I have always credited The Addams Family and The Munsters with feeding, if not inspiring, my early love of the Gothic and the macabre, but I never really thought about how much Scooby Doo fit that same genre in so many ways until I read this great article on CrimeReads.
I was certainly watching those things on TV before I was reading anything Gothic. I think my first Gothic read was Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I was maybe 9 or 10.
Scooby Doo was always one of the cartoons I enjoyed, and I still say “Rut Roh!” in my Scooby voice when I have a feeling things are about to go badly.
I guess it’s fair to say that some of the TV I watched definitely did normalise the Gothic for me during my childhood, and opened me up to the darker side of storytelling.
I hope you find this article as interesting and enlightening as I did.
Many people assume that “What the dickens?” is a reference to the author Charles Dickens.
Considering that Shakespeare wrote this expression in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in 1600 and Charles Dickens was born in 1812, that is entirely impossible.
Instead, ‘dickens’ is a euphemism for ‘devil’, as is ‘deuce’. When Mrs Page says “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is…” she really means ‘what the devil”.
It’s a more polite way of expressing strength of an idea or emphasising their intent, in this case, that she has no idea of the identity of the person she is being asked about. It’s exactly the same as people saying ‘heck’ instead of hell, ‘gosh’ instead of ‘God’ and ‘jeez’ instead of ‘Jesus’, and is probably done for the same reason: superstitious avoidance of using religious terms, or “using in vain” the names of religious entities.
There’s also a chance that, for some folks, old-fashioned good manners may enter into it, too.
In short, this is a euphemism: an inoffensive word or phrase used to replace an impolite or offensive one. We use euphemism when we talk about “powdering my nose” or “going to see a man about a dog” instead of “going to the bathroom”, or “bathroom” instead of “toilet”.
Like many of Shakespeare’s words and phrases, “what the dickens” has stood the test of time and is still used as a euphemism today.
‘Bleak House’ takes Dickens’ readers off the streets and out of the factories of Victorian England, and immerses them in a complicated, old and bitterly fought legal case in which questions of inheritance, corruption and legality are explored. Dickens brings the court case to life through his characters who are, in one way or another, personally invested in the outcome.
It’s far more than just a legal drama, though. It’s an epic tale of family, personal entanglements, deception, and even murder. Some characters know little of the past, while others know far more than they are willing to tell.
I really love the way Dickens shrouds the past in mystery and develops an almost tanglible sense of intrigue in his storytelling in ‘Bleak House’. In contrast to ‘A Christmas Carol’, this is a much longer and more involved novel in which the development of both plot and characters is intricate and complex. It is written with Dickens’ typical satirical social commentary and acute insights into human nature.
This is one of the best of Dickens’ novels, and sits at the top of my list of favourites alongside ‘A Christmas Carol’.