genung, 3 reels, black and white, first non-British version, probably no Uriah and possibly no Steerforth
  2. (1912 film) British?, Bolton cites in Dickens Dramatised
  3. (1912 film) French, from Pathe, distinct from above (same source)
  4. David Copperfield (1913 film) British, Kenneth Ware, 3 Davids (child, youth, adult), silent, a contender for the title of first British feature film, black and white
  5. David Copperfield (1922 film) Danish, Gorm Schmidt, silent, black and white, first non-Anglosphere version, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  6. The Love Stories of David Copperfield (1924 film) British, silent, black and white, first
  7. David Copperfield (1935 film) American, Frank Lawton, Hollywood, black and white
  8. David Copperfield (1954 two-part television film? unsure) American, David Cole, black and white, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  9. David Copperfield (1956 tv miniseries) British, Robert Hardy, BBC: first BBC miniseries, black and white
  10. David Copperfield (1958 tv miniseries), Brazilian?, Márcio Trunkl, first and only  non-continental/Anglosphere version (if indeed Brazilian), black and white
  11. [Excerpt from] David Copperfield (1958 short teleplay) British, BBC, part of the series “Fact in Fiction: Children at Work in the Last Century”
  12. David Copperfield (1965) tv miniseries) Italian, Giancarlo Giannini, black and white, watch here, filmed like “The Leopard”, very interesting, two Steerforths
  13. David Copperfield (1965 tv miniseries) French, Bernard Verley, Uriah written out of plot, ‘Le théâtre de la jeunesse’ suggests possibly for children which would make it the first children’s production, black and white
  14. David Copperfield (1966 tv miniseries) British, Ian McKellen, BBC: second BBC miniseries, black and white
  15. David Copperfield (1969 television film) British-American, Robin Phillips, first colour production (assume colour from here on out unless indicated), two Steerforths
  16. David Copperfield (1969 tv miniseries) Spanish, Paco Valladares, black and white
  17. David Copperfield (1970 tv film) British, Robin Phillips, two Steerforths
  18. David Copperfield (1974 tv miniseries) British, David Yelland, BBC: third BBC miniseries, rebroadcast in 1976
  19. David Copperfield (1983 animated film) Australian, unclear, second production for children
  20. David Copperfield (1986 tv miniseries) British, Colin Hurley, BBC: fourth BBC miniseries, Simon Callow as Micawber (which is interesting because Callow has a good line in playing Dickens, so playing a character based off Dickens’ dad makes sense for him)
  21. David Copperfield (1993 animated musical film) American, Julian Lennon, no Uriah, Emily or Steerforth: in fact the crackiest plot changes you could possibly imagine, third production for children, watch here.                                                                                          Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 18.28.25.png

    Clara Copperfield looking as confused as I am.

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Murdstone looking like a budget Ratigan (I suspect this film’s entire planning meeting was  someone saying ‘like Great Mouse Detective, but awful’).

18. David Copperfield (1999 tv series) British, Ciarán McMenamin, BBC: fifth and currently final BBC miniseries, child David is Daniel Radcliffe–this is the role that got him cast as Harry Potter, two Steerforths
19. David Copperfield (2000 long tv film) Irish-American, Hugh Dancy, not good
20. David Copperfield
(2009 long tv film) Italian, Giorgio Pasotti
21. David Copperfield (2018 treatment, STILL IN DEVELOPMENT), British

UPDATE:

Per the Dickens Fellowship: “Presumably you have seen Dickens Dramatized by H Philip Bolton. Lists 2 DC films in 1912.”

I hadn’t, as it turns out, but now I have:

Dickens Dramatized David Copperfield Section

This includes a wealth of information on theatrical and radio productions, but it stops in 1987, either to celebrate my birth or on account of the publication of the book. I’d love to see a modernisation that brought Bolton’s work up to the present, double-checked for productions outside the Anglosphere (with an emphasis on the UK and US) and was more accessible. This hefty academic volume, of which I’ve reproduced a very small portion above, is not a reference text most libraries possess, and the printing format is almost reminiscent of contemporary fanzine listings. It’s no doubt a great resource, and the product of an incredible amount of research, but think how much more navigable and searchable it’d be as an online database, and how much more information about productions it could provide via linking?

