Last month, as part of our year-long celebration of Charles Dickens, Cambridge University Press invited high school students to participate in an essay contest inspired by the iconic author. Many of us first encounter Dickens in high school, but the world of his novels makes an impression that extends far beyond the classroom.
The winner of our contest is Ruthelen Cox, a sophomore from Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Florida. Besides Dickens, her favorite writers include Tolstoy, Plath, and Orwell. She is also interested in fashion design and fashion writing.
Congratulations to Ruthelen, and thanks to all who shared their experiences with the world of Dickens.
There’s nothing like turning 200 to get people to sit up and notice you again. Such is the fortune of Charles Dickens, England’s most popular novelist for generations, whose bicentennial celebration has merited attention far and wide (well, at least in English teacher circles) and inspired a slew of new books, biographies, journal articles, and celebrations.
‘A man of genius, simple, warm, sincere’, wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell (1819-91) about Charles Dickens: ‘He left a world grown kindlier than he came’. We know that Dickens was anything but simple; we know he could be less than warm. And Catherine Dickens, together with many of her husband’s friends, would come to have had a distinctive view on that matter of sincerity.
But what about the kindness?
Obviously, there have been zillions of films adapted from Dickens novels; in fact, they were a very popular subject for early films. Not only were his novels translated into films from the very beginning of cinema, but also the most exciting scenes often made for sensationalist shorts (much as he had translated the most melodramatic scenes in his public readings). There’s even an early mock-umentary – Dickens’ London (Frank Miller and Harry B Parkinson, UK, 1924, 12 mins) - that takes its viewers on a tour of Dickens sites in London that have fallen into disrepair or that have disappeared. Several of the places literally dissolve before the viewer’s eyes.
Happy birthday, Charles Dickens! The beloved novelist, social commentator, and travel writer (among his many hats) would have turned 200 today, and his fans are celebrating all year long with events around the world!
Head to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Wisbech, England, and you can see the original autograph manuscript for Great Expectations, often considered one of Charles Dickens’ finest works. A gift from Dickens to his friend Chauncey Hare Townsend, the manuscript is an amazing window into Dickens’ brain, with clues to his creative process and the construction of this literary classic.
Why do we still care so much about Charles Dickens? That he is a cherished figure around the world is clear from the scale of international preparations for the Dickens bi-centenary of 2012. (For details of the celebrations and how to join in see the website) It is less easy to explain the reasons for his ‘relevance’ today, and a text’s literary value and significance doesn’t, of course, lie purely in its ability to speak to present day concerns.