Not that Dickens isn’t one of the greats, one of the premier storytellers of the English language. Read a Dickens novel, no matter how cloying or unlikely its “coincidences,” and you can’t help but be affected by it. Whole scenes will come back to your mind years later as if you’d just put the book down. They’re that vividly rendered. You can feel the soot, smell the dirty streets, hear the sighs of children who are old at 10.
But it seems that his collected oeuvre is not enough for some people. New technology is now able to unearth Dickens’s scribbles–literally. Words and phrases that he crossed out, rethought, recast, are now recoverable, so we will soon have the crappy versions of his masterpieces available for our edification and continuing education classes.
Florian Schweizer, director of the Charles Dickens Museum, has said that Dickens was a furious scribbler and blotter, which means the material unearthed could be plentiful. “We’re talking of tens of thousands of manuscript pages that could potentially be unlocked,” he said.
Developed by Ian Christie-Miller, a former visiting research fellow at London University, the device illustrates the hidden work with the use of a special 1mm-thick sheet, which produces a bright light when an electric current is passed through it.
Imagine the alternate opening to Tales of Two Cities, the one Dickens scratched out:
“It was better than average times, it was less than satisfactory times, relatively speaking. There were just a buncha times…”
All right, all right, I guess there’s something of value in considering his process, the evolution of those classic lines, and trying to glean the work behind the art. But would we really be straining to collect the scraps from the master’s table if we didn’t live in an age bereft of great writers?
Whose prose matches Melville’s? Whose storytelling matches Twain’s? Who moves us like, well, Dickens?