Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens's Birth

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The 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth has generated worldwide attention.

Philip Womack in the Telegraph writes why Dickens is still important, “Dickens’s books are forever metamorphosing into plays, films, musicals; his characters have permeated the collective imagination. His reputation as a craftsman, as opposed to a hack, has slowly expanded, as critics have begun to appreciate the fictional ground he broke…

“There are many reasons for this. He, more than any other author, stands firmly entrenched in the lineage of English writing. He stretches back into the storehouse of the canon, drawing on the Bible and Bunyan for his morals and absolutes, reaching into Shakespeare for those bumptious personages like Pecksniff and Micawber. He is part of the genetic coding of the way that we think about books.

“His hypnotic plots are beautifully conceived variants on two of the deepest themes that touch us: mystery and revelation. The entropic weirdness of Bleak House; the thrilling detection of Great Expectations; even the comical niceties of The Pickwick Papers have a sense of urgency to them. His themes are copious, vivid, capable of enormous sweeps and tender delicacies: law, justice, the sense of a diseased society – these are things that never leave us. The range of his characters is huge: if you feel sick at the sentimentality of Jo the crossing sweeper’s death, or indeed at the "comedy" of Sam Weller in Pickwick, you can’t help but marvel at the austerity of Miss Havisham or the cruelty of Ebeneezer Scrooge.”

Scott Horton wrote, “Why Dickens Matters,” in Harper’s Magazine: "‘Harper’s Magazine’ was launched with many literary aspirants, but with one fully recognized literary giant, whose works it published faithfully over several decades. That, of course, was Charles Dickens. Two of his short pieces were published in the first number of ‘Harper’s’ in June 1850, and the relationship continued from that point. ‘Harper’s’ built its subscription rolls on demand for his works, and Dickens was paid handsomely for what he produced.”

The Charles Dickens Museum in London holds over 100,000 items of Dickens, including manuscripts, rare editions, personal items, paintings and other visual sources.

 

Here is a list of his best known work:

  • The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (Monthly serial, April 1836 to November 1837)[103]
  • The Adventures of Oliver Twist (Monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany, February 1837 to April 1839)
  • The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Monthly serial, April 1838 to October 1839)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (Weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840, to 6 February 1841)
  • Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (Weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, 13 February 1841, to 27 November 1841)
  • The Christmas books:
    •  A Christmas Carol (1843)
    •  The Chimes (1844)
    •  The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
    •  The Battle of Life (1846)
    •  The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848)
  •  The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (Monthly serial, January 1843 to July 1844)
  •  Dombey and Son (Monthly serial, October 1846 to April 1848)
  •  David Copperfield (Monthly serial, May 1849 to November 1850)
  •  Bleak House (Monthly serial, March 1852 to September 1853)
  •  Hard Times: For These Times (Weekly serial in Household Words, 1 April 1854, to 12 August 1854)
  •  Little Dorrit (Monthly serial, December 1855 to June 1857)
  •  A Tale of Two Cities (Weekly serial in All the Year Round, 30 April 1859, to 26 November 1859)
  •  Great Expectations (Weekly serial in All the Year Round, 1   December 1860 to 3 August 1861)
  •  Our Mutual Friend (Monthly serial, May 1864 to November 1865)
  •  The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Monthly serial, April 1870 to September 1870. Only six of twelve planned numbers completed)
  •  Sketches by Boz (1836)
  •  The Mudfog Papers (1837) in Bentley's Miscellany magazine
  •  Reprinted Pieces (1861)
  •  The Uncommercial Traveller (1860–1869)

 

Visit your local library to obtain these resources:

Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing
by Michael  Slater, (2009).
Detailing the exceptional energy and organizational discipline behind Dickens’ prodigious output, Slater emphasizes the author’s determination to use his pen on behalf of Britain’s hard-pressed working class. Yet Slater recognizes that that same pen could also advance intensely personal interests, as when Dickens indulges in veiled autobiography to resolve the psychological traumas of his own childhood and then, more dubiously, to justify his decision to abandon his wife for a clandestine relationship with a much younger woman. A landmark of literary scholarship.— Bryce Christensen

Becoming Dickens 'The Invention of a Novelist'
by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, (2011).
In the tangled events of Dickens’ formative years—refracted through his journalism, political polemics, correspondence, and early fiction—readers discern the emerging identity of Victorian England’s greatest novelist.

Charles Dickens: A Life,
by Claire Tomalin, (2011).
Tomalin shows how the progressive crusader helped reform schools, child labor, slum housing, public health, law courts, prisons, parliament, and international copyright, all the while opposing American slavery, capital punishment, and the Crimean War. Her analyses of the novels, which are irradiated with anger and dark humor, are brief and perceptive.

Dickens on Screen
by John Glavin, editor, (2003).
Provides an exhaustive filmography and resources for further reading.

Charles Dickens: his tragedy and triumph
by Edgar Johnson, (1952).
In two volumes.

Dickens
by Peter Ackroyd,  (2002).

Dickens: A Biography
by Fred Kaplan, (1988).

Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847
by Peter R. Lewis, (2007).
For a discussion of the Staplehurst accident, and its influence on Dickens.

Innocent Abroad: Charles Dickens' American Engagements
by Jerome Meckier, (1990).

Charles Dickens' Quarrel with America
by Sidney P. Moss, (1984).

 

For Younger Readers

A Boy Called Dickens
Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix.
Grades 3-5.
...this isn’t so much a biography as it is a slice of life, and a revealing one at that. This fictionalized account is set during the time 12-year-old Dickens toiled away in a blacking factory while the rest of his family lived in debtors’ prison. To help ease the boredom and stave off hunger, the boy dreams up stories, including a rudimentary seedling of a tale that would become David Copperfield. Excerpt of review by Ian Chipman first published December 15, 2011 (Booklist).

Charles Dickens: Scenes From An Extraordinary Life
by Mick Manning and Brita Granström, (2011).
Grades 3-5.
This colorful, fully illustrated book offers a simplified biography of Dickens, shows how his books reflected aspects of his life, and comments on social conditions in nineteenth-century England.  Ambitious and complex, this attractively illustrated book presents a good deal of information in a highly accessible format.
— Excerpt of review by Carolyn Phelan first published January 1, 2012 (Booklist).

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

Andrea Warren, (2011).
Grades 6-9.
This absorbing book introduces Dickens within the context of his times, and what times they were! Chapters about his life and his novels alternate with related chapters describing the plight of the poor (especially children) in Victorian England (especially London). A well-known and beloved writer in his lifetime, Dickens kept his secrets well. Until a few years after his death, only a few close friends knew of the childhood hardships that drove him to write stories that would reach people’s hearts, prod their consciences, and eventually help to bring about social change.
—Excerpt of review by  Carolyn Phelan first published January 1, 2012 (Booklist).

 

Article illustrration: Dickens receiving his characters by William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900.

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