Happy 200th, Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens would have been 200 years old this month.  His birth is being celebrated with museum and library exhibits throughout Britain and internationally.

Prince Charles, attending a celebration in Portsmouth, Dickens’ birthplace, read:  “Despite the many years that have passed, Charles Dickens remains one of the greatest writers of the English language, who used his creative genius to campaign passionately for social justice. The word Dickensian instantly conjures up a vivid picture of Victorian life with all its contrasts and intrigue, and his characterisation is as fresh today as it was on the day it was written.”

What I wonder, is how many people still read him?

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was my first introduction to Dickens. Assigned in high school freshman English, the book’s plots and characters were discussed and dissected, analyzed in essays and tested about in examinations.  This was before study guides existed- no Cliff Notes, Spark Notes or Internet to help understand the reading.

I remember loving the novel. My father, quipping about my mother’s knitting, would compare her to Madame Defarge; the infamous character who knit the names of her intended victims into garments.

Sophomore year brought Great Expectations (1860-61) and Miss Havisham, the rich spinster who lived in a decrepit mansion.  Even now, when cycling, I’ll comment about the appearance of a forlorn looking house, wondering if Dickens’ character lives there.

Then my reading of Dickens stopped. The rest of high school and college included other authors.

Moving to London in 1982, I became reacquainted with Dickens. The historical blue plaques that dot the landscape include seven honoring Dickens; his family moved a lot.

I bought used copies of his novels at the bookstalls on the South Bank of the Thames River and once again became enthralled with the plots and characters depicting Victorian England.  When the Royal Shakespeare Company announced its 1985 revival of Nicholas Nickleby, (1838-39) an 8-½ hour long stage adaptation, I bought tickets, ready for the marathon. The play is divided into two parts with about an hour in between; it was a fantastic theater experience.  

Returning to the US, and many years later, I took the children to Patrick Stewart’s solo performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) on Broadway.  Stewart played 40 characters from the ghosts to Tiny Tim.  

My three children, recognizing Stewart as Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, sat mesmerized. 

As each child entered high school, I reread some of these Dickens’ classics; it was a good way to inform dinner conversation about homework and provide ideas for essays.  Their reading of Dickens also ended by 10th grade.

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens! You should be happy at least that teenagers are reading you, if not for pleasure, at least for school.

This entry was posted in Books, celebrations, Education, Family, New York City, Reading, teaching, Theater, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Happy 200th, Charles Dickens!

  1. I too celebrate Dickens. Last year I took on the task of rereading ” A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations.” I so love Dickens’ way of telling a story and the way you see each character as you read because of his attention to detail. I love each one. His villains were scary but in the end had a redemptive quality. His misguided characters like Pip found redemption through tragedy and love.
    I saw the Masterpiece Theater production of “Little Dorrit.” I am reading that one slowly. I must admit when I read “David Copperfield” I fell in love with Dickens. That is truly a great story. I have seen every film version of the story.
    Happy Birthday Mr Dickens. Thanks for posting this.


  2. Leah says:

    I think you have a good point asking why people still read Dickens. It’s as if his stories are timeless, even though they took place so many years ago. I remember reading “A Tale of Two Cities” in freshmen English as well. It’s still one of my favorites.


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