It's been a Charles Dickens revival here. The Dickens formula -- "make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait" -- works as well for me now as it did fifty years ago.
I was curious to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, so I trotted over to the library and found a newish biography of Dickens. It looked eminently respectable: St. Martin's Press and its author a "Professor of English Studies" at the University of Stirling.
But youch, what a travesty the new "biography" turned out to be.
Here follow some sentences (none of which I've altered in the least) from a book which has the temerity to call itself Charles Dickens, A Literary Life. Prepare yourself for pretention, bathos, meandering metaphors and syntactic peculiarities marinated in post-modern obfuscation. Savor these monstrosities.
"'Dickens,' a convenient and perhaps unavoidable label, masks a range of Dickenses, which, taken together, constitute a highly complex whole."
"In short, this book will attempt to separate out at least some of the contextual forces that flowed through Dickens's pen along with the ink at the moment when he sat down to the ostensibly solitary and private process of making that series of black marks on white paper that we call novels."
"Suffering is a crucial part of the artistic process and the artist is seen as quite different from the ordinary run of people through his possession of a creative power akin to that of God in His creation of the world."
"This aspect of his career can be explored in a number of ways, in his deep respect for his own activity as a novelist as well as in an intense concern to extract his full pound of flesh financially from publishers and also, in a sense, from the public."
"A dramatic opening and an exciting climax are desirable features of any narrative, but the desire to impose them on historical narratives may distort the flow that is an inherent aspect of historical process."
"But the facts and arguments of this chapter show that the point at which Pickwick Papers came into being was one of turbulence in publishing which carried with it, as periods of turbulence always do, possibilities of movement in a variety of directions."
"The serial violates the decorum appropriate to high art and the imagery of the passage embodies a distate of profusion which could be likened to a class-based disdain for the crowded urban environment and dislike of such new-fangled phenomena as the railway."
"Public school meant the classics and, in England, university spelled Oxford or Cambridge, 'advantages' which Dickens conspicuously lacked."
I could wisecrack about each of the above sentences, but I'm in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger frame of mind. Why oh why do academics feel they have to write this way? Such woeful prose and trumpeting obviousness compromise the reputations of sober scholars and teachers.
Does the author of this book realize that he's bamboozling himself? Does he know how ridiculous he is?