Today, February 7th, 2012, is his 200th birthday. London is ablaze with celebrations: Charles and Camilla are visiting the Dickens Museum, Professor Klimaszewski is at his Westminster grave, The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company is performing Dickens in the streets, there’s a world-wide 24-hour read-a-thon of his works, and Cityread London will use Oliver Twist to continue the party into the Spring. And it’s no small feat that Dickens Journals Online released a digitized version of his publications [I helped! All The Year Round Vol. II, New Series No. 50] for the special day.
What do you know about the man behind the face of Victorian literature?
That many of his works were published serially?
He wrote under the pseudonym Boz?
He was pals with someone known as Phiz?
His wife had 10 kids?
He ran off with an actress?
He had an extra hole in his butt?
The Wire named an episode after him
(“The Dickensian Aspect”) and Ludacris is his bro
(“I only hang with chicks that got more twist than Oliver”)?
There’s nothing (well, almost nothing) that I can tell you that you can’t find on any of the thousands of websites spouting Dickens knowledge in honor of this blessed Bicentennial. But besides being an interesting man (how can you write the phrase “gong donkey” and not be interesting), you just have to read his works. That’s really what this hullabaloo is all about: his literature.
Reading Dickens is an experience. Not the lame one you had reading Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations in high school. It’s astounding what you learn, and how intelligent you feel, if you take the time to understand the social and political climates of Victorian England. Dickens, like Austen if you appreciate her works, wrote remarkable social commentary that reached the masses. His publication history (periodicals, novels) is a study itself. So use this 200th birthday year as motivation to take the time to read a book–I don’t care if it’s A Christmas Carol (that’s the shortest)–and encounter Dickens and the worlds he simultaneously lived in and created.
To mark this splendid occasion, I will leave you with three things: My favorite Dickens (no, I have not read them all), a totally awesome quiz, and a very simple yet powerful observation.
My top three favorite books by Charles Dickens are Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Our Mutual Friend. I highly suggest reading them all, but I will admit that Great Expectations can be very dull without the guidance of a classroom and higher education. Our Mutual Friend is fucking brilliant: Dickens at his best–engulfing, crazy characters, and biting social commentary. Oliver Twist is what prompted me to go to grad school–I wrote a paper about it and it’s reincarnation in the neo-Victorian Fingersmith. Now, let’s be real here folks, there’s only one man who could have gotten me to move to Lubbock: I chose Raider Rash over Boston, all for one Charles J. H. Dickens.
Which Dickens Character Are You? Find out here!
(I’m Sidney Carton. How depressingly accurate!)
“…the most interesting and pardonable of human weaknesses— love.”
-From the Pickwick Papers