Sunday, 3 May 2009

Bibliotherapy: what to read when you can’t sleep


“All who love Dickens have a strange sense that he is really inexhaustible,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, which is one of the reasons why he is a good companion for an insomniac in the long hours of the night. Dickens’ sheer volume of work is such that it will keep you going through lengthy bouts of sleeplessness – more than a dozen lengthy works of fiction and many more short stories, thousands of letters and essays and pieces of journalism – but he also endured his own bouts of insomnia, which may be of comfort to fellow sufferers.

Perhaps the best of his writing on the worst kind of sleeplessness is ‘Night Walks’, an essay published in his magazine, ‘All the Year Round’, on July 21st 1860. Dickens had established the journal after falling out with his friends and publishers, Bradbury and Evans, when he felt they had not been sufficiently supportive to him during the break-up of his marriage in 1858. There was much to keep him awake at night at the time: rumours were spreading of his affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, and of a possible relationship with his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth. Dickens had taken the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement in June 1858, in which he acknowledged the separation from his wife, but denounced ‘the unwholesome air’ of ‘the breath of these slanders’.

If he felt himself to be shrouded in a dark miasma, then a sense of these ominous shadows hangs over ‘Night Walks’, in which Dickens describes a nightmarish tour of London, a city inhabited by ‘enormous hosts of dead… if they were raised while the living slept, there would not be the space of a pin’s point in all the streets and ways for the living to come out into.’

As Dickens walks, he begins to understand an ‘experience of houselessness’, a state of mind, as well as a series of stated places: Newgate Prison, Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane, Waterloo Bridge, and the dark river below, haunted by ‘the spectres of suicides’, and above ‘the wild moon and clouds… as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed’.

All of which might seem the very opposite of soothing, and yet I find it strangely consoling, lying awake but safely housed, at home in my own bed.

26 comments:

Gondal-girl said...

How surreal, I have just got up this morning after having a very strange dream about Charles Dickens....

Justine Picardie said...

What was your dream?

Gondal-girl said...

My dream: Well, I was in a bookshop looking at a very rare Dickens book with the front image the very one you posted on your blog ( and I have never seen it before). I had an immediate connection with it. When I left the bookshop, I ran into a man who looked exactly like Dickens - not like the Dickens I have in my mind ( I always think of David Copperfield which I didn't like and the wall he built in the house between him and his wife), but a different Dickens - human, complicated and, at the very heart of it, a man wanting to make connections with other human beings

Since I am pregnant, my dreams are getting very bizarre...

enid said...

Loved The Parasites and enjoyed the humour most of all. Now I am overdosed on Du maurier !!!! I too suffer from insomnia and would like to read a Dickens but which ones would you recommend? I have read David Copperfield at school and I am afraid my teacher spoilt Dickens for me. What do you suggest I start with ?

oxford-reader said...

The break up of his marriage was a real turning point in Dickens' friendships - he cast so many people off, Thackeray included, and there is so much mystery surrounding his relationship with Ellen and his sisters in law. Have you read 'The Girl in the Blue Dress' by Gaynor Arnold? It's written from his wife's prespective and casts up all sorts of questions about the type of man Dickens really was; there's some real questions about his respectability and such.

I've never read any of his essays, and as I'm struggling with 'David Copperfield' at the moment, I might try reading what you suggest and work my way up!

Justine Picardie said...

Gondal girl, that's such an interesting dream, particularly your own association within it of Dickens/David Copperfield as a man who built a wall in a house between himself and his wife.
As Oxford-Reader points out, Dickens was far darker and more complicated than the popular image of him, as is evident in his relationship with his wife, his sister-in-law and his mistress.
Enid: as for what to read next, well,I think 'Great Expectations' is very powerful. 'Night Walks', incidentally, if you want to read it, comes from the Penguin Classics edition of 'Charles Dickens: Selected Journalism, 1850-1870'. It's filled with intriguing essays that give you a glimpse of the man behind the mask of Victorian fame and celebrity.

enid said...

My favourite bookshop here in Cape Town has a copy of Journalism by Dickens so I am off to buy it. I have taken out my copy of Great Expectations and will now start on Dickens. I often have bookshop dreams but not as surreal as Gondal - girl. Justine your book Daphne is now out on all the shelves of our bookshops and I believe it is selling well.So you have reached Cape Town Enid

Justine Picardie said...

I'm so glad to have reached Cape Town, particularly as I have such happy memories of staying there with my grandparents. If only Daphne could sell well enough for me to visit there!

kairu said...

I will have to hunt this down. I could only find A Christmas Carol last night, but surely that cannot be the only Dickens I own.

When I can't sleep I read the novellas of the Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto. As far as I can tell her stories are all about death, loss, love, ghosts, and dreams. Often her heroines are alone, having lost a sister or a grandmother or some other close tie. They are insomniacs who scrub kitchen floors in the dead of night or find themselves walking hauntedly through the streets during daytime, everything they see a reminder of what they have lost. The stories are heartbreaking, and yet, as you put it, strangely consoling. If you are not familiar with Yoshimoto, Kitchen is her first work.

kateblogger said...

Dickens will always be No 1 for me. He walked to lay the demons his writing raised, and the walk I return to read of his is the night-long marathon across Paris after the death of Paul Dombey. I walk (usually less haunted) every day past the house where Ellen Ternan's sister lived during her short marriage. Apparently Dickens and Ellen visited, and it too is haunted, they say. The lives of the Ternan women were as extraordinary as any of Dickens's fictional creations. A lovely blog this, Justine. Thank you!

Justine Picardie said...

Where did Ellen Ternan's sister live? And who was she married to?

kateblogger said...

