Thursday, December 20, 2007

A surprising introduction

I was trying to teach my high school students about writing descriptively. We had a few examples in our book, but then I remembered one of my favorite descriptive passages: The opening chapter of Bleak House and its description of fog.

I knew I had an old “Everyman’s Library” edition – 1954, but first published in 1907 – that I hadn’t read in years. I found it in my bookcase at home, and brought it in the next day.

I read the passage. Then I happened to look at the introduction.

Yes, it was Chesterton’s. A treasure I didn’t even realize I had.

Somehow I never thought of Dickens as somehow like “mature potato“ or Napoleon, but Chesterton made it all work.

He talks of Dickens’ growing maturity as a novelist. And he praises the very section I read – “Dickens’s openings are almost always good; but the opening of Bleak House is good in a quite new and striking way.”

And in talking about Dickens’s use of the fog (of the air, and of Chancery), he observes, “He means that all the characters and all the events shall be read through the smoky colours of the sinister and unnatural vapor.”

Fancy that. Enjoying a great book not only for the book itself, but also for its introduction.

A little Christmas gift!

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