On Thursday afternoon I was talking to three recently retired friends each of whom was relishing their new found freedom and specifically how they could now take their own time over what they did and when they did it. I smiled benignly and decided that I wouldn’t spoil their pleasure by pointing out that seven years into my own retirement I have realised that if you let that mañana feeling go too far you are heading for disaster.
When I first retired I wrote here regularly and read analytically even when I was also reading for pleasure. However, over those intervening years I have gradually become what on a kind day I know to be intellectually less rigorous and on a more honest day, downright lazy. When I look back on what I was capable of I have to say that I don’t like what I have become.
So, in an attempt to pull back some of that lost ground, I am about to start a distance learning course built around the novels of Charles Dickens, a writer who, in all my years studying and teaching literature, I have never had to work on.
Reading the City : The Life and Writing of Charles Dickens is a term long course run by the University of Exeter and during the coming twelve weeks I am going to be looking at my three favourite Dickens’ novels, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend along with the much earlier work, Oliver Twist. I always think Dickens is at his best when he is writing about London. It is probably why those first three books appeal to me so much. If ever an author captured the essence of a city as accurately as he did the characters who populate his works it has to be Dickens. The passage about the London fog near the beginning of Bleak House has to be one of the greatest pieces of prose ever written.
First, however, I have to master what the university calls its ‘learning environment’. Every HE institution has one and I’m quite used to the concept. The problem is that every one I encounter is different. So I’ve set aside a couple of hours tomorrow morning – the first day of ‘term’ – to play around and see what I can make of Exeter’s. If you hear a news item to the effect that the university’s entire computer system has been sabotaged you will know who to hold responsible.