Charles Dickens and His Women
When Virginia Woolf said in 1925 that “there is perhaps no person living who can remember reading David Copperfield for the first time,” she was speaking for a post-Victorian generation for whom Charles Dickens was not merely a national monument—there like the dome of St. Paul’s—but a novelist read aloud in the family circle after supper or upstairs before going to bed.
Today, instead of searching for a person who can’t remember first reading David Copperfield, we might be hard pressed to find many who have read it at all. And what of the rest of Dickens’s oeuvre? In 2010, Oprah Winfrey put Great Expectations (“An unforgettable tale of fate and a chance encounter,” according to her website) and A Tale of Two Cities (“thrives on tension and conflict, all set against a bloody backdrop of the French Revolution”) on her book club list. Unpersuaded, her membership mostly sighed, grumbled, and put the books down unfinished—doubtless because they couldn’t find, in those dark, syntactically involved pages, any payout from Oprah’s promise about clues to living “in this digital age.” The publisher, Penguin, had to remainder the handsome two-in-one volumes by the truckload.
About the Author
Thomas L. Jeffers, professor of English at Marquette University, is the author, most recently, of Norman Podhoretz: A Biography (Cambridge University Press).