As the festive season is in full swing, so also is it the season of one of Charles Dickens’ best loved novels ‘A Christmas Carol’. This Dickensian season however is forecast to run well into 2012 to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth Charles Dickens, still one of Britain’s most popular authors, which falls on the 7 February 2012. Worldwide events have been co-ordinated in order to mark the occasion from as far away as Pakistan, the Philippines, China, America and Australia showing how Dickens continues to be a favourite British export.
Ultimately Dickens represents England and more specifically Mayor of London Boris Johnson adds “Dickens stands for London. He not only created an incomparable pageant of London characters, he turned the capital into the greatest character of all.” England and the capital do not disappoint with their offering of events from the three million pound makeover of the Dickens Museum ,Scrooges Christmas Grotto at London Docklands (Bah, humbug indeed) and the Dickens Christmas Market at Rochester Castle to name but a few. It is safe to say that Dickens has become an institution with ‘Dickens’ fever continuing to grip the nation, if not the world.
The genius of Dickens’ novels have been translated into many television, radio, theatre and film adaptations but what is the key to the longevity of Dickens’ success? To have achieved such a repertoire to include ‘The Adventures of Oliver Twist’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and ‘David Copperfield’ as examples, is no mean feat and sets Dickens as one of the main contributors to the canonical texts of Victorian Britain. His novels speak so well of their time and place, a fascinating social commentary of Victorian Britain through the class dividers. The darkness of his novels is particularly captivating; London’s underworld of Fagin’s Den and the gloomy, labyrinthine passages haunted by Bill Sykes are much more riveting than the sentimentalised episodes of Oliver with Mr Brownlow in ‘Oliver Twist’. Dickens’ memorable characters are almost separate entities within themselves, leaping off the page. Experiencing rags to riches himself, Dickens began his career as a journalist which his novels as exposés of the contemporary ills in society allude to. The topics Dickens addressed in his novels were ones not previously covered in the same depth or manner, including his detailed coverage of Christmas. Some of the more serious topics Dickens wrote about raised social awareness and helped stimulate certain philanthropic endeavours, Dickens himself helping to found an asylum for prostitutes to return to honourable society.
The legacy of Dickens continues to live on and is something much celebrated by the Dickens Pickwick Club. Founded by the author’s great grandson, the club steeped in tradition, meet regularly at the George & Vulture hostelry, London. Dickens’ himself visited the G&V in 1836 just before writing his first novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and the location was mentioned at least twenty times in the book. To enter the G&V is to enter the pages of Dickens’ book as the tobacco stained rooms have little changed. Although the building has been threatened with demolition several times and makes little economic sense, it is part of an incredibly important literary heritage which the Dickens Pickwick Club have fought tirelessly to protect. The light-hearted traditions of the club are also maintained with each member having to wear a claret coloured club tie to dinner resembling that of the miniature of Mr Pickwick, or pay the traditional fine of a bottle of port.
Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, his works can be enjoyed through a variety of different media throughout the bicentenary year and beyond. The bicentenary celebrations combine film, TV and radio, literature and education, exhibitions, theatre and performing art as well as festivals in a combination of large scale events and more intimate gatherings. Personal favourites include the Simon Callow’s readings of Dickens’ novels to coincide with Callow’s new publication on the man himself, the ‘Dickens and London’ exhibition at the Muesum of London and ‘The Sea Rises’ exhibition in response to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at Aspex Gallery in Dickens’ hometown of Portsmouth. For full listings of the bicentenary celebrations please visit http://www.dickens2012.org/.