The Arabian Nights

From The Telegraph:

Arabian_nights_1208912c When Dickens’s David Copperfield describes his schooldays, his memories quickly fall into the miserable grooves of “tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy Sundays, suet puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink surrounding all”. But there is also a more cheering routine that punctuates his time at school: storytelling. Learning that the “romantic and dreamy” Copperfield has a ready fund of stories up his pyjama sleeves, the dashing Steerforth decides that “you shall tell ’em to me”. With a new episode to look forward to every bedtime, “We’ll make some regular Arabian Nights of it.”

To some extent, the passage is a joke about Dickens’s own career, given how often he published his novels in instalments – a Scheherazade who depended on drawing out stories for his livelihood rather than his life. But the joke is also shadowed by a genuine sense of threat. Copperfield’s recollection that “we commenced carrying [the plan] into execution that very evening” reminds us that the original Scheherazade spins out her narrative thread every night to save herself from a far more serious form of “execution”. For her, each sentence is potentially a death sentence; each full stop is potentially the end of both story and storyteller.

More here.