When I was eleven or twelve, my mother took me by the arm, marched me over to one of the many crowded family bookcases and pointed to a long row of uniform, green-covered hardbacks. “Give one of these a try,” she said. “They’re absolutely marvelous.” When I hesitated, she huffed impatiently and said, “You’re ready! Try Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby, then move on to one of the best, David Copperfield.”
Charles Dickens was my mother’s favorite author, a longtime companion from childhood on. I pulled Oliver Twist off the shelf, curled up on one of the overstuffed old chairs in our living room, and within a couple of hours Dickens had me enthralled by his characters, hooked by his intricate plotting, so completely immersed in his world that I had trouble extricating myself when I dimly became aware of the dinner bell. As soon as possible I went back to Oliver and the Beadle and the Artful Dodger and a host of other memorable characters.
Over the years, Dickens became many things to me: he helped give me a broader view of the world, he taught me how to observe and reflect on human nature, and he inspired me to write. He also helped keep me close to my mother, even during the most frustrating period of our relationship during my teenage years.
“What are you reading?” Mom would say.
“Ah! That’s one of my discoveries. People don’t talk about that one so much, but it’s brilliant.”
As a writer of much plainer prose, I find it impossible to emulate Dickens, and yet I continue to learn from him and he continues to influence me through his attention to the tiniest details which add up to razor-sharp observation and above all through his compassion for his characters.
I recently celebrated my nearly lifelong interest in Dickens and his world by compiling a collection of Dickens-related materials for e-publisher, Delphi Classics. Here’s how we advertised Dickensiana Volume One: Dickensiana is a first of its kind e-compilation of period accounts of Dickens’s life and works, rare 19th and early 20th century books and articles about Dickens and Dickensian locales, reminiscences by family, friends and colleagues, tribute poems, parodies, satires and sequels based on his works and much more, spiced with an abundance of vintage images.
The collection is available from Amazon.com and from the Delphi Classics website. I heartily recommend the many fabulous author collections sold by Delphi. Owner Peter Russell loves classic literature, felt determined to create the best public domain collections available, and admirably succeeded. Delphi’s Charles Dickens collection is staggeringly huge, not only chock full of nearly everything Dickens ever wrote, but replete with thousands of images from the books and of Dickens-related locales.
So, happy 200th birthday, Charles, and thank you!