Dickens’ List

It is always intriguing to me to discover the writing process used by writers. I know a few readers who feel that to know a writer’s process is to take away some of the suspension of belief, like telling the technique behind a magic trick, but to me it shows the magic.

In Claire Tomalin’s biography, there is a wonderful list of working notes for Dickens’ Great Expectations. I am not exactly sure why this peek behind the scenes gave me a  big thrill – seeing a mind at work, the great narrative cogs working, and a simple jotted hand-written list ready to be dressed with the story – at once familiar and surprising. For it is like any writers quick wonderful jottings, captured before another thought makes the others flee.

Great Expectations was published in weekly instalments, yes you read correctly, WEEKLY instalments from October 1860 to June 1861, and is book I am looking forward to starting again. The recent mini-series had such a beautiful Pip, I could no longer find him in my own mind.

On Dicken’s list goes like this:

Estella, Magwitch’s daughter

      Orlick – and Pip’s entrapment – & escape

              To the flight



                                Both overboard

         Struggle – [deleted words]

         together. Compeyson

         drowned – Magwitch rescued

          by Pip. And

                                    taken – 


It reads like a poem, simple and beautiful, with the strange spacing, breath-like and fast, making it feel like it is forming in our minds for the first time. What a great comfort to discover Dickens at this time and to  know that the Inimitable had a love of lists.

Image: Pip and Joe Gargery by Felix O C Darley 1860


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