Monday, June 18, 2012

Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

[Conclusion in English is in the bottom of this post]

Andai pada musim gugur 1832 itu seorang penulis muda—dengan gemetar ketakutan—tidak jadi memasukkan naskah tulisannya ke kotak surat gelap di sebuah kantor, dan andai sang Editor yang kemudian membacanya tidak kemudian menerbitkannya di The Monthly Magazine dengan judul ‘A Dinner At Poplar Walk’, maka dunia mungkin takkan pernah menikmati karya-karya menawan seorang Charles Dickens. Ya, penulis muda yang kuceritakan tadi adalah Charles Dickens. Dan dari naskah awal yang diterbitkan itu, mengalirlah pesanan tulisan berupa sketsa jurnalistik yang mengisi The Monthly Magazine secara berkala. Saat itu sang penulis menggunakan nama pena “Boz”. Di kemudian hari, sketsa-sketsa Boz akhirnya diterbitkan sebagai buku yang aku review ini: Sketches by Boz.

Sketches byBoz adalah cerita-cerita pendek yang merupakan ilustrasi dari hasil observasi Charles Dickens terhadap denyut kehidupan kota London saat itu (jaman Victoria), mulai tahun 1833 hingga 1836. Dickens menulis tentang banyak hal, dari suasana jalanan kota London dari pagi hingga malam hari, tempat-tempat hiburan yang diminati penduduk London, toko-toko, kebiasaan-kebiasaan orang-orangnya, sampai ke masalah-masalah yang sepele maupun serius yang sering mereka hadapi. Semuanya ia tuliskan dengan gayanya yang khas, kadang lucu yang sinis, kadang juga lucu yang membuatku sungguh-sungguh terbahak.

Membaca Skecthes by Boz kita jadi seolah hidup juga di London abad 19. Kita jadi mengenal tipe dan cara pandang orang-orang saat itu, gaya berbicara mereka, singkatnya budaya mereka. Inilah yang paling menarik dari buku ini, karena tidak gampang dengan sabar melahap 60 cerita pendek dengan gaya bertutur Dickens yang penuh kalimat-kalimat panjang. Dan salah satu kelemahanku adalah selalu tidak sabar membaca cerita pendek, sehingga kenikmatan membaca buku ini menjadi sedikit berkurang. Yang jelas, Sketches by Boz menawarkan perkenalan pertama pada karya Charles Dickens, karena dari variasi cerpen-cerpen di buku ini, kita akan menemukan humor sinis yang menyindir keabsurdan sosial jaman itu, dan melankoli dalam ketidakadilan yang kelak menjadi tema utama karya-karya besar Dickens berikutnya.

Tiga setengah bintang untuk Boz!


Being his earliest work, Sketches by Boz has already shown Dickens’ witticisms and satires that we would find later in most of his works. Consisting of 60 short stories, Boz is a combination of literary journalisms and fictional stories, as the result of Dickens’ thorough observation of his surroundings. Sketches by Boz was first published as installments in The Monthly Magazine from 1833 to 1836. Later on, the sketches were sorted and categorized under four big parts: Our Parish, Scenes, Characters, and Tales, to be made into a book. Outside the four parts, there are three more collections of sketches, and the book is finally closed with Familiar Epistle From A Parent To A Child, which is—no doubt—something Dickens wrote for one of his children. So far, the epistle is one of my favorites from all sketches.

The tale of The Black Veil—which is the most touching of all stories—is also one of my favorites. It depicted the faith of a widow after her son hanged for a crime he committed. The touching part is when the young surgeon who attained the case, being a generous and kind hearted fellow, was willingly to take care of the widow now and then, despite of his unfruitful business. The widow on the other hand, always prayed heartily for her young supporter, that at the end her prayers was heard by the Heaven and resulting a good business for the young surgeon in return. A tale of love always touches my heart!

The most intriguing tale is perhaps The Drunkard’s Death. It’s about a drunkard who neglected everything in his life for drinking. Dickens wanted to speak about the risk of alcohol which can lead men and women into poverty and death. This tale is very similar to Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, although Dickens wrote it more on the melancholy aspect, rather than its brutality as depicted by Zola. It’s interesting to see two different ways of writing, from two great authors, for the same topic at the same era. But of course, in this case, my winner is Zola.

I think the main strong point of this book is Dickens’ thorough observation, especially on human’s character. I am only imagining, if I was being in a dinner party where Dickens was also invited; would I become his observation object too? And if I happened to subscribe The Monthly Magazine, would I find myself illustrated on one of his sketches few days after the party? What would he write of me? That’d be interested! But of course I wouldn’t know whether Dickens was going to write good things or bad things about me. Anyhow, I think, people cannot get angry with him for writing about them. In worst cases, I think they would only put sour smiles on their lips. Or it is most likely that they would laugh heartily on their own sketches. Like Dickens said in ‘The Pantomime of Life: “A pantomime is to us a mirror of life; nay more, we maintain that it is so to audiences generally, although they are not aware of it, and that this very circumstance is the secret cause of their amusement and delight.” For people who lived at that certain time, Sketches by Boz is also a mirror of their own everyday life, either they were aware of it or—most likely—not. Boz was like a pantomime, where people can see and laugh at themselves. And that’s why they love Boz. Boz was something new and different than any other Victorian readings when it is first published. And the success of Boz then brought further success for Charles Dickens, until today!

Three and a half stars for Boz, as although it’s a unique work, Sketches by Boz is sometimes boring. Anthologies have not been my favorite, so maybe this is why I cannot put a high appreciation on Boz. It is good but unfortunately flat…

Title: Sketches by Boz
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 1987
Pages: 688

*This is my 2nd review for The Classic Bribe 2012*


  1. I started reading Dickens with The Pickwick Papers. Maybe I should go back and read this to round out my knowledge of his works. Good for your for sticking with this.

    1. It's always interesting to read the earliest work of great authors, as from that we can learn how they had developed to their masterpieces. Thanks for the visit Donna, I like to meet people who also love and appreciate Dickens! :)

  2. I adore Dickens and have put of reading this, his earliest work, for far too long. I have blogged about him a few times and each time go through his books. Thank you for the great post.

    1. Dickens has written many books for us, that I think we can enjoy them in many years, not mentioning the re-read. So in the end it's like we develop together with Dickens (especially if we read his books in chronology). How lovely that would be.. :). Thanks Steph, for your visit..


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