Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens

Today I pay homage to a literary legend who inspired countless writers. As I write this blog, Charles Dickens turns 200 years old. I use the present tense because in many ways he is still very much with us. Still speaking to us, touching us, teaching us, and giving us hope. There are parties for him across the world, from Westminster Abbey to Carmel, California.

Dickens died at the age of 58, having written 15 major novels, many of which were serialized, as well as numerous short stories and plays. Since his death, his stories, his characters and his portraits of society's bleak underbelly have continued to enchant us. 320 films of various kinds have been inspired by his works, and some of his characters are icons. Who can forget the artful dodger, Miss Havisham, Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Mr. Micawber, or Sydney Carton?

This blog is not intended as a literary commentary on Dickens' contribution to our heritage. There are many who have said it better than I. I merely want to comment on what he meant to me, as a writer. Dickens' novels were among the first adult novels I read as a child. He, along with Shakespeare, was a constant on school curricula. Long after the other novels have faded from my memory, I remember Dickens' characters – vivid, genuine, flawed, at times funny and at others tragic. I remember the stories – those broad, sweeping plots full of twists and cliffhangers that snatched you up and never let you down. I remember the sights and smells and sounds of the dirty back alleys, the ghostly mansions, the bleak orphanages.

Dickens taught me that you have to write stories that are worth telling, and you have to care about what you're writing. You have to write with passion, tension and humour if you want others to love, cheer and laugh at your words. He has had his critics, who accuse him of melodrama and contrivance. But 200 years later, his characters are still touching hearts. If that's melodrama, give me more.

Thank you for all the tales you have given us, and Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens.


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