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  • Dickens the Novelist by Sylvre MonodReview by: Taylor StoehrNOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 81-82Published by: Duke University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344800 .Accessed: 16/06/2014 00:40

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    SYLVERE MONOD, Dickens the Novelist, with an introduction by Edward Wagenknecht (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967), pp. xvi + 512, $7.95.

    Sylvere Monod's Dickens the Novelist hasn't lost much in translation, but then it hasn't gained much either, though Professor Monod hopes that his approach is "maturer" than it was in 1953 when Dickens Romancier was first published. A comparison shows Profes- sor Monod an able translator of his own work, but scarcely supports his claim to have been inspired by recent Dickens criticism, or to have written "in some ways a new work."

    As he modestly supposes, the chief interest and use of Dickens Romancier was to alert critics to the possibility of studying Dickens's habits of work by examining the notes, memoranda, and proof-sheets for his novels, most of which have survived in the Forster Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In this Professor Monod's success is de- monstrable, with an unfortunate consequence: the effect of re-reading his book, after the intervening appearance of John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson's Dickens at Work, is to feel how short-lived all but the best criticism is, and how embarrassing a profession we are in.

    Despite innumerable adjustments, additions, and even improvements, Professor Monod's book remains the same now rather superfluous elbow in the ribs of the critics. Moreover, given his efforts at revision, one could wish that he had corrected his earlier er- rors concerning the Dickens manuscripts-which tend, however, to be translated with conscientious fidelity to the original French. For example, had he carefully read some of the recent books he says he has "found stimulating," he might have known that the "let- ters to Forster" in which Dickens supposedly sketched some of his ideas for Our Mutual Friend never existed; that these ideas were actually set down in Dickens's "Memoranda

    Book," from which Forster lifted them when writing his Life. One need not have examined -as Professor Monod obviously has not-the "Memoranda Book" to avoid such errors. It is possible to discover that Dickens began entering notes in his "Memoranda Book" in

    January, 1855, not "about 1854," and that the list of possible titles for A Tale of Two Cities consisted of 22 items, not 42. Other critics, whose names appear in Professor Monod's updated preface and footnotes, have studied and written enough about the "Memoranda Book" to protect the unsuspecting scholar from the mangled versions given

    by Forster, J. W. T. Ley, Walter Dexter, and Mrs. Comyns Carr-the chief retailers of the

    garbled text. Also shaky is Professor Monod's familiarity with the "number plans" which Dickens

    drew up as he composed, part by part, his later novels. The plans for Our Mutual Friend were published (with some omissions and inaccuracies) by Ernest Boll in 1944, and are footnoted in Dickens the Novelist only eight pages away from a remarkable example of bad taste and nodding recollection, in which Professor Monod praises Dickens's "poeti- cal" touch with Bella Wilfer: "When she is about to board a train with Rokesmith, a

    graceful image is at once coined: 'The railway, at this point, knowingly shutting a green eye, and opening a red one, they had to run for it.'" Bella is one of the most annoyingly cute of all Dickens's creations, and neither this passage nor its mate in the following paragraph (unnoticed by Professor Monod) qualifies as "pleasant," "successful," or "se

    forge aussit6t." The best that can be said for either is that Dickens himself apparently treasured the image, since the notes for Number XIII show him shamelessly calculating it in advance, as a stylistic peg on which to hang the conclusion of the chapter: "Stations

    shutting their green eyes and opening their red ones as they let the Boofer lady go by."

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  • NOVEL[FALL 1968

    One can grit one's teeth through such lapses, just as one must through the endless nit- picking distinctions between felicitous and infelicitous names for characters, or through the old inanities about coincidence and verisimilitude. But there are interesting questions to be raised about Dickens's habits of work, and Professor Monod does not raise them. Any study of Dickens's manuscripts ought, as a matter of course, to concern itself with the only "writer's notebook" he ever kept. How, for example, does it compare with, or lead into, the number plans Dickens prepared in the actual composition stage? Such ques- tions are particularly relevant in the case of Our Mutual Friend, to which the "Memo- randa Book" contributed more material than to any other novel.

    In the plot summary of that novel provided by Professor Monod, Eugene Wraybum goes unnamed (he is referred to once, as a "gentlemanly rival" of Bradley Headstone). This distortion is revealing if misleading. Of all the characters in the novel, Eugene is the most prominent in the "Memoranda Book," and the only one to be mentioned by name (excepting those who appear in the lists of "available names" also stored there). The num- ber plans mention Eugene and his counterpart John Harmon 30 times each, though one must count Harmon's various aliases and plot designations, such as "the secretary" and "the husband," to arrive at this balance. In both sources the notes tend to focus on Eugene's character, while they chiefly emphasize John Harmon's situation. The few en- tries carried over almost verbatim from the "Memoranda Book" to the number plans con- sist of bits of dialogue for Eugene, framed from the beginning as first-person revelations, showing Dickens strongly identifying with his hero. Furthermore, although Professor Monod supposes that the earliest ideas for the story of John Harmon were formulated in 1861, in (non-existent) letters to Forster, it can be demonstrated from the "Memoranda Book" that Dickens had entered the first hints, later to develop into the Harmon plot, at least by 1857, before he had completed the writing of Little Dorrit. This long germination of the Harmon plot, as compared with the much later meditation on Eugene Wrayburn's character, suggests-in combination with other facts gleaned from the manuscripts-that one could put together some theory of Dickens's development from Little Dorrit to Our Mutual Friend, some account of how the structure of the latter novel accommodates its two heroes, and some judgment of the relative effects of the two plots, one of character, the other of situation. It remains for critics to work out the implications of such discov- eries. Unhappily, Professor Monod's book will be of no help; rather, because of inaccu- racies and omissions, it is more likely to be a hindrance.

    TAYLOR STOEHR, State University of New York at Buffalo


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    Article Contentsp. 81p. 82

    Issue Table of ContentsNOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 1-96Front Matter [pp. 1-4]Towards a Poetics of Fiction: 3) An Approach through Narrative [pp. 5-14]Novels, Ancient and Modern [pp. 15-24]The Perplexed Myths of Melville: "Billy Budd" [pp. 25-35]"Middlemarch" as Science-Fiction: Notes on Language and Imagery [pp. 36-45]At the Bottom of the "Fount" [pp. 46-54]Tolstoy and the Ways of History [pp. 55-68]Review EssayReview: Mailer's New Style [pp. 69-78]

    ReviewsElusive GiantsReview: untitled [pp. 79-80]Review: untitled [pp. 81-82]

    Art and PurposeReview: untitled [pp. 83-85]Review: untitled [pp. 85-87]

    ReactionsReview: untitled [pp. 88-90]Review: untitled [pp. 90-91]

    Japan and FranceReview: untitled [pp. 92-94]Review: untitled [pp. 94-96]