2012 brings the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the man who shaped our perception of Victorian England in his thousands of pages of delicious stories — not to mention his reporting and essays.
Dickens in 1858
Charles Dickens was born in 1812. His somewhat feckless parents caused him to have an alternately comfortable and difficult life as a child, including a stint working in a London blacking factory, where he experienced first hand the travails of the poor working class he so vividly portrayed in his stories.
Santa favored me with a copy of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, a book that was on many “best” lists for 2011 and which received many glowing reviews. Tomalin had already done considerable work on Dickens and his secret life. Her book, Invisible Woman, was published in 1991, telling of his 13-year affair with Ellen Ternan at the end of his life. He had previously married the boss’s daughter (or one of his bosses), Catherine Hogarth, whose father was the editor of the Evening Chronicle, for which Dickens wrote. They had ten children, but grew apart.
Claire Tomalin is an excellent biographer. She has published the life stories of many famous writers, such as Katherine Mansfield (1989), Pepys (2003), and Thomas Hardy (2007). She has written about others, as well, particularly – from my bookshelf — Mrs. Jordan’s Profession (1994) — the story of London actress Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) and her long affair with Prince William, Duke of Clarence (1765-1837), with whom Dora had ten children. He later succeeded his brother to become William IV, King of England 1830-1837.
I suppose it will come as no surprise to occasional readers of this blog to learn that my favorite biography of Tomalin’s is her Jane Austen: A Life, an excellent study of the artist whose work is the source-point for all my interests in the long 18th Century, the Regency, the Georgians, the Victorians, and all things English/British.
But I digress… you will find no shortage of biographies and studies of the work of Charles Dickens in the upcoming months. Plays, movies, television programs — he will be everywhere. We have just had, in many US cities and elsewhere, the traditional holiday season performances of A Christmas Carol, which one cannot see too many times, or so it seems to me.
Ebenezer Scrooge is only one of the hundreds of characters Dickens create which stay in our memories forever. Who could ever forget the Artful Dodger? Or Miss Havisham? Or Mr. Micawber or Uriah Heep? You can name dozens more, no doubt.
|David Copperfield illustration
David Copperfield is said to be somewhat biographical.
Dickens began publishing stories in 1833 when he was just 21 years old. He generally published his stories in magazines, in serial form, meaning that every few pages, there is a suspenseful moment, designed to bring the reader back next month to buy the next installment. This method enhances the page-turner quality of all of his novels. He was immensely popular in his day, engaging in many public readings around Britain as well as during two trips to the U.S.
|Charles Dickens by Ary Scheffer, 1855; NPG, London
So in the next 12 months (and beyond), be self-indulgent, and read some of the long and enjoyable works of Charles Dickens. It is a pleasure you owe yourself!