Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Very Model of a Modern Major Author II

Charles Dickens

And now I give you Charles Dickens (1812-1870). His books, serialized in newspapers, were wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. When the last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, published 1840-41, arrived by ship in New York, crowds shouted from the pier, "Is Little Nell dead?" So we can see that Harry Potter-itis is nothing new.

For authors whining about the hardship of book tours, I don't just give them Dickens; I throw him in their faces. The man traveled the length and breadth of England, and all over the U.S. too, giving lectures and readings from his books. And author events 150 years ago weren't your cozy, carpeted B&N affair with 20-minute reading, 15-minute audience Q&A and 20-minute book signing.

Noooo...Dickens did dramatic, hours-long readings, in halls packed to the rafters--night after night, year after year. In fact, his relentless touring and performance schedule probably contributed to his death at age 58.

Consider this tidbit from a fascinating article in yesterday's NYT, On the Trail of Brooklyn's Underground Railroad:
Dickens "read A Christmas Carol to capacity crowds for three nights running in 1868" at Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church.
Imagine doing that with individual voices for the novel's many characters--without amplification--for ONE night, let alone three. Then try and feel sorry for yourself when you're on a panel at a book festival, or do a bookstore signing.

Can't muster any self-pity? Eager to put more oomph into your presentations? Good; my job is done.

3 comments:

Robin S. said...

Interesting, and a bit of a relief, to see Dickens selling his stuff.

I always think of Dickens, Twain, et al, as larger than life, no-need-to-sell-yourself types, even though a part of me knows that wasn't true.

Lorraine Hershon said...

Ive always loved Dickens, my favourite being Hard Times. Its unbeatable, and a real snapshot of the real Victorian Britain.

Sheila Curran said...

I'm a huge Dickens fan too. Remember when he wasn't fashionable among English professors. I'd kill to have crowds waiting to hear me read. Well, not literally. It's not the physical hardships of book tours, it's more the ego-bruising of showing up to B&N and having no one come at all. Surely there's a better way to do it...say, as in, oh, the internet?
Thanks for posting my cover, Bella!