One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

Dickens’ Dream photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It amazes me that anyone can pick up a book and read the words and thoughts of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.

Classic literature isn’t always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some may describe it as boring or outdated. Yet it can teach us so much, not only about history, but about ourselves.

I didn’t think A Tale of Two Cities would make me laugh as much as it has so far. But it does make me laugh because much of what Dickens describes is still relevant today. He shows that people can be funny, whether they know it or not (and whether they want to admit it or not). To show you what I mean, here are a few passages:

“Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”

“The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson’s, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books…”

Dickens is famous for his characters. For any writers who might be struggling with character description, I’d recommend reading one of his books. Not only is he entertaining, but he tackles the “show, don’t tell” rule in a very fun way.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, we can still laugh with and learn from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

What are some of your favorite classics? Which authors make you laugh?

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29 thoughts on “One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

  1. I don’t read a lot of classics (I know I should!), but my favorite actually is A Tale of Two Cities. That ending still gives me chills when I think about it. But you’re right; there are some amusing parts, too. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

    • I’m only about halfway through so far so I’m glad you didn’t give the ending away! I can probably guess by now though. I was surprised there were so many funny parts, but then I’m usually easily amused.

      • That’s okay – you didn’t give anything away. 🙂 Strangely enough, I never had to read this one in school. I’m glad I’m reading it now instead because I might not have understood it all back then or laughed as much if I had to worry about being tested on it.

  2. It’s been years since I’ve read any, but so many were required reading in my honors English courses—the Canterbury Tales, the Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote,…. I enjoyed so many of them. 🙂

    • Those are all great ones – especially Don Quixote. I wonder if there will be a classics revival now that a lot of them are free on Kindle. That’s why I’m reading this one now – but then I guess they’re always free at the library too.

  3. I’m frequently amazed at how similar things are in older literature, the issues and social concerns – and stylistically in the writing form. Absolutely we can still learn from them – and thankfully laugh too 🙂
    ROS

    • Yes – it makes me think of the whole “the more things change, the more things stay the same” expression – especially where thoughts on war and politics are concerned. You’re right – the world is insane!

  4. Love Peter Benchley, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions,” and J.DE. Salinger’s “Catcher in the rye,” the best book ever.

    • Breakfast of Champions is another one I haven’t gotten to yet – thanks for the recommendation! I read Catcher in the Rye a long time ago and might have to try it again – what did you love about it?

  5. Dickens was a master of humor in nearly every sense. The key, like in all humor, is visualization. I still think Mark Twain is a master at humor. Nearly every paragraph.

    • I love Mark Twain too and had a feeling you’d agree with me on Dickens since we seem to have the same crazy sense of humor. 🙂

    • Hahahah – like that? Yep, those maniacal laughs are fun too! 🙂 Thanks for reminding me about him – he’s a great one to read this time of year.

  6. it is simply awesome reading stuff from the past.
    I absolutely lovw reading historical accounts. just shows world keeps repeating itself. We often times think we have evolved over the years. but the reality is only the people change, the debates, the struggles, the triumphs… are all similar

  7. It’s been a long time. Part of my problem is that I want to stay on top of the latest bestsellers as I fight my way through the querying pile (ensuring my novel is considered current and therefore publishable). But when I did read the classics, I enjoyed Charles Dickens also.

    • I know what you mean. I’ve been reading more recent books too for that reason, but it’s almost a relief to get back into a classic again after reading some pretty bad popular books. There are so many these days that are written to a formula and those just bore me. I really prefer when a writer pays attention to the writing and I don’t see that happening often enough in the newer ones. Let me know if you find any good ones!

  8. Oh, I LOVE Dickens! He can be a tough read, especially if you find “monseigneur in the city” of little interest, but so worth it! He’s funny, too, as you say, in beautifully subtle ways. I remember stopping often during Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities to ask, “Did he really just say what I think he said?”

    • Hahha – yes all those “monseigneur in the city” references can be a little crazy and the part about the mail in the beginning almost made me put the book down. I’m really surprised by how funny it is though, mostly because the things he’s describing are all so true.

  9. I haven’t read Tale of Two Cities, although it is gathering dust in my bookshelf :-). Haven’t read many classics but of those I have read, Oliver Twist, Sense and Sensibility, Black Beauty and Little Women would have to be my favourites. We analysed Tess of the Durbervilles in high school so much that I ended up hating it, yet one of my friends loved it so much that Thomas Hardy is still one of her favourite authors.

    • That’s funny how analyzing them or having to read them in school can do that. I remember not liking The Grapes of Wrath because of that and now it’s one of my favorites. Sense and Sensibility is still on my list. A Tale of Two Cities is great – just finished it a little bit ago and loved it. It picks up after the whole part about the mail in the beginning and gets a lot better.

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