“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
Charles Dickens’ opening of David Copperfield
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7: If you grew up loving “A Christmas Carol” or one of Dickens’ longer novels—count yourself among the millions celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens! On this day in 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Kent in southeast England.
Dickens survived a childhood in which his family was impoverished. His father’s poor choices with money forced him into debtors’ prison—an experience echoed in the character of Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield” (played by W.C. Fields in one film version of that semi-autobiographical novel). As a young boy, Dickens was forced to work in the kind of inhumane factory conditions that were later described in several of his novels. (Wikipedia has details.)
Dickens’ initial ticket out of poverty was his remarkable gift as a rapid reporter of legal news. He became London’s top expert at taking shorthand transcripts of legal proceedings for daily news reports. Thriving in that cut-throat realm of breaking news, Dickens also fine-tuned his eye and ear to capture prose portraits of the city’s most eccentric characters. He understood compelling stories and wrote rapidly. From these talents, a literary giant was born.
Dickens completed his first full book, “The Pickwick Papers,” in his mid-20s, and with it he earned an immediate fame that never dimmed. Dickens identified with the downtrodden and everyday working people, and his public readings and personal visits gained him immense popularity. Dickens published his stories in weekly or monthly installments, thereby keeping readers on edge. The author never forgot his own formative experiences; he even engaged in public campaigns on behalf of social issues he championed. In one case, he pushed for a law that would allow working people a day off each week.
Eventually, Dickens toured the world, performing his novels on stage in readings that were so strenuous, he sometimes collapsed after a reading. In the U.S., he traveled all the way to the Midwest along the Ohio River. Many countries around the world, including Switzerland, are marking the bicentennial with special programs and exhibits marking Dickens’s travels.
ONE AUTHOR, MANY FANS
Anyone in search of an event for Dickens’s bicentennial won’t be limited in choices: London’s Westminster Abbey will host a Charles Dickens ceremony today; the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will visit the Charles Dickens Museum in the morning hours (the museum will also have a bicentenary birthday cake and free cupcakes for visitors—learn more at DickensMuseum.com); a 24-hour reading marathon will be followed on Twitter through 24 countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe; and a new Dickens Newspaper will be launched in print and as an iPad App. (Get the scoop from USA Today.) Penguin Classics will announce today the results of a nationwide poll to discover America’s favorite Dickens character; a museum in Switzerland will exhibit “The Mysteries of Charles Dickens” through March 4; and events to recreate Dickens’s first and immensely popular U.S. tour will take place in West Virginia.
A full website is devoted to Dickens, his works and his bicentennial: Dickens2012.org.
CHARLES DICKENS QUICK FACTS:
• “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for film since the earliest years of cinema; last December, “Carol” appeared as a semi-animated iPad App.
• All of Dickens’s major novels were adapted for the stage during his lifetime.
• More than 320 movies have been inspired by Dickens’s works.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.