Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy Birthday Mr Dick

Charles John Huffam Dickens is two hundred years old today. Well he isn't, patently, no-one is meeting him down the pub for a few pints before going out clubbing. He may have shuffled off his mortal coil in 1870 but today anyone who remains in the consciousness the way Dickens does after two hundred years has to be special. He remains the most revered novelist of his time.

But do we read him?

Over Christmas the BBC presented us with another version of Great Expectations to go with the many other versions of Great Expectations that have gone before. A Christmas Carol remains an all time favourite for many people but have they read it or have they seen one of the many film versions or the the stage musical, or the updated Bill Murray comedy 'Scrooged'?

Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist but does our knowledge of the story come from watching the film or TV adaptations (the last one was so politically correct I could barely watch). Then there was Bleak House, have you read it or did you seen the brilliant Andrew Davies adaptation of a few years back.

Just a couple of weeks ago the last unfinished novel, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood,  found its way onto TV with a very plausible ending - though I doubt it was the one Charles Dickens had in mind. Very good it was too. But have you read it?

What I'm saying is the majority of those of us who say they love Dickens do so because of the films and television adaptations not because we've all been busy reading the books.

I was given A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield as an eleven year-old boy. I devoured the former and struggled through the latter. Not because Copperfield is particularly impenetrable but because my Dickens novels came printed on flimsy paper in a font so small it was almost impossible to read more than half a page at a time before going blind. I struggled on, through Great Expectations, later Middlemarch and Bleak House - but that it's. I saw Harry Secombe in 'Pickwick'. I saw Ron Moody as Fagin in Oliver. I've seen loads of Dickens but I've only read a few.

My son found him almost impossible to read - and he reads a LOT. Yet his stories survive and work so well when dramatised. I've a notion he'll be around - and relevant - for another two hundred years but I'm not so sure it'll be because people are reading him.

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