Tuesday, 20 December 2011
The Year of Dickens
David Lodge, writing in the December issue of Prospect magazine (Our Mutual Friend), has reminded me that this coming February marks an important event in the literary calendar – the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.
A whole series of events are planned to mark the occasion, a torrent of Dickens, in publications, conferences, exhibitions, as well as new film and television adaptations of his work. A statue is also scheduled to be unveiled in Portsmouth in August, the town where he was born.
I’ve written before just how much I love his work (Adoring Dickens, May 27, 2010), so I expect to go, to see, to attend and to read as the mood takes me. The Museum of London is putting on a special exhibition about the writer’s links with the city. In so many ways he’s the chronicler of nineteenth century London, in good times and in bad. His is another human comedy. When asked why he was my favourite author I replied it was because I loved his Dante-like journeys through Victorian London, a great panorama, peopled with the most wonderful eccentrics; with the bad who are very bad and the good who are very good, archetypes one and all.
The BBC, who have produced some excellent adaptations of his novels in the past, are apparently planning several new screenings, including two of Great Expectations – a serial and a movie – and one of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I shall be particularly interested in the latter because the mystery was never solved, the novel a permanent enigma, unfinished at the time of the author’s death. Presumably some kind of resolution will be offered.
I have a number of previous adaptations on DVD, including two TV serials of Bleak House, a 1985 version starring Denholm Elliot as John Jarndyce and the 2005 version, which I watched at the time, broadcast twice weekly in a half hour, soap opera-style, format, as opposed to the usual hour long classic series format. The latter was particularly noted for the performance of X-Files Gillian Anderson in the role of Lady Deadlock.
Dickens' place in the imagination is now unshakeable, second only to Shakespeare. Even people who have never read him will almost certainly know of some of his characters, Ebenezer Scrooge most of all, as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus. Indeed in A Christmas Carol Dickens might have been said to have invented the modern form of the seasonal holiday. In past time, before the seventeenth century Civil Wars, it was in part a religious holiday and in part an excuse for a drunken ruckus, represented by the slightly disreputable figure of Father Christmas (not at all like Santa!) and the Lord of Misrule. A Christmas Carol recreated it in the image of Victorian bourgeois respectability and homeliness, a time of feasting, family togetherness and fun, all of the most wholesome kind! God bless us, every one.
After his death in 1870 Dickens work went gradually out of fashion, at least among the high priests of literary taste. The process accelerated, as Lodge argues in his essay, after the First World War, a time of a revaluation of all Victorian values by a generation that left cosy sentimentality in the mud of Flanders. In Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust the protagonist is held captive by the mad and illiterate Mr Todd, who forces him to read the work of Dickens aloud until the day he dies. This particular fate was among the worst that Waugh could imagine, as his father, a past president of the Dickens Society, insisted on reading aloud to him and his brother.
In a brave new literary world, given to introspection, psychology and floating along on a stream of consciousness, there was no room for someone as playfully unconcerned with deeper motives and states of mind as the great Victorian bard. F. R Leavis in The Great Tradition, a seminal work of literary criticism, excludes Dickens altogether from the pantheon of English literature, on the snooty grounds that “…his genius was that of a great entertainer, and he had for the most part no profounder responsibility as a creative artist than this description suggests.”
But Dickens has endured. He has found a new and ever growing audience. Why? Simply because he is beyond all fashion; because he is so human, a true craftsman in words, a great shaper of the human spirit, a writer of boundless humanity and simple generosity. I’ve read most of his novels more than once, David Copperfield three times in all, finding fresh delights each time, hating Mr Murdstone just as much as I did on first acquaintance! Doubtless I shall read it and the others again. I may even, in future times, read them aloud to my own children. :-)
Posted by Anastasia F-B at 15:57
Labels: charles dickens, english literature, english writers
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Good author, fair enough dad. Shitty husband if accounts are true. Parallel Lives provides an interesting look at him.ReplyDelete
You're going to be horrified by this: I picked up a copy of Great Expectations recently and couldn't get past the first chapter. Twenty years of editing other people's work means that I can't shake off the habit of reading like a proofreader (I was annoyed by the punctuation, for Christ's sake!). So I'm glad that I read most of Dickens's novels when I was growing up.ReplyDelete
Ah, Ana, ever the polymath! We're on opposite sides of this issue, or rather, while I acknowledge an authentic gemuetlich quality to some of Dickens' writing, he reminds me of Mozart in the sense that when he reaches for profundity he ends up sounding hysterical . . . but of course there is much to love about Mozart, and perhaps that's your point, in a senseReplyDelete
I'm also mulling a response to your post "The Revolution Bare" . . . I think I might have to out-Libertarian you on that one, but I'm struggling to manage the sense of vertigo provoked by the very thought . . . !
