Dickens Turns 200: A Celebration

London, Reading & Writing

To celebrate the bicentennial of the Great Victorian who has inspired countless generations of writers (and made most of them inconsequential by comparison) London is hosting all kinds of Dickens events, from Christmas events at the Charles Dickens house at 48 Doughty Street to ‘Dickens and London’ at the Museum of London.

This week’s Time Out also has a walking guide to Dickens’ London pubs, from the George Inn to the George & Vulture, the Bleeding Heart Tavern and the Cittie of Yorke.

To celebrate in an alternative way, here’s a short piece I wrote about the Dickens you may not know so well…

‘There was once a comedy sketch from Monty Python precursor ‘At Last The 1948 Show’ in which annoying bibliophile Marty Feldman tried to buy a copy of ‘Rarnaby Budge’ by Darles Chickens, but no – I’m talking about the other Charles Dickens, author of such books as ‘The Haunted House’, ‘Mugby Junction’, ‘The Battle Of Life’, ‘Going Into Society’, ‘Doctor Marigold’ and ‘A Message From The Sea’.

Great writers tend to have their leading works repeatedly cherry-picked from the canon until we only remember those volumes, which become more familiar with each passing generation until we have to suffer through the 43rd television version of ‘Jane Eyre’ while, say, Bronte’s ‘Shirley’ and ‘Villette’ are sidelined.

The same happened with the astoundingly prolific Dickens, who wrote short story collections, non-fiction, children’s works, supernatural tales, sketches, dramatic monologues, Christmas fables and a dozen collaborative works. To complicate matters, some books had excerpts removed to be tailored into individual stories. Let’s not even go into his poetry, plays, essays and journalism.

The charming ‘A Child’s History Of England’ is so chatty and informal that it probably provided a blueprint for today’s ‘Horrible Histories’. His chapter on Henry VIII begins ‘We now come to King Henry The Eighth, whom it has been too much the fashion to call Bluff King Hall or Burly King Henry and other fine names, but whom I shall take the liberty to call, plainly, one of the most detestable villains that ever drew breath.’

‘Mugby Junction’ is a collaboration compiled by Dickens in which stories ranging from the eerie to the comic are interwoven around a bustling train station. When the narrator sees a deserted house from his railway carriage in ‘The Haunted House’, he ignores local legends and takes up residence with a group of friends. The resulting multi-part Dickensian novel has contributions from Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins among others. Dickens often wrote with Collins, but does that make his stories ‘impure’ and therefore less canonical? It seems odd that we should face annual remakes of ‘A Christmas Carol’ while ‘A Christmas Tree’ and the ‘Mrs Lirriper’ Christmas stories are overlooked.

Dickens’ less visible works are not out of print but have been collected too often in different formats, so that tracking them down without duplication is pretty tricky work.’

The painting of the Betsy Trotwood pub in Clerkenwell (not a bad boozer) is by David Morris, who has many of his paintings and prints for sale here.

4 comments on “Dickens Turns 200: A Celebration”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Really like everything about this man’s work. Thanks for recommending him.

  2. Gretta says:

    Dickens – brilliant writer, ghastly man. Tale of Two Cities is one of my ‘Desert Island’ books.

    I first heard Villette dramatised on the then BBC7 five or six years ago, and loved it. Much more so than any other Bronte work. Why does it get ignored?

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    They’ve cast Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in the Christmas tele production of Great Expectations. To make her old she’s got long, pure white hair*. Rather than a mid-fifties harridan resembling ‘a cross between a waxwork and a scarcrow’ she looks like the sort of alien that in the 70s suggested that sci-fi had a lot to offer teenage boys. Now I’ve nothing against Gillian Anderson. She’s nearly to the day my own age, she’s a very attractive woman. Nor am I saying people in their mid-fifties are unattractive (as the world knows authors in their mid-fifties have never looked better**).

    I’m sure Gillian Anderson will play the part well. I’m hoping Estella isn’t updated to romance a vampire decades older*** than she, to be hip. But by the pictures released she might well look like the ‘witch of the place’, but only in the manner of an attractive middle-aged witch, the sort of Witch Stevie Nicks thinks herself to be.

    Now I know when Chris posted about the updated Miss Marple there was outrage that it was played by a middle-aged woman with a nice belly. Not from me, but I was the only one. But that was okay because let’s be honest, Marple is a bit shit (and that’s swearing that is). Great Expectations I had to do in school, and along with Lord of the Flies managed to make it bloody awful. Mind you my teacher could have made Zelazny, Moorcock**** and Dicks bloody awful and that was what I was reading at the time. In class, once. Later I read it again and magically, it was not at all as I remembered it. So it’s personal. But then so is this reply.

    *Like Elric.
    **Like Elric.
    ***Like Elric.
    ****Jerry Cornelius*****, because my friends were a lot older and showed me the way.
    *****Who in the Final Programme follows much the same general tale as Elric******. But a lot less mopey.
    ******Like Elric.

  4. Gareth says:

    I know it’s not linked, but had to post something. So sad to hear about Maurice. The Phoenix will not be the same without him. Hope there is a proper send off to celebrate all that he was.

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