Dickens

finishing Dickens

Tue, 2015-09-08 20:42

I just finished reading Nicholas Nickleby, and so now I've read all of the novels of Charles Dickens.

NN was pretty good. A reasonably fast-moving story, some decent characters. However, it lacked the character eccentricity of some other novels, and the overarching story is not really all that interesting. And, it does use the "magic-inheritance-solves-all-problems" device so often used by Dickens.

one Dickens left

Wed, 2014-10-01 19:18

I read Martin Chuzzlewit this summer, so now I have but one Dickens novel left to read!
And it's supposed to be a good one! (MC was not so great.)

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

A Tale of Two Cities

Sat, 2014-05-17 11:15

I forgot to mark off A Tale of Two Cities, which I read last summer. Now I only have two Dickens novels left to read. I should start one soon.

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

Barnaby Rudge

Sat, 2013-08-10 18:24

I finished Barnaby Rudge (by Charles Dickens) today. A very enjoyable read. Not as full of characters as some of his other novels, it feels rather lean and simplified. It does have, essentially, three different plot lines which don't exactly get fully tied-up, but I certainly liked reading it.

I only have three of his novels left to read (I've read all the grey ones).

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

Today's Dickens

Wed, 2013-08-07 11:09

From Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens:

Barnaby's enjoyments were, to walk,
and
run,
and
leap,
till he was tired;
then to lie down
in the long grass,
or
by the growing corn,
or
in the shade of some tall tree,
looking upward at the light clouds as they
floated over the blue surface of the sky,
and listening to the lark
as she poured out her brilliant song.
There were wild-flowers to pluck—
the bright red poppy,
the gentle harebell,
the cowslip,
and
the rose.
There were birds to watch;
fish;
ants;
worms;
hares or rabbits,
as they darted across the distant pathway in the wood and so were gone:
millions of living things to have an interest in,
and
lie in wait for,
and
clap hands
and
shout in memory of,
when they had disappeared.

Dombey and Son

Mon, 2012-08-20 10:51

Just finished Dickens' Dombey and Son, his longest novel. It is not great. It starts really well, with excellent writing, characters and descriptions. But about halfway through, it plateaus, and then coasts for a long time -- hundreds of pages -- and then ends. Oh, there is a little excitement with Edith and Mr. Carker toward the end, but this is too little, too late.

I think Dickens blew a chance to have a really exciting story by paying some attention to Walter after he sails. Walter could have had all sorts of interesting adventures, involving wild characters, as he sailed and then was shipwrecked, and rescued, etc. Similarly with Uncle Sol in his travels.

But, no. Dickens just has them go away, disappear, be taken for lost, and then has them simply show up near the end of the book, safe and sound, and they don't even tell us their stories. Quite disappointing.

Still, this, the best paragraph in the novel, is superb:

Through the hollow, on the height, by the heath, by the orchard, by the park, by the garden, over the canal, across the river, where the sheep are feeding, where the mill is going, where the barge is floating, where the dead are lying, where the factory is smoking, where the stream is running, where the village clusters, where the great cathedral rises, where the bleak moor lies, and the wild breeze smooths or ruffles it at its inconstant will; away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, and no trace to leave behind but dust and vapour: like as in the track of the remorseless monster, Death!

I will continue to read all of the novels of Dickens. So far, I've read the grey ones:

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

Only four left.

Our Mutual Friend

Sun, 2011-09-11 20:11

I just finished reading Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens. I liked it pretty well, and read it faster than I usually read his works. Jenny Wren is certainly the most interesting character, but the plot is really the interesting element in this one, with more twists and dark passages than some of his novels.

My favorite sentence from the book: "Mr Wegg pursued the biography of that eminent man through its various phases of avarice and dirt, through Miss Dancer's death on a sick regimen of cold dumpling, and through Mr Dancer's keeping his rags together with a hayband, and warming his dinner by sitting upon it, down to the consolatory incident of his dying naked in a sack. "

Thus, I am one novel closer to reading all of Dickens' novels.

So far, I've read the grey ones:

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

I probably won't read another until next summer; there are other things I'd like to read now.

multidimensional scaling, baby!

Tue, 2011-06-07 21:58

I've been wanting to try some multidimensional scaling since 1998, and now I've tried it.

Multidimensional scaling is this fantastic concept whereby "objects" which you can place in a (possibly) highly dimensional space (i.e., to each object you can associate a (perhaps large) finite set of values) can be approximately placed into a lower-dimensional space for better visualization and perhaps to get a better understanding of the really important features that distinguish the objects. The crux is to generate a set of distances between your objects. From this set of distances, after a dimension is chosen (say, 2), the objects are placed into a two-dimensional space as best as possible, in the sense that the distance information is as accurately represented by the two-dimensional coordinates as possible.

I first encountered this idea in Larry Polansky's seminar on timbre at Dartmouth, in 1997 or 1998, while I was wallowing in unemployment before getting my first post-PhD job. The example I most remember is a study done in which people were played pairs of sounds and asked to rate how "similar" the sounds were (i.e., to specify a distance between pairs of sounds). Run through the MDS process, a two-dimensional model was found to be reasonably accurate. The fun part is to then figure out what, if anything, those two dimensions represent. In the case of the sounds, one of the dimensions seemed to be attack time, and I forget what the other was (I'll have to fill this in later).

Since then, I've been meaning to try MDS out. I recently found out that the horribly named statistics software R does MDS, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. But what to try it on? I decided I would measure the letter frequencies in a bunch of Dickens novels. I then defined the distance between Dickens novels to be the euclidean distance based on these frequencies (i.e. the square root of the sum of the squares of the differences in frequency for each letter). Here is the result!

Not too bad! A Christmas Carol and Pickwick Papers are definitely the outliers. I don't exactly know why, but here is a table with some data:

letter max frequency novel min frequency novel
a 0.0821834598387217 GreatExpectations 0.0768776118409004 ChristmasCarol
b 0.0170449592650954 HardTimes 0.0139671649105611 TaleOfTwoCities
c 0.0267413297836624 PickwickPapers 0.0209940169505509 OurMutualFriend
d 0.0478662886811785 BarnabyRudge 0.0432080565861063 MartinChuzzlewit
e 0.120758409929298 OliverTwist 0.11407513874898 MartinChuzzlewit
f 0.0216483554951017 TaleOfTwoCities 0.0189912249888765 BleakHouse
g 0.0240497477648469 ChristmasCarol 0.0197754664184909 NicholasNickleby
h 0.0685280455521702 ChristmasCarol 0.058317954787444 PickwickPapers
i 0.072300095070962 DavidCopperfield 0.0676315054556165 BarnabyRudge
j 0.00226371290097575 GreatExpectations 0.00094900354627641 ChristmasCarol
k 0.0115787353264322 PickwickPapers 0.00794740229910164 LittleDorrit
l 0.0357287315726408 NicholasNickleby 0.031509884032025 TaleOfTwoCities
m 0.0307190937415742 DavidCopperfield 0.0230840950335481 ChristmasCarol
n 0.070569519176433 MartinChuzzlewit 0.0650650150675124 ChristmasCarol
o 0.0749343436036701 HardTimes 0.0685508060178138 PickwickPapers
p 0.0193699580075308 PickwickPapers 0.0153119427801028 BleakHouse
q 0.0017914839862351 NicholasNickleby 0.000757537918518889 ChristmasCarol
r 0.0603013629290098 PickwickPapers 0.0530640557395868 GreatExpectations
s 0.0611274828097165 ChristmasCarol 0.0547473624334335 GreatExpectations
t 0.0848010789635567 GreatExpectations 0.0808519210208059 PickwickPapers
u 0.0302455269833819 HardTimes 0.026839467165667 PickwickPapers
v 0.00954165482444703 OliverTwist 0.00847443517639812 ChristmasCarol
w 0.026098975344962 GreatExpectations 0.0225608707402767 MartinChuzzlewit
x 0.00162849024123349 PickwickPapers 0.00107387243394436 ChristmasCarol
y 0.0242261229705905 BleakHouse 0.0189217987779498 ChristmasCarol
z 0.000507800143182991 ChristmasCarol 0.000180203917114389 LittleDorrit

I created this table to show the maximum and minimum frequency of occurrence of each letter in Dickens novels.

You can see that A Christmas Carol has a number of extreme letter frequencies. This could just be due to its shortness: I imagine longer works might tend to smooth out their frequencies. Pickwick Papers also has a number of extremes; this is Dickens first novel, so perhaps he was using odd choices of letters. Or maybe it just that the work "Pickwick" appears alot, and this might explain the high occurrence of the letters c, k, and p, though why Great Expectations is more dense in 'w', I have no idea.

Bleak House

Wed, 2010-12-15 14:19

I finished reading Bleak House the other day. I only liked it so-so, which isn't good for a 900 page novel. The characters were a little too smooth, and not quirky enough for me. Plus the story arc really didn't finish in a very interesting way.

Still, I continue with my project to read all of Dickens' novels.

So far, I've read the grey ones:

  • Dombey and Son (1.95)
  • David Copperfield (1.91)
  • Bleak House (1.91)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1.86)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1.85)
  • Little Dorrit (1.85)
  • Our Mutual Friends (1.83)
  • Pickwick Papers (1.72)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1.41)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1.19)
  • Great Expectations (1.01)
  • Oliver Twist (0.91)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (0.78)
  • Hard Times (0.58)

The numbers are proportional to the length of the book (they should be
approximately the number of characters in the novel, in millions).

What to read next? I'm thinking perhaps Nicholas Nickleby, since a lot of people like it a lot. I'm saving A Tale of Two Cities for last since it's the shortest. I know I have a copy of Our Mutual Friend, so that might be a good one. In any case, I'm not going to start until I've read a few other things on my "to read" list.

Dickens paragraph of the day

Sun, 2010-09-19 15:45

Dickens paragraph of the day:

Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody's theory but nobody's practice. And in the hopeful meantime, Tom goes to perdition head foremost in his old determined spirit.

From Bleak House.