Sunday, February 7, 2010

At home with the Dickenses

It snowed like the dickens in the mid-Atlantic states this week. And for once New England gets to feel relieved, if not smug, that it's not us digging out from two and a half feet of snow. But even though we didn't get hit, li'l Febber is baring his pointy teeth and the cabin's feeling a mite cramped. One can only play Bananagrams so many times.

I think winter is the only season that we seriously "mid." True, there's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but no one really feels so stuck in the middle of summer that we care when that is, or have a holiday whose purpose is to measure how much time we have to endure before the season that hosts that day is over. (If the salamander sees its reflection, there will be six more weeks of summer?)

Part of the problem is that we front-end the season with so much imagery and festoonery, combining Christmas songs and winter songs, Santas and snowmen, that we've gone through seasonal exhaustion by early January. Unlike summer, when the vacations roll on, July to Labor Day.

So we tend to pause at the calendar and peer at February to see what new diversions it might have for us. Hence Girl Scout cookies. And if necessary, Charles Dickens, whose birthday is today, February 7th.

According to the wordmeister Michael Qunion, "dickens," as in "how the dickens are we going to make it to spring?" doesn't have anything to do with Charles Dickens. Lower-case dickens is an old term for the Devil ( I don't know how upper-case Dickens felt about that. I suspect he had to put up with more cheap puns on his name than he cared for. But by and large he has pretty much upper-cased the name so well, we're happy to give him the dickens, too.

I'm no Dickens scholar. I can think of one who is who reads this blog, so I'll avoid the gushing, just give Charles a warm handshake, as if we'd met during one of his American reading tours, maybe the second one, in 1868. And, okay, if he's signing books, I might ask him to sign my copy of Oliver Twist. Maybe as Fagin: "Civil words!" Or as Sowerberry: "We must all sit on Oliver!" Or were those just in the movie?

Actually, I was hoping I could pair him with a musician, like Lewis Carroll with Mozart. But all I could find as a birthday-mate was Garth Brooks. No offense to Garth, but I think I'll just put Charles's phizzog up there. And start "Our Mutual Friend" again.

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