Re: Charles Dickens
I think I can see what you mean, Sybarite. Dickens does seem a trifle inhibited after Balzac, Zola, and Maupassant. At the same time, he's someone one must appreciate for what he is--a giant of Victorian literature.
My favorite Dickens is probably Bleak House. It was poignant and dark, and, although a little convoluted at times, a first-rate work of literature. Nabokov was a big fan of this book. In fact, he gave lectures about it (a portion of which is in the edition of Bleak House I own). I must admit, I don't find Dickens as easy to read as Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. There's some irony here since Nabokov didn't think any of Jane Austen's novels were any good except for Mansfield Park. But I'll save my thoughts on that for another time....
At any rate, back to Dickens. What's food for thought, in my opinion, is that in the time Dickens lived one out of every ten persons was a voracious reader of his books. That, of course, was before the age of computers, cell phones, and television. People craved the next "installment" of Dickens the way they now yearn for the next episode of their favorite soap opera (or "American Idol," which, by the way, I've never seen). Trollope was also a quintessentially Victorian novelist who was read a lot during the same time period.
I haven't read TONS of Dickens. So, I cannot speak with absolute, unmitigated authority on this subject. However, I will say that the novels by Dickens I've read--A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickelby, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations--have all made quite an impression on me. Like Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, he is a writer who delves into the lives of "the masses" and is able to vividly depict their struggles, both big and small.
It may be, in 2008, that his works have become old-fashioned. But I don't really think so.
Just my ten cents,
PS You are right, Sybarite. The BBC production of Dickens' work are fantastic. I particularly like "Bleak House." Gillian Anderson makes quite an intriguing Lady Dedlock.
"A person is never known till a person is proved."
~Charles Dickens, Bleak House
"All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran