A Classics Circuit Tour: Dickens versus Austen

 Jane Austen versus Charles Dickens?

Not a fair fight!

The two have very different attributes and most definitely would fight in different divisions, indeed in very disciplines.

I learned to love Jane Austen at a very young age, and with the passing of the years I have come to appreciate her writing even more.

It took me longer to learn to love Charles Dickens, but in time that love came. When I started treating his books as serials to be read over an extended period something finally clicked.

I have much unread Dickens but no unread Austen, and so it was Dickens I chose to read for the Classic Circuit.

And I chose The Pickwick Papers.


“Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some new, all more or less original. One of these was the ‘P.C.’, for as secret societies were the fashion, it was thought proper to have one, and as all of the girls admired Dickens, they called themselves the Pickwick Club. With a few interruptions, they had kept this up for a year, and met every Saturday evening in the big garret, on which occasions the ceremonies were as follows: Three chairs were arranged in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, with a big ‘P.C.’ in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven o’clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity. Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy, who was always trying to do what she couldn’t, was Nathaniel Winkle. Pickwick, the president, read the paper, which was filled with original tales, poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in which they good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults and short comings.”

(from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

It’s been quietly calling me ever since I first read those words.

But I must confess that I have read very little of The Pickwick Papers.

The time just hasn’t been right, and I have been trying to fit too many things into not quite enough time.

But the little I have read has already given me an inkling of just how it so inspired the March girls.

I’ll progress through The Pickwick Papers slowly, when the time is right, and I am quite sure that I will enjoy the journey.

But that may not be for a while. Now that I have picked up Little Women to pull up that quote I am very, very tempted to reread the whole book…

28 responses

  1. You’ve done it again, Jane. You’ve made me want to go find Little Women, the Pickwick Papers and anything by Jane Austen. Thanks for the idea of reading Dickens slowly. I do remember now that he published most everything in weekly pieces for the papers. That’s probably how I’ll do it.

    • Excellent! Treating Dickens as a serial writer made all the difference for me, and I hope it will work for you too.

    • If I read Dickens solidly I tend to get bogged down, and I think of all the other books I could have read in the same time period. But in installments in between other books I love him!

  2. I remember that same passage from Little Women! I got halfway through Pickwick Papers last year and then stalled… and haven’t picked it up again. I will look forward to your reflections on it when you get to the end!

    • I’d fogotten that passage until quite recently. I knew there was something, I just hadn’t placed it. I am a little worried about The Pickwick papers being so long, but hopefully if i keep it slow and steady I’ll get to the end one day!

  3. I developed a hatred for Dickens during my undergraduate days, but have really loved the recent tv adaptations of Bleak House and Little Dorrit so I know his stories are fascinating. Your idea of reading him slowly might just be the technique for enjoying his novels.

    • I was lucky that the only Dickens I read at school was A Christmas Carol. I do think he’s one of those authors who works best when you have a little more maturity and a little more time to invest.

  4. I love Dickens with the exception of ‘The Pickwick Papers’. I know the March girls read it (and remember it would have been a modern novel for them!) but they are the only women I ‘know’ who have got on with it. It seems to be much more of a man’s book.

    • Certainly this seems like a more masculine book, but as Dickens generally writes men better than women I thought that might not be a bad thing. Time will tell.

  5. I love both, but in such different ways. Dickens primarily for his style, and how funny he is. Austen for the depth of her characters, the genius of her plotting, and the balance of her style. I will always choose Austen, but I want to read more Dickens… in fact, I started Great Expectations in December, and put it to one side – will dig it out again.

    • I’d always choose Austen too, but I feel a gap in my literary life from not knowing Dickens a little better.

  6. Little Women is actually my favourite book of all time, and I have to admit that passage has made me think about picking up The Pickwick Papers more than once, but I’ve not yet done it. I have a deeply instilled fear of Dickens, and find his books reeeeeaally difficult usually. I’m actually defending Austen on the tour today, but I’m still working on my post, and was flicking through the other posts for today. Yours made me smile šŸ™‚ And make me want to read Little Women again…

    • I inherited Little Women from my mother, and between us we have worn out a sturdy copy from reading it so many times. I avoided Dickens for years, but I read a couple of the shorter Christmas books (many of them are available from the Hesperus Press and can be found free online) and they proved to be a wonderful way in.

    • If I had to choose it would definitely be Austen, but they are very different authors each with their own merits.

  7. I am about half way through Pickwick Papers. I am enjoying it, it is so light and funny. so funny. I hadn’t remembered that passage in Little Women. I wanted to read it since it’s mentioned in Gaskell’s Crawford.

    • I’d forgotten the Cranford reference. Isn’t it interesting that two woman writers from the same era reference Pickwick?

  8. I haven’t read Pickwick yet but you make this sound intriguing. I think I must also reread Little Women, I don’t think I’ve read it since I was a child. I do remember mentions of Pickwick in Cranford which I found delightful.

    Too much Dickens and too little time!

  9. The Pickwick Papers is one Dickens book that has never sounded very appealing to me, but remembering that passage from Little Women maybe I should give it a try. I’ve just finished reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood for the Classics Circuit and enjoyed it, despite it being unfinished!

  10. Pickwick certainly feels different from the other Dickens Ive read – a smaller canvas so far – but I am liking it. I’m trying to take a roughly chronological approach to Dickens, so Drood is many years in the future.

  11. Little Women is one of the much loved by everyone books I have not yet read-I will perhaps start with some of her short stories-I read Pickwick Papers years ago-it is slow going but it is really worth reading and parts of it are a lot of fun

  12. It’s a long time since I read Pickwick, but I remember finding it very funny. I have a very old copy that I picked up second-hand, it’s falling apart so I daren’t read it.

  13. Pingback: Classics Circuit: Austen vs Dickens | Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

  14. I finished reading The Pickwick Papers this week. I enjoyed it very much–though it took about half the novel for me to really connect with it and want to read it. (As in WANT to read it not just NEED to read it because of the tour!)
    I think Dickens is one of those authors that just can’t be rushed or forced.

  15. I linked to you in my Circuit post but I forgot to actually come over here and comment! šŸ˜€ I picked The Pickwick Papers for my Dickens choice for the same reason you did: Little Women! I also haven’t read LW in ages, and I’m also having a very strong urge to reread it soon…

  16. Pingback: Classics Circuit: Austen vs Dickens - Here There Be Books

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