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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dickens: Bicentenary of his birth

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), painted by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)

Victoria here, reporting on my latest encounters with a favorite author of mine, Charles Dickens.  My local PBS station is rerunning the presentation of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations they first showed last winter.  I hope you have a chance to see them too.



Oliver Twist, played by William Miller


The PBS website, here, has lots of details about the BBC-Masterpiece production of Oliver Twist, including a synopsis, cast information and a Dickens timeline.




You can buy this DVD, as well as many other classics here.



I have to admit I remember the story from several of the dozens of films and television series rather than from the book, which I probably read in high school.  There have been many stage versions as well, including the very popular London production of Oliver, the Musical in 1960.





The musical also ran on Broadway for a long time, and has been successfully revived in Britain and the U.S. several times.  The film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969.





I think the reason for the enduring popularity of the story is mainly attributable to the wonderful characters, the innocent young Oliver, the unforgettable Fagin, Artful Dodger, Nancy, and Bill Sikes -- and the family that ultimately rescues Oliver and brings a happy ending.  As in all of Dickens, the details of the London scene are unmatched.

Personally, I prefer Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, probably because Miss Havisham meets such a tragic ending in the latter.  But nevertheless I will watch it. Again and again.  Like Oliver Twist's, Pip's story has been filmed many times, from silent movies to current miniseries, and has been adapted for stage as well.





One of the book groups I participate in is reading A Tale of Two Cities, another Dickens novel that has been often adapted. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times" has to be one of the most famous opening lines in English literature. 


A Tale of Two Cities, published 1859


And to top off my Year of Dickens, I am reading Claire Tomalin's biography Charles Dickens, published in 2011.  Like her previous biographies of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and others, this account is eminently readable.  She deals with complex personalities in a realistic and engaging way.




I hope you are having your own Dickens Year in 2012...if not, you still have time!



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