So beyond the various incarnations of A Christmas Carol, it seems that our good friend Mr. Charles Dickens is just as ubiquitous even after Christmas. I think he deserves a little mini-tribute here.
I’ve always been a fan of Dickens, if not just for the humor that he uses so adeptly, but also for his incredibly detailed character descriptions. This is a guy who, even though he was writing a century and a half ago in another country, can make you go “Hey, I know somebody exactly like that.” His jokes and subtle references translate just as well as Shakespeare’s.
Bleak House, our most-recently-watched BBC masterpiece, was certainly one of Dickens’ darker pieces (and especially so in this version). As usual, I devoured the episodes as quickly as possible and was depressed when it was over. If you’ve never heard Mr. Smallweed holler “Shake me up, Judy,” then you need to Netflix this on the double. The guy’s got some awful affliction that causes him to feel the need to have his bones “shaken up” every five minutes, and no amount of Googling will conclusively tell us what the disease is. At any rate, Smallweed and Guppy will make you laugh, Tulkinghorn will make you cringe, and Lady Dedlock will make you want to put on silk gowns and rustle through a darkened mansion. Unless you’ve already wanted to do that, every day of your waking life.
While in the throes of Bleak House, I was out to lunch with some coworkers when my boss used the phrase “she put the kibosh on it quick enough.” I said “what the heck does ‘kibosh’ mean?” I’d never heard it before. He tried to explain it, and later at the office he sent me this link to an explanation. Apparently it was first used in this nature in (surprise!) Dickens’ Sketches by Boz. The probably Celtic origins of the word make sense enough, and I’m glad to have actually learned something during the workday.
Not long after that episode, Maddie saved an article in The New York Times Magazine that had to do with our aforementioned BFF. The article, “Diagnosing With Dickens,” praises the author for his uncanny ability to portry real-life physical afflictions. He has apparently identified tons of different syndromes and what-have-you, decades before they were ever defined by physicians. Knowing what we know now about these disorders, we can read through Dickens and go “oh, okay. sleep apnea. dyslexia. tuberculosis.” I wish there was a more definite conclusion for Smallweed’s problem, though.
All this, and he had a sweet beard too.