An updated listing could also give more attention to plays produced outside London and NYC/the American East Coast.Even within the Anglosphere, this feels a little lopsided. Given the density of plays, I really feel there must have been more going on in, say, northern England than we’re seeing. (It’s probable Bolton’s front-matter, which I don’t have access to, talks about his process and lacunae, or that there are reasons I’m unaware of such things wouldn’t have occurred.) I feel as though the accounts Bolton’s drawing from (various Dickens society publications, it looks like?) are metropole-centric. They seem more likely to include something happening in Brighton (i.e. stroll out of Croydon: you are in Brighton now) than in Manchester (stroll out of Euston: keep going forever). It’s not until 1884 that I see Manchester in here, and it’s 1906 for Edinburgh. Can there really have been no Scottish or Lancastrian productions, even minor ones, against all these London outings? There’re very active trade publications for actors in this period which discuss ‘provincial’ productions–I wonder if DD is cross-referenced with these, and with extra-London theatrical archives? I also can’t believe Australia and Canada aren’t staging productions earlier and more prolifically than is here reported.

SOME NOTES ON BOLTON’S LISTING:

  • It omits a lot of productions, as I suspected it would: the internet has made this job so, so much easier.
  • In 1914 a production got ditched for more patriotic fare, which is interesting because it indicates a conception of Dickens as insufficiently nationalistic. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that. Perhaps DC just isn’t ‘blood and thunder’ enough, but still, when you think literary nationalism you think of Shakespeare beyond and outside of Henry IV and the Richard II speech. You think of a whole idea of Shakespeare-osity.
  • It’s interesting how earlier formulations of DC center ‘Em’ly’. If that happened today I might consider it a feminist gesture, but at the time it seems to have been about finding the melodrama in DC. So many theatrical productions look to be her story. That fallen woman redemption arc did work for these audiences in a way it just doesn’t or can’t for me. Sure they had to scrub some serial numbers, but when they chose to obscure and condense, for them this was a key element. I don’t think it necessarily would be, now.
  • In theatrical terms Steerforth and Uriah used to be considered character parts, and David a male ingenue.
  • Young David was sometimes, initially very often, a trousers role, i.e. played by a woman or child (as in a panto). Some American productions do it too. Grown David was seemingly always played by a man. This might make Betsey’s ‘I wish you’d been a girl!’ almost a visual gag?
  •  ‘1870 at Theatre Royal, Croydon’ ayyyy (I live in Croydon)
  • Three French theatrical versions crossed over DC and Oliver Twist.
  • A 1930 play in Budapest includes Dickens as narrator, a la Muppet Christmas Carol.
  • A 1933 version played to Wandsworth Prison. Dickens would have liked that.
  • There was an Australian opera called David and Dora.
  • WE MEET AGAIN, UNCLE TERRY! Terrance Dicks produced a BBC Copperfield. Who and Dickens always have a kinship.
  • Dora was almost universally cut from early adaptations.

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As a final note, Bolton briefly mentions a 1981 American musical Copperfield. Here is a hilariously mean review of this apparently abysmal production.

“This is the kind of musical that sends you out of the theater humming every score other than the one you’ve just heard.” lol

“often incoherently told melodrama in which all the villains literally wear black.” To be fair at least two of them (the Heeps) canonically do that for plot reasons, but point taken.
“Barrie Ingham’s Uriah, who looks like an attenuated porcupine with red quills, makes the most of his inevitable song (” ‘Umble”) and gets the evening’s two laughs. One could picture him being quite jolly in a Christmas pantomime at the London Palladium.”
— Could one? I’m interested
— 1981 was a halcyon time, when an NYT theatre critic might be expected to know what the flying dutchman a pantomime was.

Village (game review)

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

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Village is the best game we’re getting rid of in this great clearing-out effort. In some ways it’s reminiscent of several games I really like: you have a lot of in-play move options and there are several ways to score. The theme is strong and organic, affecting all the choices you can make (Though I’m not entirely sure why we’re scoring our family of villagers—perhaps it’s about the family’s prosperity over time? Ah well.). You’re never unclear on the connections between the mechanical operations and the gestalt game concept. It’s not narrative, precisely, but it’s cogent and satisfying. (The only time this strong theming is a little silly is when someone dies shortly after completing their apparent life’s work: making a single wagon. Geez, that took a lot out of you. Wheelwrights have it hard.) There are a lot of bits and bobs to keep track of, but the play experience is well-designed, and I don’t find Village clumsy to interact with. This detailed review will give you information on the actual rule system, if you want that.

