if I didn’t acknowledge the 200th birthday of one of the greatest writers of all time.
Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!
I have been inspired by Dickens as long as I can remember, first being exposed to his work when I watched the musical version of Oliver! for the first time, and later seeing, I believe, nearly every adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
His work speaks to people, real people, something I realized long before I knew of the social issues he addressed during a time of great change and great strife inEngland. He wrote about real people who endured the hardships of life, yet managed to retain the innate good in each of them. Dickens is sometimes criticized for being fairy tale- like in his work, but I see it more as him writing characters who, no matter the hand they are dealt, rise above. And isn’t that all we, as the human race, can do?
In college, I studied Dickens’ work learning to read it in the historical context in which it was written. As a teacher, I think it would be remiss of me not to allow my students to have that opportunity because he truly was a great activist of his time. He didn’t shun from political correctness; he put it out there, the good, the bad, and the ugly for all to see and judge. And his work remains timeless masterpieces that reflect a time not so unlike our time. I’d argue that he was one of the forefathers for the 99%.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to visit his home on Doughty Streetin London–a memory I will keep w/ me forever. I entered his house, now a museum, and studied the artifacts and the furniture, taking in the setting and all that it implied. It was surreal walking through the home he once lived in, sitting in a chair he once sat in. For anyone who’s read Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London, I was living the tale of her book. Imagining the period he lived in each time I turned a corner. Recollecting the buildings I’d collected of the Dickens’ village that I display each year at Christmastime, symbolizing the settings for the novels he’d written building by building, figurine by figurine.
In 2011, I returned toEngland–this time to Westminster Abbey, to the cite of the Poet’s Corner where a wreath was laid today by Prince Charles commemorating Dickens’ birthday. I recall standing there in awe, surrounded by the ghosts of the writers I so admire, those who have shaped a good part of my life.
Charles Dickens writes in the prologue to David Copperfield ” Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them…But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD” —Charles Dickens, 1867. I can so relate to that as a writer. When you write, your characters become people and it’s hard to end their story, it’s hard to let them be judged by others because they become so dear to the writer. Not to mention that David is said to be an autobiographical version of Dickens himself. He draws upon his own experiences in his word which is what makes each novel so authentic. I cannot ever divorce myself from what I’m writing. Each piece I write is a part of me.
I also read a book called Dickens and the Dream of Cinema. In this book, Grahame Smith argues that Dickens was a visionary of cinema before its’ time in the way he uses description. His imagery lends itself to being adapted for the visual medium. Perhaps this is one of the aspects that most appeals to me about Dickens is his ability to paint a visual picture.
I’d argue that the real brilliance of Dickens is the synergy of all these characteristics working together creating an experience.
Among my favorite quotes of Dickens’ is this from David Copperfield:
“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”