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So Mr Dickens - Where is My Mind?

Posted: 9/01/2012 00:00

Charles Dickens is seriously bothering me at the moment. Not, you understand, because the demonstrably dead genius has decided to mark the bicentenary of his birth by coming to twirl his ghostly moustaches at me in the middle of the night.

It's because amidst the glut of documentaries, exhibitions and adaptations currently being devoted to the author, I've come to realise that I've clearly wasted what amounts to several days, or even weeks, of my life reading Dickens novels that I no longer remember at all.

David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations...I read all these chunky doorstoppers once, and was happy to debate and discuss the polarised, sprawling, alternately grotesque, socio-realistic and sentimentalised Dickensian universe with the familiarity of an avid fan.

Yet so far, I only have Jilly Cooper on my new Christmas kindle, and while there's nothing I don't like about being able to fit an 800 page bonkbuster into a clutch bag, it troubles me that the only Dickens novel for which I can recall much more than a sketchy outline of events is Oliver Twist.

And that's probably just because I was coerced into playing Bill Sykes in an all-girl primary school's production of Lionel Bart's Oliver!, I'm presuming because I was tall for my age, rather than because I radiated psychopathic aggression and hyper-masculinity, but that's a whole other therapy session.

This matters to me, because I worry about the point of trying to learn anything, or better myself at all, if it's all just going to drain away. And it feels like the symptom of a much larger problem - while I used to read or paint for hours on end, I've now got a true iPod-generation attention span.

While Dickens framed and sketched the entirety of complex works like Bleak House in his head, pacing the smoggy streets of London on insomniac strolls, I sometimes feel like I can barely compose a Facebook comment without using the cut and paste function. And even then I usually get distracted and slope off to make a cup of tea, or to spend another half hour pondering "fringe? Or no fringe?" in front of the mirror, raising and lowering a fistful of hair like a drawbridge.

But really it's our personal memories; the good, the mundane and the awful, that make us who we are. So while I can still recall the scent of damp petals, or the way it feels to hoik up metallic-tasting, plum-sized blood clots during a punched-by-Rocky-esque nosebleed, I'll let it slide that I can't remember a single name from Our Mutual Friend. But that might be because I never actually got round to reading that one...

 

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