So why are we getting rid of what is in many ways an appealing game? Well, for a start I dislike that we’re not building anything substantive as we play. I suppose theoretically you’re building the prosperity of the Redmeeple clan or what have you over the generations, but mostly you’re scattering meeples, collecting resources, killing off meeples like this is Small World on a micro scale, etc. etc. I don’t really know terms, but my partner says this is a worker placement game, and that she’s not sure that we like that type as much as some others.

I do know that I prefer London or Rokoko, where I feel I’m building a city/suite of dresses and deck. Village also feels slightly like Castles of Burgundy to me. I think this sense of similarity derives from the shared ‘range of actions/build a thing within a board environment’ aspect of these games, but again, all of those do have some ‘grow your x’ element that doesn’t slip away from you. I suppose your placed meeples in Village are a little like that, seeing as they retain their capabilities and/or position from round to round as long as they live, but then they keep bloody dying on you. I know it’s silly, but I’d rather not kill off my meeples: I’m instinctively a creature-coddling rather than raw tactics sort of Magic the Gathering player (though oddly in Magic I’m decent at killing my darlings). I do think I’d like this game better if it didn’t mechanically demand meepledeath, both for resource accumulation and for dumb, subterranean sentimental reasons.

I don’t ONLY like games that let you build a tableaux or whatnot, but my mind codes Village as a somewhat broken example of the breed rather than, for example, a resources-and-goals game like Takenoko.

In terms of mechanics, I do think Village has a couple of weak points that aren’t wholly located it its not being what I want it to be. I don’t think the market works all that well. Everyone should be trying to keep a green cube in readiness against the coming of a market, and some of the goods that are due to come up in trade deals (you can see these deals approaching down the pipeline) on hand (though we never get through all that many deals). However given the rather tight resources of this game, this chafes a bit. You need everything: you can’t just have green cubes and wagons lying around in case. And if someone nabs the thing you’ve also been working towards, for you’re pretty SOL. (We’ve tended to neglect the market in previous games.)

I also find traveling too much of a resource-burden. It’s important to do because it gets you resources and a significant amount of points, but you need two or three cubes (so that’s two or three goes speny in acquiring them), another to make the necessary wagon (or two turns to acquire wagon components and another to play them), and then to take a turn to travel—and none of this is factoring in the DEATH CLOCK and meeple-degradation these steps entail. Everything is a damn ordeal in this game, and it makes Village feel a little chorish rather than gamiesh at points for me.

Village can be played with two, but it flows much better with more players. It’s a fairly pleasant game for three, but we’re largely looking for games that scale more elegantly between two to more. Since our household has only two to three people at a given time (barring guests), we really only want to give space to three player games we love rather than ones we ‘oh.’ It sounds dumb, but cheap and cheerful, tiny two-player card-games get more leeway from me than this great, bulky, travel-unfriendly space-hog of a box (on par with Diplomacy, Discworld and Rokoko) that comes at a fairly substantial price-point. If Through the Ages can be confined to a respectably shelf-deep box without overhang, why not this?

I find the art annoying. Why is the score track so much sharper than the images, which seem out of focus? Why do these villagers all look misshapen? Is that dude in front of the town hall sitting on a step or standing? Why is that even a judgment call? Why do my eyes hurt a little looking at this board, like its resolution is poor? Is this a printing thing?

Lastly, and wow this is petty, I weirdly suck at Village. My partner wins every time we play scherzo, and it’s not that fun for either of us. I did much better in tonight’s three-way game. My typical move is to work the town hall and to play significantly into the church, neglecting travel and marketing to do so. This time I reversed that and did better. I was also way more kill-happy.

I feel I could get better at Village if I varied my choices a little, which is to its credit: I like games where you can experiment with play styles, learn and grow. My favourite games I still don’t feel I play perfectly: there are more facets I’ve yet to really exploit, and I can sense that there are strategies I’ve yet to develop.

Ultimately Village suffers a little due to things outside its control. It it has a high trading value on BGG, making it prime swapping material, and it’s kind of reminiscent of many other games we have (but is somewhat less pleasing than these).

