Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

In honor of Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday, here is a funny excerpt from Our Mutual Friend:

Betimes next morning, that horrible old Lady Tippins (relict of the late Sir Thomas Tippins, knighted in mistake for somebody else by His Majesty King George the Third, who, while performing the ceremony, was graciously pleased to observe, ‘What, what, what? Who, who, who? Why, why, why?’) begins to be dyed and varnished for the interesting occasion. She has a reputation for giving smart accounts of things, and she must be at these people’s early, my dear, to lose nothing of the fun. Whereabout in the bonnet and drapery announced by her name, any fragment of the real woman may be concealed, is perhaps known to her maid; but you could easily buy all you see of her, in Bond Street; or you might scalp her, and peel her, and scrape her, and make two Lady Tippinses out of her, and yet not penetrate to the genuine article. She has a large gold eye-glass, has Lady Tippins, to survey the proceedings with. If she had one in each eye, it might keep that other drooping lid up, and look more uniform. But perennial youth is in her artificial flowers, and her list of lovers is full.

‘Mortimer, you wretch,’ says Lady Tippins, turning the eyeglass about and about, ‘where is your charge, the bridegroom?’

‘Give you my honour,’ returns Mortimer, ‘I don’t know, and I don’t care.’

‘Miserable! Is that the way you do your duty?’

‘Beyond an impression that he is to sit upon my knee and be seconded at some point of the solemnities, like a principal at a prizefight, I assure you I have no notion what my duty is,’ returns Mortimer.

Eugene is also in attendance, with a pervading air upon him of having presupposed the ceremony to be a funeral, and of being disappointed. The scene is the Vestry-room of St James’s Church, with a number of leathery old registers on shelves, that might be bound in Lady Tippinses.




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7 responses to “Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

  1. Though it’s entirely unreasonable, I am always surprised when older books are funny. For whatever reason, I think of comedy as something modern despite having read numerous old (Don Quixote) and even ancient (The Tale of Genji) books that are funny.

    This chapter title in Oliver Twist always makes me laugh:
    “Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in its place. But it should be read, notwithstanding, as a sequel to the last, and a key to the one that will follow when its time arrives.”

  2. I read Great Expectations last year with a friend and was also surprised by the number of times that I smiled, and by the absolutely perfect descriptions of everyday emotions in such un-everyday ways (like that air of having expected a funeral and been disappointed). Really must make time for more Dickens…

  3. Scott – I too am still surprised when a classic novel makes me laugh. When I read the Hunchback of Notre Dame a couple of years ago, I was so surprised by the genuinely funny bits that were thrown in among the tragic events of the story. Re: the Oliver Twist chapter title, that’s fantastic. That’s the other surprising thing too, is how “meta” a number of the classic novelists are.

    Buried in Print – yes, Dickens does have clever ways of describing wholly recognizable feelings, or situations or people. Great Expectations is the book I want to read next by Dickens.

  4. There’s nothing like a Dickens novel! This excerpt makes me think Our Mutual Friend should be next on my list. Great Expectations is my favorite, with Bleak House close behind… but there are still so many left to read.

  5. This is one I have chosen to read for 2012 along with ‘David Copperfield’ since that is closest to Dicken’s own life allegedly. Are you going to read one of his this year?

  6. JoAnn – Our Mutual Friend is terrific!

    Claire – I didn’t like David Copperfield that much, but I think I heard that it was Dickens’ favorite, probably b/c of that autobiographical element. It was the first Dickens that I read. I don’t know if I am going to read any Dickens this year. There are some tomes I want to tackle this year, but I’m not sure any of the tomes will be Dickens’.

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