JULY 21, 1954
MEEKER, Colo., Thursday—I had a rather interesting discussion of books recently with some of the young generation of my family. I found that my 11-year-old granddaughter was reading "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, and enjoying it. I would have called it a rather mature book for one of that age. However, the fact that two of my older grandchildren find Dickens far more interesting than Thackeray does not surprise me.
Thackeray was a great satirist who made fun of all the foibles and insincerities of the age in which he lived. Youth does not easily understand satire. Dickens, on the other hand, told simple stories about people. To be sure, his stories nearly all had a purpose. The purpose was to depict bad social conditions and to get those conditions changed.
It is of interest, I think, to compare how people thought along social lines in Dickens' day and what we have arrived at over the years. To me it is a great encouragement that great changes have come about in the way people approach social problems.
Dickens, for instance, fought the prevalent custom of his day of throwing debtors into prison, and I think almost everyone today would agree that, if you put a man in prison because he has debts, it just makes it impossible for him to pay them. The more enlightened practice of assessing against all his earnings is prevalent today and, while sometimes even that is a little hard on the individual, it is certainly better than the custom of Dickens' day.
Children on the whole may read Dickens purely for the story, but my 14-year-old-grandson seemed to understand and to be interested in the idea that, in addition to the interest of the story, there were actual comparisons that could be made between the life and thinking of Dickens' day and the life and thinking of our own day.
There was a time when I found that many young college people never looked at Kipling or Robert Louis Stevenson. But that is evidently changed for I find that these youngsters now are ready to read both these authors. And even though my admonitions may not be carefully heeded, I feel that, if they read just a little of Stevenson, they are bound to be more appreciative of style. His style was much studied a few years ago and I think could be studied again with profit.
Perhaps our younger generation is going to revive some of the tradition of improving their style of writing by reading good literature. If so, the English language and this generation of children will gain much.