Charles Dickens & George Frideric Handel: Two Quotes

This is a first in my “Two Quote” series, since it sets side by side not only a written quotation but a musical one.

It’s rare when music is mentioned in literature that I feel inclined to dwell much on it but when the writer is Dickens and the composer is Handel, well, naturally I took the bait. Needless to say, the comic nature of poor Bella’s father’s grimly melodious characterization of his marriage took flight. But then Dickens always did have a way of making you literally laugh through your tears, perhaps even his own as he was at the time estranged from his wife.

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Our Mutual Friend was his last completed work and, as if in a farewell gesture, Dickens throws into it the unrestrained comic genius and dramatic flair of his first novel (The Pickwick Papers, 1837) which brought him the acclaim he richly deserved. In the excerpt below, the “Dead March” from Handel’s dramatic oratorio, Saul, is made to dance to the sorrowful notes of Reginald Wilfer’s portrait of married life.

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Mrs. Wilfer, writes Dickens, “is a tall woman, and angular,” necessarily so according to the matrimonial law of contrasts, her husband being “cherubic.” “It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do,” comprised a part of her deceptively submissive repertoire of aphorisms with which she managed him. Only to Bella, his eldest daughter, is Reginald Wilfer able to relax his guard and venture into unfettered conversation.

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Dickens Considered In Media Res

It’s a rickety, rollicking ride I’m on
Reading Uncle’s “Our Mutual Friend”
On the tide of the Thames as it rolls
Along, dragging me in its mysterious wake
With Veneerings and Rimtys and inspectors
That lurk behind the John Harmons
Who could be the Srivatis and Vikrams
And Chandras hawking rumors by the Ganges
In the myriad scenario of humanity’s flow
Under the pen of a master storyteller caught
In the blood-spun net of familiar lives
Spent on the banks of labyrinthian rivers
That wend to shores around the world
And stay to balance on my fingertips.

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