Posted by: Lizzie Ross | February 7, 2012

200 years old and still on top

I’ve been too busy with other things to keep up with my regular posts here, but I had to get in some birthday wishes for Charles Dickens, a great story-teller of questionable morals. One could argue that we all have questionable morals, but it’s difficult to ignore Dickens’ mistreatment of his wife, his long-term affair with a much younger actress, and his reputed dislike for his children.

But, one mustn’t grumble. There are still the books. So many classics. Did you know that he also walked up to 20 miles a day before sitting down to his writing? I can picture the man, race-walking through the streets of London into the surrounding countryside, mumbling to himself as he tries to work out a sticky plot point. Because his books were serialized, he couldn’t rewrite chapters that had already been published — he couldn’t go back to plant necessary clues or to revive someone he’d killed off too soon. I wonder how many of his secondary plots would be axed by a parsimonious editor if Dickens were writing today.

I would bet that most native speakers of English who read at all, or still watch black-and-white movies, can name at least 5 of his novels. Here’s my attempt to name all I can think of, in no particular order:

Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, Our Mutual Friend, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, A Tale of Two Cities, Pickwick Papers — that’s as far as I can get without peeking at my bookshelves.

I’ve actually read only 4 of the above. I tried reading 3 of the others and got no further than 30 pages into each before abandoning the book and picking up something thinner and faster-moving — yet they’re still on my t0-read shelf. The others are favorite films or PBS series (Bleak House stars among all adaptations, although the recent Little Dorrit comes in a close second). The unfinished Edwin Drood was a play on Broadway; before the final act the audience chose how the story would end (i.e., which character would die).

If you’ve never read Dickens, start with David Copperfield. Then see the 1935 film version. Those actors’ voices are the ones I hear whenever I reread that book.

Anyone wishing to learn more about today’s celebrations around the world, check out the Dickens2012 site. Read one of his books, or watch an adaptation, and just enjoy how a great story can take you into a completely different world. Here’s a curious article about a connection between Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Want to know more about the man and his works? Go here for the motherlode of info. Need to fill your e-reader for your next plane trip? Project Gutenberg will give you that. (Almost makes me want to get my own Kindle.)

So, happy 200th, Mr. Dickens! And thanks for all those books!

Brief NB: Today is also Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday, but she’s a youngster at only 145.

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