I am a member of the Amazon Vine Programme and each month receive a newsletter from which I can choose a book or two, or whatever they are offering. This is meant to be tailored to one's preferences as shown by my Amazon browsings, but I find the offerings sometimes are wildly out of my field of enjoyment. I mean Vampire books?
I should not moan as I do end up with some fascinating and interesting stuff and this month hit pay dirt when I saw they were offering this Audio CD - Dickens' Women Miriam Margolyes one woman show. I pounced upon this with delight and finally had a quiet hour this morning to sit down and listen. It seems that this was originally issued on cassette and was on Radio 4 back in 1993. The BBC never miss a marketing trick and wheeled this out for the Dickens Celebrations. I am not complaining. This was sheer delight from start to finish my only disappointment being that there was no Aunt Betsy Trotwood included in the gallery of characters.
There was, however, a feast of readings - Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, one of those grotesques so loved by Dickens which sometimes grate on me, but read in such a wonderful way that I found myself laughing out loud. An excerpt from the Commercial Traveller, so not just the well known stuff appears here, then Mrs Lirriper (I read and reviewed this a few years ago here), Little Dorrit, Rosa Dartle and the wonderful scene from Oliver Twist when Mr Bumble woos Mrs Corney.
I have always found Mr Micawber a total pain and do wonder why his wife puts up with him, but here Miriam reads Mrs Micawber's 'I will never desert mr Micawber' excerpt so beautifully and touchingly that I ended up with a lump in my throat.
I love all of Dickens that I have read, but will admit that sometimes they gain from being read aloud, as he proved himself on his wildly successful tours, and it is such a joy to listen to a marvellous actress as Miriam Margolyes bringing all the characters to life. This was recorded 'live' so you can hear the audience reaction of laughter and applause and this creates a wonderful atmosphere. Miriam, herself, is just so witty and funny and reads excerpts from Dickens' letters and adds spot on acerbic comments which had the audience in the theatre, and me at home, in fits of laughter.
We all know how cruelly Dickens treated his wife. I have tried to find excuses for him when I have reviewed various biographies about him, but really I cannot any more. His behaviour was appalling and his treatment of Catherine, unforgivable. When he separated himself from her, he gave her a house, an allowance and sent her youngest child to live with her, the other children were kept away. She lived in Gloucester Terrace for over twenty years and never saw Dickens again. Only after his death was she reconciled with her daughters (and I don't think much of their behaviour I must say) and here is the saddest reading of all by Miriam. As Catherine lay dying she gave a packet of letters to her daughter Kate, with the request that they be given to the British Museum 'so that the world may see he loved me once'.