VERDICT: out the door in favour of Thurn und Taxis

‘Le Havre: The Inland Port’ Review

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

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I have’t played Le Havre proper, but Le Havre: The Inland Port is, as I understand it, a short-form spin-off thereof. You’re collecting four resources on a funky little chart (which I actually kind of like—it adds a spatial thinking dimension to play) to get buildings that count as money, and that can also make you more resources and money. Once again we have a double-barrelled, awkward-exhcange-at-the-end-of-the-game resources and money system wherein ultimately only money counts (capital is truly inescapable, etc).

The course of the game is marked and controlled by a slightly confusing little sundial thing that goes around twice (sunrise, sunset!). The way this movement and the passage of time alters and controls how powerful various buildings are is fairly elegant, and I like that you get more moves as you yourself grow more powerful (as you attain more resources and buildings to make use of).

However the number of turns you play, the transitions between rounds and the number of rounds all feel somewhat arbitrary and confusing. I have to rely on my partner to tell me when to move the dial. It’s not that it’s hard to figure out where we are once I’ve counted up the number of turns we’ve had this round: it’s more that my attention wanders here. I have to make an effort to remember where we are.

This may be because the theme is *real* minimal. Some people think theme is decoration, but it’s an integral part of the game-mechanic and play experience. If the theme here was more interesting and integrated into the overall game, the narrative would make it obvious where we were at a given moment due to causal structures, or the game would keep me sufficiently interested and hooked in that I’d be calculating my next moves and hyper-aware of the limitations thereupon. Theme is not window-dressing, it is narrative and highly determinative of whether a game works/is enjoyable. Apparently I’m building some shit out of corn, fish, wood or clay. Maybe, nominally, I’m paying workers with this smoked fish or whatever, but how they they erect a building on the strength of that alone, sans wood, is a mystery to me. And why does this inland port have largely Srs Business structures and then shit like a zoo? Why this super-expensive consulate??

Along these lines, the art is bare-bones. The yellow square is bread or grain, I think? But it might as well be cured pork (The Inland Pork). People on Board Game Geek are EASY for game art, I’ll tell you that. I think they’d describe a kid’s finger painting like a William Morris print. ‘Intricate! I wept tears at its sublime beauty!’ No offence mate but some Eurogames are a step or two up from clip art? Few are Truly Fugly, but aesthetics are not that well-represented in this genre for. no. reason. Again, artists are CHEAP. Why I don’t have a full-on Pre-Raphaelite lookin’ Arthuriana game on my shelves I cannot say.

The sun dials are nice, but can get fiddly when you have too many buildings in one slot (and you will). If you stack or overlap these your partner can’t see them to use them, and that would interfere with a significant part of the game (late game especially is all about the building-renting). Always craning over to see your partner across the table’s wee businesses is a bit of a drag as-is—I often forget to do it, and thus don’t fully utilise all my opportunities.

Despite this ‘pay the other person one coin to use their building’ mechanism and some competition for buildings, it feels like there’s not much interaction between players. With a two-player you want a little more, unless you’re essentially playing a long, involving game like Through the Ages in which you’re alone with your civilisation except for how there happen to be other people there who sometimes take shit from the card row. (I know there’s a war mechanic in Ages, but it has always seemed a vast waste of time. ‘The only way to win is not to play!!’)

Strategy is a bit unclear in LH:IP. I think by playing it a few more times I could try a few ‘focuses’ /goals and see what happened, but then my partner and I already ended up with more coins than the game provided as-was. I won with 234 to her 233, and at one point a 20p piece had to come into circulation. If we did much better we’d have to raid the piggy bank. I’d be a little interested in optimising my play, but it’d be a numbers game in a sense, rather than a more meaningful strategic choice.

I *quite like* that spatial thinking element of the funky board though. I’d play something else with a similar mechanic for sure.

There are less clunky designed, more engaging quick and medium length two-player Eurogames out there (and on our own shelves), and Le Havre isn’t a port we travel to often. We’ve decided to swap it for Eight Minute Empire, which I’m looking forward to trying.

…also ‘Inland Port’ sounds silly do they mean river connected like London or…

David Copperfield: Timeline of Events

(This has been compiled and written by Molly Katz, a PhD student at Cornell. I provided only some light consulting, but we wanted to share it here as she doesn’t have a blog suited to the purpose.)

