England’s Greatest Novelist and Other Letters to the Editor

Dickensworld

To the Editor:

Charles Dickens created the most original, entertaining and memorable characters in English literature, but he was not “England’s greatest novelist,” as Robert Gottlieb said in his review of A. N. Wilson’s “The Mystery of Charles Dickens” (Nov. 8).

His characters were not real, complex people. George Eliot’s novels are greater because, as noted by Fareed Zakaria’s By the Book interview in the same issue, she wrote with “insight into people’s inner lives.”

Malcolm Pittman
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

I respectfully disagree with Gottlieb’s assertion that Charles Dickens has emerged “ever more conclusively as England’s greatest novelist and literary figure.”

While this may be a matter of my own personal taste and subjective judgment, I was even more disappointed to see that he made no mention of George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans), the extraordinary 19th-century novelist who certainly ranks with Dickens, Hardy, Meredith et al.

Eliot wrote the seminal psychological novel “Middlemarch,” a matchless magnum opus Virginia Woolf famously considered “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

It strikes me as sadly ironic that in the Book Review’s lead, lavish review — published the day after Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States — this barrier-breaking woman novelist was not so much as cited. I was, however, gratified to see in Fareed Zakaria’s By the Book interview that he would have invited Eliot to his imaginary literary dinner party because of “her insight into people’s inner lives.”

Sarah Chace
Williamsburg, Va.

To the Editor:

The only thing missing from Robert Gottlieb’s superb review of “The Mysteries of Charles Dickens” is a reference to the third (and similar) English literary genius, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Paul Dolan
New York

To the Editor:

How gratified I am by Robert Gottlieb’s election week endorsement of Charles Dickens’s works, albeit in his less than enthusiastic review of A. N. Wilson’s book. I am just completing my seventh Dickens novel in a row, the surprisingly perfect antidote to these last months of political vitriol.

In a tactile enhancement of my reading, I met Dickens in the 100-year-old books of the New Century Library edition published by Thomas Nelson and Sons. The wine-colored leather novels, about 4 by 6 inches each, belonged to my wife’s four maiden aunts who exchanged them as Christmas and birthday presents starting in 1920. They sat on our shelf more decor than library for decades — an irony itself given that the books’ spines, of course, were worn to a dull mud color.

A real pleasure of these books was the struggle to turn their onionskin pages, with even the 900-page “Bleak House” coming in at less than an inch thick. The pause between each page as I fumbled a corner created a reflective moment, savoring and anticipating the stories.

All the strengths of Dickens’s fiction that Gottlieb notes I now appreciate much more than when I taught “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Hard Times” to high school students.

Lee J. Woolman
Minneapolis

Your Tired, Your Poor

To the Editor:

Reading Adina Hoffman’s review of “The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War,” by David Nasaw (Nov. 8), brings back memories of seeing Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera “The Consul.”

I vividly remember the scene in which Magda Sorel sings, “To this we’ve come: that men withhold the world from men. No ship nor shore for him who drowns at sea. No home nor grave for him who dies on land. To this we’ve come.”

History repeats itself.

Ernest G. D’Amato
Maplewood, N.J.

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