|One of my favorite literary characters||.|
Somehow the romance of reading one of Dickens’ longest novels entirely by candlelight overshadowed (pardoned the pun) the difficulty. It’s not easy. It’s not just the dimness of the light, but also the unsteadiness of it that makes focusing on the page a challenge. Then there are the dangers: didn’t Lincoln nearly go blind or something reading late night in his cabin? What if I fall asleep and leave the candle unattended. If falling asleep while reading in bright electric light is easy (and believe me, it is), you can imagine how tempting slumber is in a soft flickering glow.
No wonder the world before the Industrial Revolution was full of illiterates. What they couldn’t see, they slept through or burned up.
This is where the high-tech part of the experiment makes lots of sense. I’m using Audible’s recording by Hugh Dickson. Dickson loves the dramatic pause, but he loves the drama even more. I find myself taking notes on the book, but relying almost wholly on his voice to lead me through the text. My notes are becoming large and voluminous, especially whenever lose the words in the dim light. But being read to is a large part of why I’m doing it.
My first love affair with literature was with Dickens. My mother read me Great Expectations when I was no older than young Pip at the beginning of the novel. I doubt she finished the novel; I only recall us making it through the first Havisham sections, but that was more than enough. I wanted to be a writer from then on.
I remember her reading it to me Saturday afternoons when other boys would be outside at play. See, my role in the family was much like Pip’s for Miss Havisham—Mother was ill and a bit of a shut in. I was expected to stay by her side, to amuse her. The similarities between the old woman and my mom do not end there, so it is little wonder I took to the novel so readily.
Reading by candlelight for Mother was especially saved for the second chapter of Luke on Christmas Eves. Little wonder then that this experiment feels so festive, like a trip back in time to my own past and to a past I have only known in fiction.