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What does Aunt Betsey look like?
What did Dickens think about when he was in a church?
Did anyone in a Dickens book go ice skating?
Is Wackford Squeers anything like his name suggests?
Who drinks at Tuttle's Pub?
Looking for these answers can mean a long search, as Dickens novels are hundreds of pages. And not every village piece has an actual source in Dickens! Now, for the first time, a Dickens expert has carefully selected excerpts that either describe the exact inspiration for the piece, or illuminate a related aspect of Victorian life as Dickens saw it.
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Q: What is the Dickens Village?
A: A company called Department 56 sells a line of collectibles called The Dickens Village™ (www.department56.com). The Dickens Village is but one of their many charming products. The Dickens Village collectibles are high-quality ceramic sculptures of churches, inns, houses, stores, and characteristically Victorian buildings, which are inspired by places and characters of the novels of Charles Dickens.
Q: What would a collector get out of this book?
A:.Dickens novels are big, and it's daunting to find one or two paragraphs describing a tailor or a puppet show. Moreover, not every piece corresponds to something “real” in a Dickens novel, so some of the selections are more than what you would expect. For example, a profound observation about the nature of youth accompanies “Stone Bridge.”
Q: Isn't it hard to know what is going on in these “selections,” without reading the rest of the book?
A: Not at all. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:
As a general rule Dickens can be read in any order; not only in any order of books, but even in any order of chapters. In an average Dickens book every part is so amusing and alive that you can read parts backwards; you can read the quarrel first and then the cause of the quarrel; you can fall in love with a woman in the tenth chapter and then turn back to the first chapter to find out who she is.
Q: I read a selection in your book, and then I read the complete Dickens novel. There are small inconsistencies in words and punctuation between your version and the published one. What's going on here?
A: I used nineteenth-century editions of Dickens's works for my selections because they are in public domain. If you read Dickens today, you should buy the Oxford edition because the text of that edition was established by scholars. This means that they took all the lifetime editions of Dickens, compared them, rooted out the typos, and tried to decide on the best choice whenever it seemed like Dickens had made a change himself, which he did, over a lifetime of publishing the same books over and over. Establishing a text is hard work and for that reason established editions like the Oxford are under copyright.
Q: If I were to read my first Dickens book, what would you suggest?
A: A Christmas Carol, without hesitation, even if you think you know the story. If you'd like another recommendation, then I don't know where to begin: Pickwick Papers, because it is so silly, Hard Times because it is so topical, Our Mutual Friend because it is perfect, Great Expectations because it is a jewel, Tale of Two Cities because it is so moving, David Copperfield because of the friends you make. If you want to read about Dickens, then you can pretty much skip the learned professors at the library, and just stick with G. K. Chesterton essays. The most scholarly and complete biography is by Fred Kaplan, the most interesting, by Edgar Johnson.
More questions? Write me.
Q: What Dickens Village pieces did y