Dickens Turns 200: A Celebration
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.