What the Dickens

It falls to my lot to write little front-page capsules for The Sun, directing readers to articles of interest inside the paper. Last night, one of the likelier-looking ones was John Fritze’s article explaining that veteran congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland had made clear his intention to run for re-election in his remapped district. I summarized that and, for the boldface lead-in, wrote: BARTLETT IS WILLING.

Today I learn from Mr. Fritze that a number of readers wrote to him to say that the allusion to Dickens* had gladdened their hearts.

It’s just a little thing, but it illustrates what must be done to make an allusion effective. The allusion must work on its own, not depending on the reader’s catching an echo. For the reader who does, the allusion is an additional treat, a lagniappe.


*For the non- Dickens-inclined: In David Copperfield, the minor character Barkis expresses his matrimonial interest in Peggotty by saying, “Barkis is willin’.”

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