Wednesday, May 02, 2012
What is so special about 2012 other than the Mayan calendar prediction for the end of the world, the London Olympic Games, and the American Presidential Election? Well eclipsing them all for booklovers is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, an event marked by festivals and exhibits across the globe and an outpouring of appreciation and commentary online. Check out the official Dickens 2012 web site for a complete guide to the celebrations, actual and virtual. There is even an App revealing London through the eyes of Dickens and his characters. Or you can follow Dickens 2012 on Twitter @Dickens2012.
At the library this is the perfect time to check out and reread a favorite Dickens novel or one you missed. Can’t decide which one? Try this tongue-in-cheek guide from the Guardian, which rates the novels on a scale of how “Dickensian” they are. Deemed most Dickensian is Bleak House. Paperback copies of Dickens’ most popular titles are available in the Reading List section of your library. Or check the library DVD shelves for one of the many film versions of Dickens’ books including my personal favorite, the BBC production of Bleak House with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock. Claire Tomalin’s acclaimed 2011 biography Charles Dickens: A Life is a readable and entertaining portrait of the writer, his family, and his times. There is also an excellent brief life by Jane Smiley in the Penguin Lives series. In fiction, Gaynor Arnold imagines the Dickens marriage from the point of view of his long-suffering wife in the novel Girl in a Blue Dress. A good way to introduce children to Dickens is through the lives of the children he wrote about, featured in Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren.
Visitors to London can travel back in time to the city as Dickens knew it in Dickens World, a Disney-like theme park south of the Thames in Chatham. Billed as a “multi-sensory interactive experience” the attraction recreates the buildings, sights, and sounds of Victorian London with costumed actors bringing Dickens’ characters to life. There is a Great Expectations Boat Ride, a Victorian School complete with nasty schoolmaster, and a Haunted House. Some literary purists may be horrified at this concept, but Dickens himself, a tireless self-promoter and huckster for his work, would probably be delighted. You may prefer to visit Victorian London in photographs, for example this online gallery from the Telegraph.
As for that saying “What the Dickens,” apparently it has absolutely nothing to do with Dickens. Shakespeare even used the phrase in The Merry Wives of Windsor. “Dickens” was commonly used in the sixteenth century as a euphemism for the devil, so that those wishing to curse could avoid actually naming him. No word on what Dickens thought about his name being a pseudonym for Satan! But we wish the great man a very happy 200th birthday and thank him for giving so many readers so much pleasure.