Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, arguably the greatest fiction author of the mid 19th century. Some of us were forced to read Dickens in school whether we liked it or not (most of my peers), but some of us not only read it willingly, SOME of us had voluntarily read it years before that and were re-reading them like letters from an old friend. (ME!!!) Some of us also found out today that the phrase "like the Dickens" is of Shakespearean origin and has nothing to do with Charles Dickens whatsoever. (Me again! Who knew?)
I read and loved A Christmas Carol at the age of 9, after loving the "Mickey's Christmas Carol" movie year after year until I learned to read fluently (hey, the exposure has to come from somewhere!). I moved on from there to Oliver Twist around 10 or 11, and by the time we were collectively studying A Tale of Two Cities in high school, I'd already finished Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations. (Yes, I was teased mercilessly by my peers for being a bookworm and an introvert. Such is the social structure and pecking order of the public school system.)
Dickens has a way with the details of the scene that I love. His minute descriptions draw me into England the way he saw it. Every house, every carriage, every article of clothing is depicted to me in words that leave my mind's eye in no doubt as to the existence of every item and every action involved with them and the movement of the plot. His characters are introduced in such a way as though you are sure you are in the room along side them all.
I have been a life long Dickens reader, although I did not read Little Dorrit, The Pickwick Papers, The Life of Our Lord, and A Child's History of England until I was in my 20s, the latter two appearing in my personal library in handsome hard back covers as a Christmas gift from my dad's mom. Little Dorrit is perhaps my favorite curl-up-by-a-winter-fire read, excepting maybe David Copperfield.
I will confess readily that Pickwick Papers was a HARD read, in that it had perhaps more to do with the differing social classes and customs and phrases of the day than any of his later works. I got through it, but it was an arduous process that took several weeks (ages, in relation to my natural reading speed) and I was forever marking my place and having to Google something I didn't understand (Sam Weller's cockney speech, among others). And although Pickwick Papers is praised for its accurate descriptions of the old coaching inns of England during that time*, not only have two full centuries passed and rendered such establishments a bit archaic, Georgia and its history bear so little resemblance to the England of Dickens' time, I have no reference point from which to understand the events of the plot which happen in the coaching inns, except what I learn about online and by asking my British friends who love and study the history of their own country.
On the whole, however, Dickens is beloved and cherished in our house, and many volumes of his work take their place on my bookshelf along side Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and various and sundry other favorite literary greats.
Also in my list of favorite things are several film versions of Dickens titles, produced by BBC and available either in their shop to order, or on Youtube if one doesn't mind the interruption of moving from one episode segment to the next. They employ the top of my list of favorite British screen stars: Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Daniel Radcliffe, Matthew Macfadyen, Alun Armstrong, Andy Serkis, and James Fleet (to name only a few). Stellar writing combined with stellar acting performances = excellent entertainment for this grown up bookworm. :)
*taken from the first paragraph in the summary of Pickwick papers on Wikipedia article here.
Related links of interest:
Little Dorrit miniseries by BBC on Youtube, first part here.
Little Dorrit for purchase at BBC website here. Or on Amazon here.
David Copperfield miniseries by BBC on Youtube, first part here.
David Copperfield for purchase at BBC website here. Or on Amazon here.
(Interesting note, both of these star Alun Armstrong in vastly different roles!)
My favorite versions of A Christmas Carol:
George C. Scott classic, on Youtube, first part here. Buy at Amazon here.
A Muppet Christmas Carol, on Youtube first part here. Buy at Amazon here
Jim Carey's version is too new to be on Youtube, but watch the trailer here. Buy at Amazon here.
I'm sure there are more great movie links, but that will have to keep you happy for now! ;)