Google reminded me this morning that it is Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday today and, being a fan of his, I felt compelled to say a little something on the occasion. I have listed Dickens as one of my favorite authors throughout various times in my life and, having several of his tomes still sitting on my shelf waiting patiently to be read I am sure that I will continue to do so.
The reasons for this are many but the single most important, at least for me, is the characters. Having been exposed to his writings first in school by being assigned to read A Tale of Two Cities I stood out as one of the few kids in class who actually enjoyed reading the book. Through my teenaged passions I developed a deep love for Sydney Carton- relating to him (thanks to an abundance of teen angst) for his self hatred and revering him for his ultimate sacrifice. I prided myself on earning one of my best grades for a project I did on him in English class.
Then came Great Expectations and Wemmick charmed his way into my heart with his humor and steadfast separation of the seriousness and dreariness of work and the nearly magical wonders of social life (he built a moat- complete with drawbridge- around his tiny house and called it "the castle", for Christ’s sake!). His devotion to keeping those parts of his life so firmly separated has and continues to serve as an inspiration for me in my adult life. Then finally there’s David Copperfield who, in my mind, is the most fleshed-out and 3D character I have ever read. (I would argue it’s easier to do this when you’re writing someone’s life story as if it were an autobiography and drawing most of it from your own personal experience but still, it’s damned well done.)
There are a billion other things to say about Dicken’s writings, of course. His settings are so real that I almost forgot I’ve never actually seen a 19th century London court session and his writing is stylistically loaded with all the tricks and tools that are now textbook. And let’s not forget that his Christmas Carol is largely responsible for the cultural behemoth we now think of as “a classic Christmas”. But for me, the magic is in the characters who have dug themselves very deeply into my heart and remain there as old friends whom I will be devoted to long after I’ve read the final page.I may not be able to list in a clear and thoughtful manner all the ways in which my writing and my way of reading characters has been influenced by him but let's just assume that it's a long list. And on this anniversary I must say that I am grateful for the birth of one of the greatest imaginations I've encountered. Happy Birthday, Mr Dickens!