The first Dickens’ book I read, at age nine, was an abridged version of Oliver Twist. Oliver’s tragic story was probably my first exposure to tragedy in literature. I cried tears of joy when everything fell into place for little Oliver and all was well in the end. All was not well for my younger brother though; whenever he complained about food I put forth the example of the poor orphan boy who was denied a second helping of an excuse-for-a-soup. My brother never read Oliver Twist.
Reading David Copperfield was easier and a little less emotional although I remember being immensely saddened by his wife Dora’s death. I still remember the illustration of David carrying his feeble wife up the staircase, she being too weak to climb. I was mortified by her death, blamed Agnus for it and didn’t re-read the book till much later.
But it was Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham who fascinated me the most and made me a Dickens’ fan. Estella’s beauty and her mannerisms affected my young mind and I tried to be like her (maybe still am). Both Miss Havisham and Estella were unlike women I had read of in literature (which at nine years old was limited to Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew) or knew of in real life, minus a few exceptions of course. Unlike Oliver and David, I wasn’t rooting for Pip and this feeling for him hasn’t changed still.
Even though Bleak House is the one Dickens’ novel I like best, it was Dombey and Son which almost made me a thief. It was lying on the bottom shelf of a library in Pindi when I first discovered and issued it. A hard cover, un-abridged version with the original illustrations on the most silky smooth paper; it was love at first sight. I read it five times just to check if anyone else besides me got it issued. Oh, if only I had hidden that book under my shawl on that cold December morning! I know, deep down, that if I pay a visit to that library even now, I shall find the book issued only five times. Okay, that sounds a bit filmi but yes, if I go there now, I’ll definitely steal it. Theft detectors and conscious can go to hell!
I plan to re-read all his books this year and maybe, just maybe, I might discover the secret which makes his writing relevant to readers around the globe even now, 200 years on.
Coming soon: Dickens' on the beanbag