I have read lots of (well – “a few” might be more accurate) Henry James novels, and, oddly, when I think of them, the picture which immediately comes to mind is of ladies going to evening lectures. They seemingly were always doing it and it appeared to be their main source of outside leisure activity. I found this sort of intriguing, and thought it a poor thing as a major amusement resource. At the same time, across the wide waters, folks were flocking to readings of Dickens novels, most notably, readings given by Mr. Dickens himself. And I do mean flocking. Apparently, they were blockbuster events - much like going to a Rolling Stones concert, I would imagine.
I have been to lots of lectures in school, and while they were occasionally stultifying, but more often, interesting – sometimes even inspiring – I would not really characterize even the best of them as entertaining. Now, I know better. I have been very Victorian recenty, and have been enjoying just these sorts of things. Last evening, I went to an annual Cathedral event – a reading of Dickens’ Christmas Carol by Scott Webster. While I fully expected to enjoy it, I was astonished at what an marvelous experience it was. Scott made Scrooge and Bob Cratchit come alive. One was immersed in that snowy London Christmas, shivering with poor Mr. Cratchit in his corner of the counting house, and trembling with Scrooge as he later received his comeuppance from the three ghosts. The audience was completely rapt. It was quite as exciting – nay, in truth, more exciting than a movie would have been.
I don’t know why I should have been surprised, as I have always felt that Dickens is best read aloud, and adore listening to recordings. However, I have only had a few opportunities to listen to a really good Dickens reader in person. Once, years ago, Father Fulton dined with us, and after dinner, read a chapter or two of Pickwick Papers. Another time, a friend read us about Aunt Betsy Trotwood and her troubles with the donkeys. Both of these readings were over twenty years ago, but they made such a vivid impression that they seem quite recent. And last night, Scott topped them by a mile.
As for the ladies and their lecture going – I quite understand it fully now. Corinna’s lectures on 19th Century spiritual poets were sooooooo fun! I am sadly unpoetic, and need encouragement to delve into the depths any poem longer than a haiku, but Corinna made these giants wax vibrant and fascinating. I am sorry there were only four lectures, and am looking forward to next year when (maybe) we will study the metaphysical poets. I am quite looking forward to “The Flea.”