Today, in Westminster Abbey, a ceremony will be held to mark Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday.
So why is Dickens so important? So important that today we will be giving each girl at KEHS a Dickens novel to keep. Year groups will be receiving different titles, with the Thirds and Lower Fourths having Ghost Stories, right up to the Upper Sixth having Bleak House.
Why should you read Dickens? Well, his fifteen major novels from A Christmas Carol, which changed the way we celebrate Christmas, to the semi-autobiographical David Copperfield which sympathised with the plight of the poor and children in particular, have been loved by ordinary people over many years because they felt Dickens was on their side. As Claire Tomalin, famous biographer of Dickens said, “The rich are less keen on him! We should remember that he took high art to the masses.”
A new exhibition in New York to celebrate the 200th birthday notes that no other author, not even Shakespeare or Jane Austen, has inspired more film, TV and stage adaptations. All of Dickens’ work was adapted for the stage during his lifetime, often with the author himself as one of the cast. He died in 1870, worn out at the age of 58. Dickens was arguably the first modern celebrity. He drew huge crowds on his first American tour in 1842 and ticket touts worked his events the way they would now for a Take That concert.
Some people say that modern day children are not being educated to read with the attention span necessary for a Dickens novel! Well I disagree. We may find reading his work a challenge, but difficult does not mean impossible, indeed “all things are difficult before they are easy” (Thomas Fuller). If we take our Dickens a chapter at a time, not worrying about the fact we are faced with a huge number of intricately crafted characters and instead relax and enjoy the fictional world unfolding before us, we can appreciate his work.
In his novels Dickens depicts an unfair society, arguably not that dissimilar from our own. Dickens highlights fundamental problems with the legal system, corrupt financiers, the massive gulf between rich and poor, and, most notably, the disturbing plight of impoverished and neglected children. Whilst Dickens could only dream of our modernBritainwith a welfare state, I am sure he would also note our problems of university tuition fees, the option only the rich have for fast track private healthcare and the fact that we are still failing to bring all children in this country out of poverty.
Well…my political broadcast is over! I do hope the girls at KEHS read their books today and over the coming weeks. Give Dickens some time, read with patience and an open mind and you too can immerse yourself in a world rich with drama, character, comedy and social commentary.