It is widely known that Charles Dickens gave public readings of his works, and that those readings were enormously popular. Far less well known are the stories themselves; these were not, as is the modern fashion, taken verbatim from the published novels. Instead, Dickens trimmed, reworded, and re-shaped material from the novels to create stories that would be self-contained artistic entities. These concise “performance fictions,” shaped in every way to be accessible to a broad audience, are in many ways an ideal introduction to Dickens’s work for the modern reader.
Four of the most successful of these short works have been selected for this volume, including “The Story of Little Dombey” (perhaps the most emotionally affecting of all the readings, and described by Dickens as his “greatest triumph everywhere”) and the violent and suspenseful “Sikes and Nancy” (Dickens’s overpowering performances of which were said to have contributed to his death). Provided in the contextual materials is a selection of reviews and contemporary descriptions that comment on Dickens’s manner of performance and audience reception. A brief excerpt from Dombey and Son is also included, illustrating the extensive revision process that led to “The Story of Little Dombey.”
“The deftness with which Dickens crafts … self-contained stories is particularly striking. … Broadview volumes [such as these] provide valuable and accessible introductions.” — Times Literary Supplement
“The compact narratives used by Dickens for his dramatic platform performances extract the essence of his comic and pathetic genius and always make for a great read. But in the Broadview edition you also get a wealth of well-considered commentary and contextual material that can bring them into sharp intellectual focus for any college class concerned with the Victorian era.” — Graham Law, Waseda University
“This concise but helpfully contextualized selection from the public readings will give students a fuller sense of Dickens—not just the writer but the performer, celebrity, and public figure.” — Leah Price, Harvard University
“This outstanding collection of Dickens’s public readings includes a helpful introduction, which very usefully places his performance fictions in the context of his personal life and literary career. The introduction and contextual documents contain illuminating material about Dickens’s process of editing and revising his novels for his public readings. Of particular interest are the contemporary reviews and descriptions of Dickens’s performances, which give readers an exceptional illustration of Dickens as performer.” — Sarah Alexander, University of Vermont