Dickens: A few words about the birds

Here’s the passage from Bleak House I alluded to yesterday. The set-up is that in a story WHOLLY UNRELATED to the plot a woman’s husband has purchased and cooked two items of poultry for her birthday feast. He has not chosen wisely:

 “Every kind of finer tendon and ligament that is in the nature of poultry to possess is developed in these specimens in the singular form of guitar-strings.  Their limbs appear to have struck roots into their breasts and bodies, as aged trees strike roots into the earth.”

That’s amazing writing to devote to such a minor topic. How many writers could muster such a paragraph even the most emotional or pressing of topics. Wait there’s more. Here’s the gravy:

 “Their legs are so hard as to encourage the idea that they must have devoted the greater part of their long and arduous lives to pedestrian exercises and the walking of matches.”

Nabokov wrote in a preface I read — well, skimmed — that Bleak House has 300 characters and the amazing part is that even the last of them is so accurately drawn. Nabokov used as an example a street lad who carries Mr. Smallweed’s chair somewhere. But perhaps Nabs slighted Dickens by not noting his fine characterizations of these entrees.

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One Response

  1. Dickens was paid by the word, wasn’t he? It’s understandable that he’d divert from the narrative as often as possible in order to pad his word count; what’s impressive is how skillfully he did it.

    I suppose it would have made me furious if I was waiting for the next installment of his serial only to find out it was an extended discourse on fowl, but I enjoy it now that the entire book is available.

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