Friday, January 13, 2006

Charles Dickens and His Accordion

Book Cover: Dickens: A Biography

I've been reading Fred Kaplan's 1988 book, Dickens : A Biography. I was moved to run out and buy it not long after it was published, starving graduate student though I was. Strangely, I didn't begin to read it until this year. To my surprise, the New York Times Book Review articles that had inflamed my interest were still folded and tucked inside the end-papers. It is a fascinating book, although I wish I had waited to buy it until now, when cheap used copies are available. I could have bought a lot of groceries with that $24.95 back in grad school. It is a long, dense book, and the first half now bristles with little slips of paper and notes to myself. I have been particularly interested in the sections that deal with his American visits and his interest in "ragged schools" and social reform. But today, I present his interest in the accordion, acquired on his first American trip. (That's Kaplan's spelling of "accordian." I don't know if it's a typo, or if it has some arcane significance.)

Ironically, having come miserably on a British steamship, he returned happily and comfortably on an American sailing vessel that left New York on June 2, 1842. On shipboard, he played perpetually on an accordian that he had bought in March and on which every night he had played "Home Sweet Home" as they had traveled through America.

There's nothing like playing your squeezebox "perpetually" in a confined space to win friends and influence people. Concertina practice has contributed significantly to my own popularity.

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