Maria Ternan, also an actress. She married, in 1863, William Taylor, son of an Oxford brewer, and they lived at a house called 'The Lawn' on Banbury Road (it's now part of St Hugh's College). I think the marriage lasted about 10 years, before she went off adventuring: training as a painter, then living in Rome and travelling as artist and journalist (maybe for the London Standard -- not quite sure).

JaneGS said...

In her bio of Elizabeth Gaskell, Jenny Uglow writes that Gaskell was very upset by Dickens' separation from his wife and worked to disassociate herself and her work from his then new "All the Year Round."

Gaskell and her husband had socialized a lot with Dickens and his wife early in her writing career, but she definitely was on Catherine's side and thought he used her badly.

MeganWestley said...

My own choice for what to read when you can't sleep is, in a horribly unoriginal way, your own book Daphne. I realise many may say the same, but I have recently reached a 'breaking point' all of my own, in similar circumstances to Daphne, and found the book so strangely uplifting. For a very long time I have experienced that wholly unexclusive exclusive relationship that I think we all believe we have with DuMaurier; a dead woman no less. To open the book and feel her experiencing what I was feeling was both incredibly overwhelming and also relieving, in a way. There is so much I want to ask you about the book and could say, but realise that I am the mostly unnamed Jane to your Daphne. Suffice to say, we all have our heroes (much as you must do): perhaps now you are becoming one of mine.

Absinth said...

Dear Justine,

I am writing in from Marie Claire India. Was looking to get in touch with you but I didnt know how, hence the blog comment!

Could you please email me on pearl@outlookindia.com

Looking forward to hearing from you

Thanks,

Pearl

enid said...

Where are you ? I am missing the weekly blog Enid

Melanie said...

I have been following your wonderful blog for some time – and, having read Daphne last week, finally feel brave enough to add a comment! I so want to say thank you, Justine, for all the pleasure your fascinating novel has given me…

Thank you too for this deeply thoughtful piece about Dickens (his books mean so much to me – essential companions through life, really). It’s always seemed to me that he was on some kind of troubled, precipitous edge at that time; longing for something, utterly restless, working himself into the ground. He was such a complex man – but it is his humanity and compassion on the page that connects us to the heart of Dickens, I think. Maybe that’s part of where the comfort lies in Night Walks – in its sympathetic sense of wider, human connection where those dark places and edges – and our ‘solitary ways’ – meet.

That brings me back to Daphne… All those connections and edges (again, sometimes precipitous) - of fiction and reality, identity, perception, imagination - inner worlds overlapping in ways that reveal....and conceal - I loved it all and was totally enmeshed in the world of the book. Your novel is still echoing round my mind, leading to more and more connections of thought and reading-trails. I didn’t want Daphne to end! At the turn of its last page, I felt so bereft, I’m now holding on to those connections by visiting Manderley again…

P.S. I highly recommend Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography of Ellen Ternan, The Invisible Woman, if you’ve not read it yet. Another totally absorbing, gripping read.

oxford-reader said...

This is just to say happy 102nd birthday (had she lived) to Daphne - what a wealth of literature she gave us!

rose said...

Comforting like rain on a window as you sit inside by the fire with a good book and a snoring dog?

rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wednesday said...

Hello Justine,

I have just finished reading Daphne. I thought it was wonderful. Then I had to dig out my battered copy of Rebecca. You and Daphne both share the gift of staying in one's mind long after the book has been closed.

It's even crept into my artwork. Here's my own version of Manderly.

http://tiny.cc/0vtyq

Justine Picardie said...

thank you everybody for these lovely messages. I've been away, and came back on the train last night feeling depressed (what is it about journeys back that can make you feel homesick about a past that has now disappeared?). So it has been immensely cheering to read comments from people who have read and responded to 'Daphne' with such enthusiasm. It's a book that I will always associate with the end of my marriage -- with life imitating art imitating life -- even though when I wrote it, I didn't know that my husband was going to leave me. Or maybe I did, on some unconscious level, and the book was a way of preparing myself for the grief of that loss. So I don't know if I'll ever be able to read it again, but I'm so glad that some of you are reading it, and that it makes some sort of sense...

kairu said...

Justine, if Daphne is about loss and letting go, then Chanel is about invention and reinvention, for who else was better at this than Chanel herself? So who knows where this new book will take you?

kevinhil123 said...

i cant read anything when i am in bed. even if i am not able to sleep.

Custom Essay | Research Paper Writing | Buy Term Paper

Advertising said...

Thanks for sharing, I have never seen such a great site before

buy term paper | research paper

FTXT said...

The success of the French luxury brand hermes bag isn't a wonder any longer. Nevertheless, not only does replica hermes lead the fashion tide of luxury purchases, but also Hermes Birkin features uniqueness.
lida daidaihua proof diet works by changing calories constantly. The secret to daidaihua success is by rotating what you eat to maintain a high metabolism which in the long run creates a quick fat burning procedure. When you buy lida slimming for idiots program, you get some great slimming capsule also. A menu generator, the most valuable tool I have ever seen, allows you to type in your favorite foods and slimming capsules spits out exactly what you should eat that day in a 4 course meal. This lida meal needs to be followed for 11 days.
Discontinued Chanel handbags are unauthorized purses that mimic the styles, sizes, and fashions of well-known designers for a fraction of the cost. While replica Chanel handbags may seem like a great deal because Chanel handbag have only very few differences .
While you look for Tiffany uk designs, the list will keep extending as you can find immense Tiffany pendants collections of designs ranging from elegant to classical designs. If you desire to excite your dear one with an impressive gift, then silver pendants will be right choice. Above all, silver accessories is easily resizable and it of course matches everyone irrespective to age.