25 July 2007


Oh, the tedious business of waiting for reviews after press night. The early morning texts telling you not to buy this or that paper. The staggering about after reading your work described as "genius" (it happened once, thank you Jonathan Myerson, dramatist and critic). The nice ones fluttering through the hazy air of recollection, the stinkers still staining the nostrils of regret years down the line.
Yesterday I read a just glorious passage in Peter Ackroyd's monument to the amazing life and work of Charles Dickens, concerning reviews. Then a little while later I clicked into JMC's place to find he'd reviewed The May Queen. I know a couple of teachers who've used bits of my work in writing classes - exempla of how not to, possibly - but James's short piece is the first public critical appraisal, to my knowledge, of a play text by me. He's very kind about it, for which I thank him.
Here's that passage from Ackroyd. Dickens is 45, globally famous, something of a juggernaut, monstrously healthy ego, and has just published Little Dorrit...
'Blackwood's Magazine called it simply "Twaddle" (a reference which Dickens saw by accident and which upset him for at least a moment). And one of his first biographers, writing a sixpenny pamphlet which was published in the following year, said of Little Dorrit and Bleak House that they "have not been greatly relished by the public any more than they have been praised by the critics". It was in this period that a handsome Library Edition of Dickens's novels first started to be published, and one of the reviewers of that edition suggested that "it does not appear certain to us that his books will live..." But what did Dickens make of such criticism? A few weeks later he was walking with Hans Christian Andersen, who had been hurt by the reviews of his latest book (in fact he had been found lying face down, in tears, on the lawn of [the Dickens family home] Gad's Hill Place) . "Never allow yourself to be upset by the papers, " he told Andersen, "They are forgotten in a week, and your book stands and lives." They were walking in the road, and Dickens wrote with his foot in the dirt. "That is criticism," he said. Then he wiped out his marks with his foot. "Thus it is gone."'


cc said...

Kingsley Amis:
"Reviews have occasionally spoiled my breakfast but never my luncheon."

sbs said...

Marvellous. I'm doubting Amis fils inherited that stiff upper lip.