Russell Baker had Dickens on his mind yesterday, having
been appalled that a college-age clerk in a Greenwich Village bookshop
had not known not only who had written DAVID COPPERFIELD, but also
(when told his name) what his first name was.
In his column (NY Times, January 24) Baker meditates
wittily on Dickens's splendid power of naming people and also
on the number of people "going around in Dickensian names." He
cites a rich list of contemporaries from Cito Gaston to Newt
Gingrich, and enroute "challenge[s] all who hunger for literary fame
to test their Dickens potential." Here it is:
"Compose a list of 10 well-known living people whose names
would have caught Dickens's eye. Describe the character Dickens would
have created for each name. If you feel cocky, fit all 10 into a single
plot Dickens might have written, and send it to me."
Russell promises to publish the winner's "very own name,"
and that of course will be his concern.
The notion struck me as amusing, of course, and also
possibly useful. I recall years ago that in teaching a Dickens
novel to beginning college students I found they liked a game
my friend Chris Kiefer had devised. He would ask students to
imagine themselves as casting director for a film on the novel
they were reading and to choose actors for each of the roles. This
helped them visualize characters, distorting them to some extent of
course, but trying to understand what was involved in creating
characters and portraying them.