David Copperfield Timeline of Events:

All dates are based on the assumption that David is born in 1820, somewhat arbitrarily following Robert Graves in The Real David Copperfield. The ‘logical’ birth year for David is clearly 1812, Dickens’ own birth year. Graves may have used the construction of Pentonville Prison as his justification for locating David’s birth later than this. The main events of David Copperfield span 26 years, which would set David’s visit to a prison modeled on Pentonville in 1838 too early, as Pentonville opened in 1842.

Nevertheless, David stays at the Golden Cross during a visit to London. Graves’ birthdate would place this trip during 1838. According to the Penguin edition of the book, however, “Trafalgar Square was laid out between 1830 and 1841 (on the site of the King’s Mews): the Golden Cross, demolished 1827, was a famous coaching inn, the old Charing Cross (demolished 1647).” This would shift all the events of the book significantly earlier than the dates below, and support 1812 for David’s birth year.

Ultimately, given these contradictory historical benchmarks, the main value of this timeline lies in its internal consistency, NOT in its potential to align the events of David Copperfield with historical events of the Victorian period.

1770: Dr. Strong born
1780: David Copperfield Sr. born
1800: Clara Copperfield born
1807: Miss Larkins born
1811: Janet born
1812: Annie born
~1814: Steerforth born (“at least half a dozen years my senior”)
1816: Uriah born
1819: David’s parents marry
1819: Miss Mills born
September, 1819, David Copperfield Sr. dies
1820: David born (March)
~1821: Dora born
1826: Micawber son born
1827: Micawber daugher born
~1827: Uriah’s father dies, Uriah 11
~1827: Uriah goes to work for Wickfield
1829: David starts at Creakle’s, at age 8
1829: David’s brother born
1830: Comes back to school, there less than half a year
1830: Mother and brother die. Turns 10 soon after
1830: Caul auctioned off “down in our part of the country.” David present.
1830: Goes to work for Murdstone and Grinby. Reference to “his gracious majesty” during this period sets this definitively before 1837.
~1830: Dr. Strong marries Annie
~1831 (could be 1832 or even 1833): David has a birthday while still working for Murdstone and Grinby. Obliquely mentioned: he might have had more than one. “I had become, in the Murdstone and Grinby time, however short or long it may have been, so unused to the sports and games of boys”.
1832: Jack Maldon leaves for India
1837: David 17, in love with Miss Larkins
1838: David still 17 and has left school, thinking of a career. Wickfield already diminishing rapidly; cries at his desk, worst when Uriah calls him in.
1838: Steerforth at Oxford
1838: Dr. Strong retires
1838: Steerforth comes to Yarmouth with David
1838: David rents Mrs. Crupp’s room, commits to proctor as profession
1838: Uriah in London to work on becoming a partner in the firm
1838: Uriah and Agnes return to Canterbury
1838: David articled to Spenlow and Jorkins (term of articles usually two years)
1838: Very soon after he’s articled, meets Dora
1838: Barkis dies
1838: Miss Mills is “comparatively stricken in years” and almost 20 re: Dora
1838: David engaged to Dora
1838: Betsey’s fortune lost. David tries to get his articles back. Uriah now a partner, Heeps have moved into Wickfield house. Six Months still left on David’s lease w/Crupp
1838: David becomes secretary to Dr. Strong to bring in extra income
1838: Spenlow dies, Micawber becomes Uriah’s clerk. Strong family crisis takes place
1839-40: David in a new house, marriage to Dora impending. David begins writing
1841: David and Dora married
1842: David and Dora have been married about a year, Martha agrees to help in search for Emily
1842: David’s first book comes out, married a year and a half
1842: As their second year of marriage wraps up, Dora’s health seriously declines
1843: Emily recovered, “Explosion”
1843: Dora dies
1843: David plans to go abroad immediately following the Micawbers’ departure to Australia, Agnes plans to start a school
1843: Steerforth and Ham die
1843: David goes abroad
1846: David abroad a full 3 years
1846: Traddles married
1846: David returns to England around October, stays with Betsey while finishing a book, goes and sees Uriah in prison
1847: Having been home two months, David proposes to Agnes
1857: David married 10 years, more than 3 children. Mr. Peggotty comes back for a visit, shares tons of happy news from Australia.
Retrospective: unclear if this is written after 1857 or in 1857. Seems to me to be ‘in’. Traddles’ kids are getting a good education. Jack Maldon same as ever. Dr. Strong and Annie happy. Betsey now 80 years old. If it is 1857 that would mean she was born in 1777, and that she is 3 years older than David Sr.