A new novel by Charles Dickens: ‘Adam Werritty’

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By Kenneth Roy

‘Adam Werritty’. It is a new novel by Charles Dickens, found in a long-abandoned trunk in the Palace of Westminster. Had Mr Dennis Skinner not stumbled over it in his clumsy way, it might have languished for several centuries yet, disregarded by the many important persons who strut the corridors of that place, lost in their foolish vanities and illusions.

Old Mr Skinner, in customary Barnsley manner, declared to the Serjeant-at-Arms that he had in his mucky paws a hitherto unsuspected work by Charlie Boy (his appellation of choice for the noted author). The Hon Member for Old Mines and Pit Baths testified that two items had fluttered from its dusty covers: a Waterstones 3 for 2 offer (no longer valid) and a card bearing the mysterious inscription: ‘Adam Werritty, Adviser to Dr L Fox, physician’.

The manuscript in question having been authenticated by the ghost of Trevor Roper (still fondly remembered by a discriminating minority for his work on the Hitler diaries), it was removed under cover of darkness to a place not unadjacent to Buchanan Street bus station, where Miss Rosemary Goring (‘one of them literary types’, according to Old Mr Skinner) was entrusted with the formidable task of evaluating its place in the Dickens oeuvre. After several days of intensive study, interrupted only by the familiar thump of the latest parcels from Argyll Books, Miss Goring pronounced ‘Adam Werritty’ spookier than ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, more finished than ‘Edwin Drood’, but not so obviously endearing as ‘David Copperfield’.

Asked whether it lent itself to a six-partner on BBC2, Miss Goring replied that she thought it might go all the way to 13 episodes.

The Scottish Review has obtained, by the usual recourse to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, Part 2, clause 26, access to the first chapter headed, oddly enough, Chapter I.

Chapter I
A Parliamentary Sketch

We hope our readers will not be alarmed at this rather ominous title. We assure them that we are not about to become political, as that term is commonly understood by the Charity Commissioners; neither have we the slightest intention of being waylaid by Mr Crick of Channel 4 News or flattered into a ‘gig’ on one of Mr Marr’s Sunday diversions.

It has occurred to us that a slight sketch of the general aspect of ‘the House’ would be productive of some amusement; and as we have made some few calls on the aforementioned House in our time – on the last such occasion to observe a custard pie land smack in the face of a Mr R Murdoch – have indeed visited it quite often enough for our purpose and a great deal too often for our personal peace and comfort – we have determined to attempt the description.

Half-past four o’clock, and Dr L Fox is ‘on his legs’, as the newspapers announce sometimes by way of novelty, as if speakers were occasionally in the habit of standing on their hands. The heat and the noise increase in very unpleasant proportion as Dr Fox apologises to any who will listen. He has fought many battles in his time, oft in far-off lands, and conquered any passing Arabian like the heroes of old, with no other arms than the second home allowance and regular first-class air travel in the company of young Mr Adam Werritty, of whom more will be heard in Chapter IV (‘The Spare Room’).

It was very odd: some men change their opinions from necessity, others from expediency, others from inspiration; but that Dr Fox should undergo any change in any regard was an event we had never contemplated. Yet here he was apologising. Would it prove to be sufficient? Or would the wretched Scotchman be liquidated before Mr Rory Bremner next ‘took the floor’? As the Members rushed pell-mell from the chamber, these were the questions on every lip; even the Irish ones.

‘Adam Werritty’ continues at this exciting pace for the next 379 pages. Alas, we have room today for only the brief and exclusive extract printed above.

The critical reception has been surprisingly mixed. Some have claimed that the relationship between Dr Fox and his protege is convincingly drawn and that the scene in which they turn up identically dressed for some important meeting in a Ceylon teahouse is one of the most compelling vignettes in the Dickensian canon. Others, however, have suggested that there is an implausibility in the plot that Dickens never quite addresses satisfactorily: the suggestion that, all of five days into his difficulties, Dr Fox was still somehow clinging to office.

‘Adam Werritty’ by Charles Dickens, with a foreword by the Rt Hon Michael Gove, is published by Midgie Instant Classics @ £2.99. The Kindle version is expected shortly. 

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review