The Cricket World of Charles Dickens

Published: 2022
Pages: 64
Author: Merchant, James
Publisher: The Cricket Press Pty Ltd
Rating: 4 stars

And finally, the best part of twenty years after John Goulstone’s contribution, Australian James Merchant has, I strongly suspect, produced the final word on Charles Dickens and our great game. As you would expect from a production that has more pages than it’s predecessors put together this one is certainly thorough, but it is neither a literary analysis or a biography. A better description would be a celebration.

The biggest difference is simply the nature of the beast. The Rosenwater is, as previously noted, very nicely produced with considerable care but, in common with the Goulstone, there are no illustrations in it. The Cricket World of Charles Dickens on the other hand is lavishly illustrated with a huge variety of images ranging from the original drawings from The Pickwick Papers to letters, ceramics and a wide variety of other types of memorabilia.

As far as the narrative is concerned that, inevitably, covers much the same ground as Rosenwater and Goulstone but does so in a rather more organised fashion thus separate chapters look at Dickens’ life, The Pickwick Papers, other references to cricket in Dickens’ work and the game in real life as played by the Higham Club that so enjoyed Dickens’ patronage.

In terms of the thrust of Merchant’s writing that is essentially illustrative and explanatory, in contrast to Rosenwater’s clear agenda to discredit the writings of those who criticised Dickens’ knowledge of the game, and Goulstone’s detailed analysis of the words Dickens actually wrote. Merchant’s prose is eminently readable and provides much background information that his predecessors did not include.

A particularly enjoyable aspect of the book is the flight of fancy indulged in the final part of the book by author, publisher and, apparently, Dickens himself, to select ‘The Dickens World XI’. Led by Dickens’ son Henry (a successful barrister) the side is completed by another son, Edward, WG Grace, Higham player George Remnant and seven characters from Dickens’ oeuvre. It is an entertaining digression, particularly the quoted reaction of each member of the side to his selection.

Also on hand to contribute forewords to the book are Dickens’ great great grandson, Gerald Dickens, an actor, director and producer, and Thomas Keneally. A Booker Prize* winning author based in Sydney Keneally’s involvement was doubtless requested as a result of his authoring The Dickens Boy, a novel based on the life of Dickens’ youngest son Edward, who emigrated to Australia aged 16.

I much enjoyed Irving Rosenwater’s essay on Dickens, although I have to concede I am a little biased on that one. Goulstone’s lengthy essay is also an interesting one, but it has to be accepted that James Merchant’s study of The Cricket World of Charles Dickens is the definitive account of its subject. It will also prove a little easier to acquire than its predecessors albeit once again it is a limited edition, but this time of 122 copies. Ten of those will be a de luxe hardback edition signed by Merchant, Keneally and Gerald Dickens, albeit currently only the standard edition in card covers is available.

*For Schindler’s Ark

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