Hello Ana. This is from 'Bleak House' and one of the funniest character sketches I have read:ReplyDelete
Harold Skimpole took a bright disdain for the drudgery of adult life—“I am a child, you know!” he frequently reminds us—and delighted in the innocent pleasures around him. Speaking of himself (far and away his favorite topic) he confessed to
two of the oldest infirmities in the world: one was, that he had no idea of time; the other, that he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the value of anything! . . . He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making fancy sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of art. All he asked of society, was to let him live. That wasn't much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He was a mere child in the world, but he didn't cry for the moon. He said to the world, “Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats, blue coats, lawn sleeves, put pens behind your ears, wear aprons; go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer; only—let Harold Skimpole live!
see link: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/004-the-skimpole-syndrome-childhood-unlimited-49
Coll, he certainly fell out of love with his wife.ReplyDelete
Dennis, it takes an awful lot to horrify me. Here's one for you. I'm not awfully keen on Jane Eyre, chiefly because it's the most over-punctuated novel I have ever read!ReplyDelete
Chris, there is so much that is absurd in Dickens. For example, remember the scene in Little Dorrit where Arthur Clennam’s mother, after a lifetime as an invalid, suddenly gets up and rushes across London! A lot of his plotting is unbelievable but there is an intense, larger than life, quality to his characters that I find wholly beguiling These are people not easily put out of mind.ReplyDelete
On The Revolution Bare please look at my response to Jean Paul.
Nobby, thanks for that. Skimpole is just another dimension of John Dickens, the author’s impecunious father, along with William Dorrit and Wilkins Micawber. Of the three I find him the least attractive because his childishness also embraces selfishness and thoughtlessness, a complete indifference to the suffering of others.ReplyDelete
As far as the other dimension is concerned I was under the impression that it was based on the Left Wing radical who edited the Examiner magazine (Keats contributed one or two early efforts), Leigh Hunt. In fact Leigh Hunt and Keats are local lads although, as you know, I don't share their politics. Mind you England has changed since the early 1800's and I wonder whether they would sob any tears at what has happened to their country. Labour never did care much for the democracy of the dead: tradition.ReplyDelete
Dickens-for all his rather sepia-tinted postcard view of Victorian England, did write a splendid yarn.ReplyDelete
A tale of two cities was the second book I braved as a kid, so I have a fondness for that one particularly...
And of course Alastair Sim's Scrooge is compulsory viewing every year.
I'll be sorry to miss the events planned in his honor.
C. Dickens was A very good creative writer, I have watched many movies based on his novels.ReplyDelete
Excellent article and even though I'm not a big reader of Dickens, I have an interesting subject to write about his life during next year. This will also line up with it being 'The Year of Dickens'. I wish you well in 2012, Neil
"Merry Christmas, and God Bless us, every one."ReplyDelete
as Tiny Tim said in the Dickens Tale 'A Christmas Carol.'
Its Forever in our Hearts!!!
Dan The Yank
Nobby, did you see the BBC adaptation of I referred to, the one with Gillian Anderson. It was really rather good. Nathaniel Parker played Skimpole.ReplyDelete
Yes, I feel sure Hunt would be horrified.
David, my first was Dombey and Son for reasons that are not quite clear to me now. I remember weeping buckets over the death of Paul Dombey. :-)ReplyDelete
Neil, thank you; I wish you well too, a happy Christmas and a good New Year. :-)ReplyDelete
Anthony, yes he was. He translates very well on to the screen.ReplyDelete
Hey, Dan, what happened to you on Tribe?ReplyDelete
I missed it Ana :-(ReplyDelete
ps Happy Christmas & New Year!ReplyDelete
You too, Nobby. Have a good one. :-)ReplyDelete
Regardless of opinions to the contrary which I concede people are entitled to hold, Dickens' was one of the greatest voices of English Literature. He is up there with Shakespeare though both are writers of a very different kidney and I comparisons of this kind can be overdone. My favourite Dickens works being A Christmas Carol, Little Dorrit (what can compare with his account of the House of Clenham , and Oliver Twist.ReplyDelete
Claire Tomalin's new biography (she is a slpendid writer and one for whom I have great regard) though superb offers little in the way of new criticism on Dickens and there are already numkerous good biographies of him. The Ackroyd one is brilliant and huge!
Rehan, I loved the Ackroyd book. I have Tomalin's new biography, though I've not yet read it.ReplyDelete