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A Curious Dance round a Curious Tree

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Authors Charles Dickens
W[illiam] H[enry] Wills
Genres Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Report i
Subjects Christmas; New Year; Holidays and Seasonal Celebrations
Life Sciences (Physiology / Biology / Immunology / Medicine / Pharmacology / Anatomy / Ecology)
Medical care; Nursing; Hospitals; Hospital Care; Surgery; Medicine; Physicians
Psychology; Psychiatry; Mental Health; Mind-Body Relations (Metaphysics)
Other Details
Printed : 17/1/1852
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume IV
Magazine : No. 95
Office Book Notes
MemoSt. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics
Views : 4363

Dickens wrote the following portions of 'A Curious Dance Round a Curious Tree': from 'How came I' (p. 385) to 'followed my leader' (p. 386); from 'It was playing' (p. 387) to the conclusion.
Dickens seems also to have gone over the remainder of the piece with great care, to have altered it substantially, and to have added many touches and some longer passages. For example, he probably interpolated the phrases within dashes in the two opening paragraphs, and he very likely wrote or re-wrote the clauses which introduce his first major contribution.
In 1860, St. Luke's. Hospital for the insane, with Dickens' permission, re-printed 'A Curious Dance Round a Curious Tree' as a promotional pamphlet. This pamphlet, like the similar reissue of 'Drooping Buds' (see note to 'Drooping Buds'), is extremely rare. But the 'Curious Dance' pamphlet has a distinction which the 'Drooping Buds' pamphlet lacks; its wrapper is imprinted, 'By Charles Dickens.' This attribution is reiterated within the pamphlet. At the conclusion of the essay the pamphlet comments on the piece, repeatedly refers to it as by Dickens, states that it is reprinted by permission of 'the Author,' and never hints at a second author. After Dickens' death, this attribution was frequently denied, and the article - which Wills had republished in Old Leaves (see note to 'Valentine's Day at the Post-Office') as a collaborative piece, and which the Contributors' Book listed as by Dickens and Wills - was claimed entirely for Wills. 'A Curious Dance' is, however, primarily by Dickens. This may be stated categorically, for the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library owns a ten-page manuscript in Dickens' hand comprising well over half the text - a share which may not represent all that Dickens wrote, and which of course does not include the segments he added in proof. The Berg manuscript has been followed, however, in determining Dickens' contribution to 'A Curious Dance' (see first paragraph above).
The printed text of Dickens' contribution to 'A Curious Dance' is almost identical to the text which emerges from his heavily canceled and interlineated manuscript. The postmanuscript changes, almost certainly made in proof, consist, for the most part, of added commas and the like. There are however, a few substantive changes. Dickens deleted, presumably in proof, the information that the music was provided by a fiddle and a harp (an uncharacteristic reduction for him), and he added, again presumably in proof, the final sentence ('It will be much, some day'). These slight changes are typical of the other substantive changes in Dickens' share of the article.
The manuscript sheds light on the way Dickens planned and wrote some of his composite pieces. For 'A Curious Dance' he wrote two separately headed and separately paged manuscripts. The first manuscript, labeled 'A' by Dickens, and constituting his first long contribution to the article, ends after only four lines on the fourth page - Dickens filled the remainder of the page with his characteristic 'ending' flourish, a squiggle down the center of the blank portion. The second manuscript, labeled 'B' by Dickens, and constituting his second long contribution to the article, runs for six close-packed, separately numbered pages, again beginning with page one. Both the overall division of the article and the separation of the contributions within the division indicate that Dickens and Wills discussed the strategy, organization, and dovetailing of the piece before either sat down to write this share, though Dickens, if he followed his usual practice, performed the final smoothing and integration in proof.
'A Curious Dance Round a Curious Tree' contains one of Dickens' infrequent theoretical speculations on the nature of art. This speculation, a theory of dramatic catharsis (see pp. 385-86), is identical, both in idea and type of example, to that which Dickens enunciated several months later in 'Lying Awake,' an essay he published in Household Words on 30 October 1852, and republished in Reprinted Pieces (1858). However, theorizing on art was incidental to Dickens' chief impulse in writing 'A Curious Dance.' He used the occasion of attending a Boxing Day party at St. Luke's Hospital to focus again on a lifelong interest - insanity and its treatment. See also 'Idiots.'

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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