I have been slicing away at words for hours today, doing the rough edit of my book B’Hemoth, which was recorded just before Christmas. It’s slow work but necessary before my son begins the last series of processes which will create our first full-length audio book! The end result will be very exciting, but right now what I’m doing is a lot like watching paint dry!
But what’s in a name? A writer can do so much with a name to imprint on the reader the exact impression that is wanted.
Charles Dickens was a past master at using the naming device, learning, perhaps, from earlier writers, but also the rich culture of the City of London must have helped, for there were droll characters in real life on every street, in the coffee houses and pubs, all the places young Dickens was taken by his father, and explored during the rest of his life.
Cities can be very theatrical; on any one day, scenes, acts and whole dramas are played out in public, often to remain forever in the minds of the onlookers.
In his stories Dickens deliberately fixed in the reader’s mind the role certain characters would play by the name he chose for them. Regular monikers such as Brown, Grey or Black were absent, especially when there was something special to relate. Instead he found unique titles guaranteed to raise strong emotions in the readers and deepen the drama in which they were involved.
Where did Dickens come by those names? He had to make them up, I believe; stitching together pieces of words, and removing others from their original context, to get the particular result he desired.
A few to play with:
1 A man of potentially murderous intent with a heart of stone – Mr Murdstone, the despicable man who preyed on young defenseless widow women. David Copperfield.
2 The family of Barnacles in the Circumlocution Office, petty bureaucrats who glued themselves to the idea of doing nothing while sticking to their own rock. Little Dorritt.
3 Bradley Headstone, a schoolteacher with an insane mind, and as jealous in nature as any gravestone that guards the corpse below it. Often as off-kilter as Headstone, the graveyard stones are just as likely to tip over and destroy the innocent bystander without warning. Our Mutual Friend.
There are a great many examples of such special names in Dicken’s stories, Mr Micawber, Miss Flite, Squeers, Quilp, Mrs Gamp, Seth Pecksniff, Uriah Heep, on and on, each playing out their proclaimed destiny to great effect
Dickens must have met many of the templates for his characters in his travels round London, for there is always great solidity to them, they are not made out of cardboard to supply some light relief or slap-stick while the rest of the action is going on. They are flavourful beings, to be savoured, each and every one, tale tellers in their own right, for which we, the readers, can be eternally grateful.