A critic once made the following remark about Charles Dickens’s parents: ‘His father was Mr Micawber; his mother was Mrs Nickleby’. I consider it a nice tribute to one of the world’s greatest creator of characters. Indeed, Dickens’s early experiences were like some of those depicted in David Copperfield. It is his training as a reporter and a sketch-writer that prepared him for a creative endeavour that can only be compared with that of Shakespeare in the scope and density of his imagined world. David Masson described Dickens’s work as ‘humanity caught…and kept permanent in its extremest mood’. It is difficult to keep track of this abundance of humanity that thrives in the world of Charles Dickens. Lee Fisher Gray’s Dickens Study Guide brings between its covers short descriptions of the 212 characters from Dickens’s 15 novels. The book is intended to be of worth to ‘English literature students, researchers, quiz-masters and others who aim to find answers quickly’.
Dickens Study Guide opens with a Key that will give the reader information on the number of characters in each of Dickens’s fifteen novels and ‘three selected short works’. Then there is The Dickens Register, an alphabetical list of the characters on the left column and a reference to the work in which they appear on the right. What follows is a description of the characters ‘in Dickens’s own words’ arranged alphabetically under chapter headings bearing the names of the novels. The novels are arranged alphabetically too. The roman numerals after each entry indicate the chapter in which the character first appears. Here’s an example of the description of a minor character taken from the book:
DRUMMLE, BENTLEY (XXV), a rich and heavily built youth, a “contemptible, clumsy, sulky, booby” marries Estella. The marriage is unhappy; he is killed after mistreating a horse.
Dickens Study Guide also incorporates an All-Dickens Quiz of fifty questions and answers on the characters in Dickens’s novels which may be useful for quizmasters and quiz participants and crossword enthusiasts.
Lee Fisher Gray has done the hard work. He has gleaned for us within the compact structure of a book, details about a multitude of characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. His register is concise and in his own words ‘free from clutter’. It will be a handy guide of information and an useful book to keep on your shelf. It is a good aid to memory as far as Dickens’s novels are concerned. It can be of help in sustaining the popularity of Charles Dickens’s novels in today’s busy world. This is an ideal reference for school students working on a study project on Dickens or the casual reader who may want to look up quickly why Caddy Jellyby always looked unhappy.
However, there is very little in Dickens Study Guide for either the serious student of English literature or a researcher who is supposed to go through the novels attentively. It can only serve as a ready reference and nothing more. No attempt has been made here to evaluate the characters or add critical commentaries. This reviewer remembers a similar compendium on the poetry of Robert Browning called The Browning Cyclopedia by Edward Berdoe, a book no longer in print. But Berdoe’s book did not merely provide facts and items of information. It also contained detailed explanations of obscure allusions that abound in Browning’s poems. Lee Fisher Gray’s Dickens Study Guide does not attain that stature.
[Gray, Lee Fisher; Dickens Study Guide: Who the characters are and what they did; Matador; Troubador Publishing Ltd; UK]