As I’m sure you know, ‘Boz’ was the original pen-name of none other than Charles Dickens. We’ll get to Dickens in a moment, but first I want to consider the use and abuse of the word. Now, one of the suggested careers open to me when I graduated with honours in English, was to go into advertising. I thought about it for roughly a millisecond before deciding that was never going to fly. I have never been attracted to advertising because advertising is manipulative. Advertising debases language; advertising mangles and perverts words in order to make money. And that is why I never wanted to go into it.
Some aspects of advertising, it has to be said, are fair enough. It’s quite reasonable, if you have just invented or developed a new product or process, to want to tell people about it; to want to sell it and inform people of the reasons why they might want to buy it. You want to explain its features proudly to your customers and tell them exactly what it can do for them.
True: but most advertising is not like that. Mostly it goes straight for the jugular – or to be more accurate, the sexual organs – and simply suggests that if you buy this product you will be more attractive to the opposite sex – or richer, or both. It manipulates the language in the service of marketing and that is not something I’m prepared to do as I consider words in some sense to be holy. I know that may sound a little overblown, but I feel that in a very deep sense words are precious. In the beginning was the word, so says the Bible – and whether or not you are a Christian or even a believer in God, that is a deeply significant idea. And so it offends me when people debase words and use them to manipulate others. This is not confined to advertising, of course; politicians do it – we’ve all probably done it at some point or other; in order to win an argument, perhaps, or to persuade someone to do something.
But I can feel I’m lapsing into sermon mode, so I shall stop. I was going to talk about Dickens today and his utterly repugnant behaviour towards his wife. ‘How far should we judge writers on their behaviour?’ I was going to cry. ‘Is congruence between writing and real life important? Does it diminish a writer if he writes compassionately but was known to have been a total shit in real life?’ I was going to ask.
Not that Dickens was a total sh*t – in fact towards the poor he was exceptionally compassionate and the story is often told of a bunch of wild flowers placed anonymously on his grave when he died. But it is a fact that sexually, like so many Victorians, he was an utter hypocrite and a beast to his wife. ‘Should that matter?’
I was going to talk about all of that.
Oh, wait – look, I already have.