Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Quote of the Day (Charles Dickens, on a Fine Specimen of the London Legal Establishment)

“[Barrister Hiram Grewgious] was an arid, sandy man, who, if he had been put into a grinding-mill, looked as if he would have ground immediately into high-dried snuff. He had a scanty flat crop of hair, in colour and consistency like some very mangy yellow fur tippet; it was so unlike hair, that it must have been a wig, but for the stupendous improbability of anybody's voluntarily sporting such a head. The little play of feature that his face presented, was cut deep into it, in a few hard curves that made it more like work; and he had certain notches in his forehead, which looked as though Nature had been about to touch them into sensibility or refinement, when she had impatiently thrown away the chisel, and said: 'I really cannot be worried to finish off this man; let him go as he is.'”—English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

Vivid descriptions like this leave readers all the more mournful that Dickens did not manage to complete The Mystery of Edwin Drood. For what it’s worth, we have his other novels, each brimming with life and remarkable in its own way.

Lawyers, appearing in in 11 of his 15 novels, particularly provoked his powers of observation and invective. If you think that Mr. Grewgious (which rhymes nicely with “egregious”) is bad, then look at Mr. Vholes of Bleak House, “a sallow man with pinched lips that looked as if they were cold," who appears "dressed in black, black-gloved, and buttoned to the chin." 

If he could only have shed that Eastern European accent, Bela Lugosi would have been perfect for the part, had the novel ever been adapted for film in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Movie fans familiar with the legal profession would have found him no more horrifying than in his other roles at Universal Studios.

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