From Pickwick to Scrooge, Copperfield to Twist, how did Dickens find the perfect names for his characters? What was Dickens's favourite way of killing his characters? When is a Dickens character most likely to see a ghost? Why is Dickens's trickery only fully realised when his novels are read aloud? In thirteen essays, John Mullan explores the literary machinations of Dickens's eccentric genius, from his delight in clichés to his rendering of smells and his outrageous use of coincidences. This companion puts Dickens's audacity, originality and brilliance on full display.
... excellent ... The Artful Dickens is both an exposure of the trickster’s methods and a celebration of close reading. The book is divided into 13 essays which can be read separately, but whose impact is greater when taken together ... If Mullan put into his hat a creator of gargoyles and spinner of melodrama, he pulled out an innovator who broke all the rules. The Artful Dickens made me feel that I had been in some form of trance during my earlier reading of these novels.
Whether you think modern critical theory a triumph or a travesty—or, alternatingly, both—John Mullan, in The Artful Dickens, has something to offer ... Without academic pretense, [Mullan] offers a careful reading of Dickens’ work that will illuminate the joy fans already experience and assist those who struggle to find a way into these long, old-fashioned novels. Mullan doesn’t claim to have parsed the entire Dickens canon; indeed, this volume reads like an enthusiastic list of favorites ... One of the pleasures to be gained by this book will come after reading it, when you return to Bleak House, Great Expectations, or David Copperfield and find yourself newly able to identify techniques that Mullan did not assess ... on page after page, The Artful Dickens shows us a singular craftsman who was of his time and, simultaneously, timeless.
Rather than advance a consistent argument about Dickens’s artistry, Mullan responds to the novelist’s multifariousness with an appealing miscellany of his own ... Some of these feel more random than others: it’s hard to think of Dickens’s obsession with death by drowning, for instance, as a sign of his artfulness, though Mullan has arresting things to say ... Not all Mullan’s attempts to argue for Dickens’s distinctiveness are quite as persuasive. Though he is undoubtedly right to observe how haunted the novels are by intimations of the supernatural, he exaggerates the degree to which this marks them out from their contemporaries ... Mullan comments sensitively on how 'Dickens makes us hear what is repressed,' but he is hardly alone among Victorian novelists in thus exploiting the unsaid, and it seems odd to include what this book must concede is the least daring side of Dickens’s art among the 'tricks and ploys of the great novelist.' But Mullan is at his heart a critic of style, and the most rewarding parts of The Artful Dickens are those in which he turns his eye on the various maneuvers by which the novelist’s prose comes alive.