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07 February 2012

Charles Dickens at 200!

Some people love his work, some people could leave it. In fact, people usually are familiar with one or two of three things about Charles Dickens:
  • A Christmas Carol with Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Marley's Ghosts;
  • The quote: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." (which is the first line of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, used incessantly by pundits to describe all times); and/or
  • Oliver Twist as lead character in Oliver! the Musical from which we get such memorable tunes as "Food, Glorious Food," "Consider Yourself," "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Where Is Love?" (or even, "I'm Reviewing the Situation").

Actually, A Christmas Carol by far is the most well-known of Dickens's work, but the story of Pip in Great Expectations has been known to be .  There's a great NPR item on Dickens jumping off from an exhibit at the Morgan Library in NYC (a wonderful little museum), with little known facts with which to dazzle one's friends.  He managed to save his reputation as well as his mistress and his manuscript from a train wreck?  Pshaw!  I can't see that everyone didn't know (in contemporaneous times) that heady with celebrity, he also did things outside propriety.  Only through the lens of history and forced high school reading has the reputation of Dickens as a proper, hard-working and boring person come.  And, now, there is a novel by Gaynor Arnold, Girl in a Blue Dress, based on his letters and other British Museum documents which tells a fictionalized heartbreaking story of his abandoned wife Catherine.

Who among our writers today has such celebrity?  And, one wonders in 200 (or 150 or so) years from now, who among our popular writers will be so honored.  James Patterson?  Nicholas Sparks?  Nora Roberts?  That one doubts any of these or anyone else would be so popular today and read tomorrow must be the real indicator of the decline of published writers and books as a society's source for enlightenment and entertainment.

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