05 August 2007

Friday I finished a draft of Xmas Carol, with a feeling of something like exhilaration as I did my best not to make a mess of the already-quite-dramatic-on-the-page resurrection of Ebenezer. It's marvellous stuff, and I'd gently urge anyone who hasn't read the story to give it a look. It's more Gothic and fantastic than you might suppose from the Muppet version - which has many fine qualities - or even the Alistair Sim. When he wrote the thing Dickens was still only 31 and more in thrall to Smollett, Defoe and Arabian Nights than anything we might call 'Victorian'. And while yes he is forever tainted by association with the paternalistic moralising of the exploitative, rapacious Empire, an embodiment of that Age almost, there is a helpless drive in his work toward redemption, fraternity, empathy between people. So in his life he was a tireless advocate of provision for the poor, for sanitation, housing, and education, for the consolidation and enlightenment of the growing middle class, the advancement of the working class, and the relief of an underclass who suffered privations and rates of mortality we can scarcely imagine among a western European population. He was a man of his time, but among the greatest and most generous of that time, a prodigy from his youth, world-famous by his thirties and a driven, singular, prodigious artist till the end. I know he has been in the limelight recently for his secret - not any more - relationship with Ellen Ternan, and the abrupt and callous way in which he ended his marriage to Catherine Hogarth. All that is interesting - Peter Ackroyd in his mammoth biography (finished it yesterday, incredibly moved at the end when he died) is convinced, by the way, that Dickens's intense, obsessive relationship with Ellen Ternan was never physical, and I'm looking forward to reading Claire Tomalin's book and Simon Gray's play - but a writer's personal life is seldom blameless.

The final something daft, then. Here's Mark E Smith reading the football scores live on the BBC. You've got to wonder about people turning on the telly when Smith was in full flow - how many Fall fans must have thought they were losing their sanity.

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