Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mystery vocabulary

I just finished re-reading (for about the sixth or tenth or eighteenth time) Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, and am once more overwhelmed by my ignorance. Yes, this was an edition with notes, but no, it was not a Norton Critical Edition (there isn't one, I discovered to my intense annoyance), and whoever wrote the notes took an excessively optimistic view of the average reader's knowledge of historical arcana.

Being a Nerdy History Girl, I know weird, useless stuff, make it my business to know weird, useless stuff. But page after page, I was stumped. Here are a few mystery terms:

"plush shorts and cottons"

"Oxford-mixture trousers"


So I thought, if I'm puzzled, what about high school and college students? Then I remembered how tedious I found most of the 19th C "classics" I read back then. Would I be writing the kinds of stories I write now if a friend hadn't explained the joys of David Copperfield to me, sometime in the middle of my lengthy college career?