Charles Dickens was arguably one of our most popular authors and despite dying 136 years ago, we are all aware of his intriguing characters who still feature in film, television and radio today.
Even the Muppets have taken one of his most famous stories and made it into a film.
The current television series Dickensian is drawing in large audiences and we are being re-acquainted with some of his most loved and hated characters in a time before and after they featured in his books.
I have often wondered what had previously occurred to make Miss Haversham spend her life languishing in her wedding finery. I am an avid fan and drawn into each episode feeling as close to the personalities as if they are old friends; which of course they are.
Even if you have not read all the books the names of many will be familiar, and what wonderful names Dickens created for his characters. Who can not recognise the sadism of the headmaster Wackford Squeers, the arrogance of James Steerforth, the cheerless Thomas Gradgrind or the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, his name has passed into common parlance to mean a penny-pinching skinflint.
Originally the stories of Victorian London were first serialised in monthly magazines as was a common practice of the time. In its time these serials were the soap operas of their day and it is quite fitting that Tony Jordan who wrote the new BBC serial was at one time the writer for EastEnders.
Jordan has reworked around 30 of the characters from the Dickens books and given us a continuing drama, well 20 episodes, to start with, using the Three Cripples Pub as his local.
Dickens’s daughter Mamie recalled him acting out his characters in the mirror while writing, and in public readings – a major feature of Dickens’s later career – he combined his life-long love of theatre, audience, acting and writing to electrify the public. He enjoyed his characters and I am sure that he would be thrilled to see them portrayed on screen.
Born in Portsmouth in 1812, the second of eight children, Dickens’ family constantly struggled for money and relocated first to London and then to Chatham, Kent. At the age of 12, his father John, a clerk at the local dockyard, was arrested and sent to jail for failure to pay a debt. Charles had to leave school and was sent to work in a shoe polish factory where he met a man called Bob Fagin, a name he would later use in Oliver Twist.
Dickens’s characters will live for ever: Scrooge, Fagin, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield – and Dickensian features some of these. Hopefully you will be encouraged to read the books and discover other real treasures such as Mr and Mrs Micawber of Pickwick Papers Dick Swiveller from the Old Curiosity shop and the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby.
Do you have favourite Dickens characters? Are you watching the programmes? Do let us know your Dickensian thoughts. Ed.
Images (C) Red Planet Productions – Photographers: Liam Daniel and Steffan Hill