As they passed Sunbury Church, the clock struck seven. There was a light in the ferry-house window opposite which streamed across the road and threw into more sombre shadow a dark yew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dull sound of falling water not far off, and the leaves of the old tree stirred gently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for the repose of the dead.
Hello, all, and happy April! Let’s start off the month with a book quote. Last month’s was from Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring, to be precise). This one is from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, which I reviewed last month. Needless to say, Dickens books are quite different from Tolkien books, though both were masterful writers. I particularly like this quote for its descriptive qualities, so that’s what I’m going to focus on today. What can we learn about descriptive writing from the quote above?
1. It suits the mood. At this point, Oliver Twist and a thief, Sikes, are on their way to commit a robbery, and Oliver, our main character, is afraid. Because of this, he (or, more properly, the omniscient narrator) does not see cheery light casting welcoming rays into the darkness, but light that sets a tree and the gravestones beneath it in shadow. You can sense the foreboding just by reading this one paragraph of description.
2. (Spoiler alert!) It serves to foreshadow a later event. I won’t give too many spoilers here, but near the end of the book, someone dies. Dickens has snuck in some very clever foreshadowing about twenty-five chapters ahead of time (yes, this is a long book) with his description of the graves and his comparison of water and wind to music for the dead. It’s smart to add moments like these early in the book so the climax doesn’t come completely out of the blue for the reader.
And there you have it! Lessons about description from a paragraph of Dickens.
What do you think? Have you ever read Oliver Twist? Can we draw some advice from this quote that I didn’t note here? Do you enjoy reading Dickens’s descriptions as much as I do? Tell me in the comments!