Memories: Reading Charles Dickens In The Best & Worst Times…
“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” Charles Dickens
“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; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” Charles Dickens
Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens! Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). Dickens was considered the greatest Victorian author of the day; his serialized writings were hugely successful and read widely in England. His writings, which were often social commentary on the horrific conditions of the poor, were informed by his own difficult life experiences; including his time working in a blacking factory. When I found out it was his birthday, I flashed back to my earliest memories of reading and watching Dickens works.
A Child’s Hymn by Charles Dickens
Hear my prayer, O heavenly Father,
Ere I lay me down to sleep;
Bid Thy angels, pure and holy,
Round my bed their vigil keep. (Contd below)
My favorite Dickens writings, from the dozens of books, short stories, plays and non-fiction he published were: The Pickwick Papers – 1836, Oliver Twist – 1837, Nicholas Nickleby – 1838, The Old Curiosity Shop – 1840, Barnaby Rudge – 1841, Martin Chuzzlewit – 1843, Dombey and Son – 1846, David Copperfield – 1849, Bleak House – 1852, Hard Times – 1854, Little Dorrit – 1855, A Tale of Two Cities – 1859, Great Expectations - 1860, Our Mutual Friend – 1864, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1870. What the Dickens! Yes, I covered the list of his key writings because, as a painfully shy child, I spent many long hours in my dad’s office/study/library losing myself in the world of books. Of all the Dickens books I read, Oliver Twist haunted me and the movie gave me nightmares. During the Nigerian civil war, I imagined the possibility of having to beg for food… It frightened me. It was the worst of times.
“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” Charles Dickens
“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.” Charles Dickens
London and Paris are in the top ten of my favorite cities in the world. I have lots of happy and fun memories of my time in both cities. One is the city of my birth and the other is the city some people think is the city of my birth; something to do with a slight french accent I supposedly have (I don’t think so). Nevertheless, when I first read A Tale of Two Cities, I tried to imagine how life must have been for many during that period, based on the French revolution. It certainly wasn’t the France or England I knew. After reading the part on the guillotining of Sydney Carton, I was grateful that the world I lived in no longer condoned such practices…
My sins are heavy, but Thy mercy
Far outweighs them, every one;
Down before Thy cross I cast them,
Trusting in Thy help alone.(Contd below)
The London and Paris of my youth was party central all the way. Traveling between both places, connecting with friends, shopping and eating out, even movie going was exhilarating. The shyness of my childhood was long gone; replaced by the youthful exuberance of a far more adventurous spirit. It was the best of times. As for the made for movies adaptations of Dickens books, my favorites, or, at least, the ones that lingered in my mind were Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and The Pickwick Papers. They were mostly distressing movies, reminding me of the line from Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes – life in those states of war was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short… More below. ;-)
“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” Charles Dickens
Keep me through this night of peril
Underneath its boundless shade;
Take me to Thy rest, I pray Thee,
When my pilgrimage is made.(Contd below)
When you’ve spent your early years as an introspective child; awkward in the presence of other kids, bookish and reflective, the company of books is held in the highest esteem. After all, books don’t talk back or give orders. They share their wisdom and golden secrets; revealing with each flick of a page, a new idea, a nuanced reaction, and sometimes, a sudden shift in plot. Books allow you to gallop along in a world where you are neither judged nor expected to be heroic.
None shall measure out Thy patience
By the span of human thought;
None shall bound the tender mercies
Which Thy Holy Son has bought.(Contd below)
In those early years, I lifted big, red, leather bound copies of the classics, Dickens was one of my favorites, off my dad’s bookshelf and spent hours reading. Always settling down on some corner of the carpeted office/study floor, I read till my mom or some adult sauntered in to chide me for reading with poor lighting or to urge me to join the other members of our family. My early Elementary School days were unpleasant but I persevered by reading and writing a lot… it was the worst of times.
Pardon all my past transgressions,
Give me strength for days to come;
Guide and guard me with Thy blessing
Till Thy angels bid me home.
With time, a matter of a few years really, I gained my social footing and graduated from my role as bookworm to that of tomboy. I still read a lot but I wasn’t terrified of/by the characters in the books I read. I didn’t inject myself into the daunting world of David Copperfield, nor did The Tale of Two Cities mirror mine. They gave me an entree into a fantastic world, albeit a depressing one, so different from mine and offered me a way to escape the angst of my teen years … for a little while. I remain an avid book collector and, naturally, Dickens books are on my shelf. Happy Birthday Charles Dickens and thanks for playing an important part in my memory bank.
What are your thoughts? Have you read any Charles Dickens books? What life lessons did you learn from them? Do you have any memories of watching a Dickens related play or movie? Do share! Thank you. :-)
Positive Motivation Tip: Books help us escape pain and develop a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Read often.
- Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens! (bookclubbabe.wordpress.com)
- Celebrate the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens with Free Movies, eBooks and Audio Books (openculture.com)
- 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Charles Dickens (history.com)
- Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday (annecarolinedrake.com)
- What the Dickens! (rakstagemom.wordpress.com)
- The Guardian Dickens walk five: Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum (guardian.co.uk)
- The naming genius of Charles Dickens (namedropping.wordpress.com)
- Green Thumb’s Column: Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens! (And the Artful Dodger, Oliver Twist, etc.) (miscellaneoussoup.wordpress.com)
- Charles Dickens turns 200…I almost missed wishing him a Happy Birthday! (breathelighter.wordpress.com)
- Charles Dickens and Equality in Our Lifetime (zeroto60andbeyond.blogspot.com)
- Quentin Blake on Charles Dickens (telegraph.co.uk)
- Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens! (swampofboredom.com)
- A Charles Dickens Devotional, edited by Jean Fischer – A Review & Giveaway! (austenprose.com)