After reading the first two chapters of D.C., and the first chapter of Ackroyd’s biography, I’ve noticed some themes that I wonder about, in terms of how pervasively they will inhabit the work and the life, versus how meekly they will fade out and die, only to be replaced by more enduring motifs.
What I’ve noticed is an observation you can make well before cracking open the biography or the novel; that is, the sheer outlandish size of these books, the prodigal amount of pages. Ackroyd’s bio weighs in at 1195 pages; D.C., at 891. And of course it’s not the amount of pages so much as what the amount stands for that is worth taking note of.
So what does such size stand for?
Here are a few clues. On the cover of the bio, Dickens sits, an elderly man, balding, with his grizzled sideburn-less beard, his concentrated eyes poised as if mid-sentence, his elbow bent on the writing table, his other hand, holding the quill, curved as if caught in a position of preparedness to spring upon the page. His brow slightly creased, his eyes wide open and almost stony in their staring seriousness, Dickens gives off an air of near-morbid attentiveness, a kind of dolefully intense frame of mind. Above his head, only the title, “Dickens.”
What I’m attempting to articulate is the forbidding stature of these books. I do not mean to say the books are perniciously intimidating. But their size sends a message: they are serious works of art, hugely ambitious undertakings; they are not be trifled with. They are adventures of thought, of imagination; Cervantes- or Fielding-esque romps via a fictive imagination that feels as round and real as the world. They suggest that such books are not read so much as reckoned with. On the cusp of these big books, I feel consequently vibrantly elated, and almost fearful with anticipation.