on my second monster biography of Charles Dickens, after just completing
Michael Slater’s recently published Charles Dickens (720 pages). This time I’m
reading Peter Ackroyd’s 1,200-page Dickens, a 1991 release that I found
used—but in like-new condition—for about $15. I admit, after several hundred
pages I’m beginning to jump around the text a bit, but Ackroyd’s narrative is
thorough and engaging.
read the following except last night, and was taken by how similar Dickens’
writing routine is to that of other, more recent writers described in the pages of
The Writer and elsewhere:
used a goose-quill pen with blue (or occasionally black) ink. He wrote in
blue-grey slips of paper, eight and three quarter inches by seven and one
quarter inches. On an ordinary day he would complete approximately two thousand
words (some two to two and a half ‘slips’) but when he was writing in a furious
vein he might cover four ‘slips’ and complete almost four thousand words.
Sometime, of course, nothing came at all; and yet he stayed in his study,
keeping to his hours. On these occasions he might draw figures or dots, or
doodle. Or he would simply stare out of the window. ‘But I always sit here,’ he
said, ‘for that certain time.’ His son [the eldest, Charles Dickens Jr.] adds,
‘Whether he could get on satisfactorily with the work in hand mattered nothing.
He had no faith in the waiting-for-inspiration theory ... It was just his
business to sit at his desk during just those particular hours in the day, my
father used to say, and, whether the day turned out well or ill, there he sat
accordingly. He would occasionally come into lunch and complain of having a
‘bad morning’--‘but I have know from the expressive working of his face and
from a certain intent look that I learnt to know well, that he had been, almost
unconsciously, diligently thinking all round his subject. ...’ So the novelist
sat at his desk, from nine until two, and, when the time came for his
three-hour walk, ‘I go at once, hardly waiting to complete a sentence.’ ”
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