The Great Winglebury Duel by Charles Dickens
Two of Dickens' hilarious early stories from Sketches by Boz and Bloomsbury Christening.
This is a great insight into some of Dickens' early work. Although these short stories still include the mastery of his humour, his tongue in cheek glances at society, and his observations on social behaviour, they lack any of his serious discourses on social behaviour, and indeed, of those living in poverty - and it's not a bad thing.
The collection's namesake, The Great Winglebury Duel, was absolutely excellent. Dickens lines up a series of events and general confusion to form a completely hilarious tale of mistaken identity. In 25 pages, he built characters with glaring personalities and motivations, made me laugh endlessly, and finished it all off with an unpredictable finale that totally underlined all the frivolity.
The Steam Excursion certainly wasn't as impressive as its brother, however Dickens was at it again with his excellent characterisation. The most notable part for me was the way in which he displayed the relationships of women with an abject hatred for each other - I've always thought the subtle way in which Victorian women slagged each other off to be utterly delicious - the subtlety, the cold retaliations, and the ultimate silent defeat of one of the parties, not to mention the words they use, just pleases me immeasurably:
'How d'ye do, dear?' said the Misses Briggs to the Misses Taunton. (The word 'dear' among girls is frequently synonymous with 'wretch.')
'Quite well, thank you, dear,' replied the Misses Taunton to the Misses Briggs; and then there was such a kissing, and congratulating, and shaking of hands, as would induce one to suppose that the two families were the best friends in the world, instead of each wishing the other overboard, as they most sincerely did.
These aren't a great starting place for Dickens, and I'd dissuade anyone from taking them as such. If you're well versed on Dickens, however, these are a playful little snatch of his early work, a good view of his emergence into social commentary, and can be appreciated wholly for their humour and societal satire.