Friday, October 21, 2011

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's "Becoming Dickens"

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Fellow and Tutor in English, Magdalen College, Oxford.

His media work includes writing arts features and reviews for the Daily Telegraph, contributing to UK and US radio and television programs, and acting as the historical advisor on recent BBC adaptations of Jane Eyre (2006) and Emma (2009).

Douglas-Fairhurst applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, and reported the following:
I was intrigued – as well as relieved – to see that page 99 of Becoming Dickens is like a miniature of the book as a whole, which looks at how differently Dickens’s life could have ended up, and how obsessed he was with “what might have been, and what was not” (Dombey and Son). The page begins with Dickens’s memory of how he once had the ambition of being a professional actor. He was ill on the day of the audition and, he told his friend John Forster, “ never resumed the idea … See how near I may have been to another sort of life”. However, Dickens didn’t give up acting altogether; page 99 goes on to quote his daughter’s recollection of how he wrote his novels:
…. my father wrote busily and rapidly at his desk, when he suddenly jumped up from his chair and rushed to a mirror which hung near, and in which I could see the reflection of some extraordinary facial contortions which he was making. He returned rapidly to his desk, wrote furiously for a few moments, and then went again to the mirror. The facial pantomime was resumed, and then turning toward, but evidently not seeing, me, he began talking rapidly in a low voice.
Seen in this way, Dickens didn’t so much reject acting as absorb it into his daily routine. Perhaps that’s why he enjoyed calling himself ‘The Inimitable’. He was the man of a thousand voices, a thousand faces, and for him the blank page was a funfair mirror in which every grimace and snarl could be captured for posterity. To borrow the advertising slogan used by Victorian photographers, each sheet of paper was a ‘mirror with a memory’.
Read more about Becoming Dickens at the Harvard University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Becoming Dickens.

--Marshal Zeringue