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What The Dickens (Fellowship): Why Charles Dickens Changed Storytelling

(Image courtesy of Image credit to Oliver Clyde’s colourised version of a black and white photograph of Charles Dickens taken in 1859. Photograph: Charles Dickens Museum/Oliver Clyde)

Charles Dickens changed my life. Before the tenth grade, I viewed reading with apprehension and dread. Growing up, I had learning disabilities which made reading and writing very hard. I was intimidated by large books, complex words, and written expression. But, Dickens changed how I viewed reading. While reading A Tale of Two Cities, I discovered how reading allows people to escape the present and travel through time and space. I had the chance to speak with Paul Graham, Honorary General Secretary of the Dickens Fellowship, to learn more about how this organization keeps Dickens's words and legacy alive.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

1. Why should someone read Dickens's worK?

Anyone who wants to read an exciting story, with twists, turns, and cliff-hangers, and that features memorable character, should read Dickens. Characters of his have become a byword for their dominant characteristic: describe someone as a Scrooge, or a Uriah Heep, or a Micawber or a Fagin – and people know precisely what kind of person you are referring to. If you want to understand what life was like – particularly for the poor and middle-classes – in Victorian England, read Dickens. If you want to experience some of the great comic set-pieces, read Dickens. The works of Dickens’s maturity: Bleak House, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit and David Copperfield explore some of the timeless themes of literature – growth from youth into adulthood, social class divisions, the arrogance of power and wealth, the tumult of first love – in brilliant, powerful, and moving prose.

2. How has Dickens stayed relevant since his death?

Dickens has remained totally relevant to everyday life today. During the pandemic social media was full of people quoting the first lines of A Tale of Two Cities (a novel containing possibly the greatest opening and closing lines in world literature):

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” as if Dickens was summing up the year 2020 for them.

Any attack on poor housing or working conditions today will inevitably describe them as being ‘Dickensian’ – (an adjective that is remarkably flexible and ubiquitous.) Any reference to child poverty or hunger will equally inevitably lead to comparisons to Oliver Twist asking for more (see the recent British political cartoon below).

As long as human motivation, greed, avarice, generosity, love etc remains constant, Dickens will remain relevant.

(cartoon referenced)

3. How does the DF keep Dickens' work and legacy alive?

The DF keeps the legacy and work alive in may ways. The Central Fellowship based in London – and the 50 branches throughout the UK and the world, organise lectures, tours to places of Dickensian interest, an annual conference, and publishes tri-annually the official journal of the DFThe Dickensian. The DF purchased in 1923 Dickens’s former home in Doughty Street, London and opened it as Museum two years later. Today it remains open as the Charles Dickens Museum and attracts members of the public and students and scholars who wish to consult its unparalleled collection of Dickensiana. In addition, the DF – centrally and via its branches - supports charitable causes to maintain the Dickensian principle of supporting those in greatest need.

(Image courtesy of Media by Wix)


Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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