“This recent rediscovery is believed to be the earliest surviving film inspired by the work of Charles Dickens, in this case the character of Jo the crossing sweep from ‘Bleak House’. ‘The Death of Poor Joe’ was almost certainly made by pioneer filmmaker G.A. Smith and predates his 1901 adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost’.” Edwardian Era
Tag Archives: Charles Dickens
Freedom to Read Week is coming up, so to round out this Charles Dickens series I looked for incidences of his work having been challenged or even banned, I was happy to have found very little. Oliver Twist, the title used for the sculpture below, was the only Dickens I could connect with any attempt at censorship. I particularly like the clever play on the Dickens’ title used for the title of the work.
“O-Livre Twist, an altered book, is a response to book censorship. When books are censored, culture and history are erased. The work takes the destruction of a book to the extreme, literally altering it through pulping and creating a package that no longer has legible meaning.” Maria G. Pisano
Coincidentally or not, Oliver Twist is the only book by Charles Dickens that I can find to have been challenged. There is mention of bannings in post-WWII Germany and Austria in this 1949 article regarding a Canadian film challenge. The world had become very aware of the dangers of bigotry after the war.
Notably, there were complaints of antisemitism in Oliver Twist as early as its first publication 100 years earlier. Dickens’ characterization or caricaturization of Fagan as a “fiendish Jew”, and indeed referring to him often in those early chapters as “The Jew”, offended many. The challenge in this case not only had merit but was somewhat progressive for its era. After an unfortunate response to an early complaint (source) , Dickens responded with thoughtful wisdom and may have demonstrated either cultural sensitivity or good marketing skills.
“The novel refers to Fagin 257 times in the first 38 chapters as “the Jew”, while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned. In 1854, the Jewish Chronicle asked why “Jews alone should be excluded from the ‘sympathizing heart’ of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed.” Eliza Davis, whose husband had purchased Dickens’s home in 1860 when he had put it up for sale, wrote to Dickens in protest at his portrayal of Fagin, arguing that he had “encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew”, and that he had done a great wrong to the Jewish people. Dickens had described her husband at the time of the sale as a “Jewish moneylender”, though also someone he came to know as an honest gentleman.
Dickens took her complaint seriously. He halted the printing of Oliver Twist, and changed the text for the parts of the book that had not been set, which is why Fagin is called “the Jew” 257 times in the first 38 chapters, but barely at all in the next 179 references to him. In his novel, Our Mutual Friend, he created the character of Riah (meaning “friend” in Hebrew), whose goodness, Vallely writes, is almost as complete as Fagin’s evil. Riah says in the novel: “Men say, ‘This is a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but there are good Turks.’ Not so with the Jews … they take the worst of us as samples of the best …” Davis sent Dickens a copy of the Hebrew bible in gratitude” (Wikipedia)
“Ben Kingsley plays Fagin as Polanski brings back the anti-Semitic tropes other Dickens adaptations went out of their way to avoid. When Fagin finds out Nancy has been killed and begins to pace and mutter (“Oy, oy oy,”), the dark and problematic complexity of his character restored.” (HEEB)
When I began this ‘Dickens Week’, I really didn’t know if I would be continuing the theme all the way through the seven days but the abundance of interesting material has been almost overwhelming. I’m grateful for this excuse to delve so deeply into the riches on the Internet that have been inspired by this so-deserving author.
Although he must have had a sense of his unique vision, Charles Dickens could have had no idea of the lasting contribution he made to all forms of art, including the then inconceivable virtual arts. There are many sites which have been quietly devoted for some time, notably David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page, which is “Dedicated to bringing the genius of Dickens to a new generation of readers”. Attached to that page is Dickens 2012, which site…
“…is an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Dickens to mark the bicentenary of his birth, which falls on 7 February 2012. Institutions and organisations from all over the world are partners of Dickens 2012 and work together to deliver a programme of events and activities to commemorate this very special anniversary.”
Countless other new sites, physical and virtual, have been celebrating the bicentenary of his birth; each representing modern-day people who are inspired by Dickens.
There are no shortage of authors who openly acknowledge Dickens as inspiration and muse. A member of the Oakville Public Library has shared a list of eight of these titles, including Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, which was inspired by Dickens’ pet raven, ‘Chip’.
Craig Taylor’s soon-to-be Published Londoners, “an epic portrait of today’s London”, will join the long list.
“I was inspired by [Dickens'] writing and his methodology of writing about the city by listening to the people” (Hindustan Times)
Charles Dickens’ rich descriptions have provided an abundance of inspiration for visual artists from the time of his first publication. Illustrators, painters and sculptors have put their own souls into works while Dickens’ whispered in their ears.
Dickens’ influence extends to the practical arts as well. Fashion designer Melissa Coker created a line of clothing named for Jenny Wren, a “…dark, slightly tarnished” character from Our Mutual Friend.
From direct interpretations of his works in film and theatre to more oblique connections, Dickens has been acknowledged as a major influence in the world of drama.
“Sergei Eisenstein…argued that Dickens invented, among other things, the parallel montage – where two stories run alongside each other – and the close-up.”
“The idea that Dickens invented cinema is obviously nonsensical but he was a key and important influence in its development,” says Prof Graeme Smith, who wrote Dickens and the Dream of Cinema.” (BBC News Magazine)
And maybe I should be watching Batman after all.
I’m not a city-lover and avoid crowds and noise when I can, but I would jump at the chance to explore many of them just to ingest the history. I ever get to London, I will explore some of the places rich in literary history – places intricately laid out and described in the interactive map by David Perdue. (Via TYWKIWDBI)
Meanwhile, back in Canada, I will be vicariously touring London in Dickens’ time on the iPad via “Streetmuseum: Dickens’ Dark London”, YALSA’s app of the week.
“An enriched graphic novel, this app explodes stories drawn from Charles Dickens’Sketches by Boz: illustrative of every-day life and every-day people, to create a real sense of place from a combination of striking monochromatic art and theatrical narration.” (YALSA)
There is also an Android version here.
I like to think Dickens would be tickled to see his works converted to graphic novels and interactive experiences, but it’s fun to think how technologies might have been explained to him in his time. Rachel Walsh, a student at Cardiff School of Art and Design, created the work below to describe the Amazon Kindle e-reader to Charles Dickens. (via The Atlantic)
If you’ve followed my blog you are aware of my penchant for altered books. I’m often in awe of the intricate and beautiful carvings and sculptures that artists have created, often inspired directly by the literary art within. The further appeal, to me is the ‘repurposing’ or reusing of books that would otherwise have been burned, buried or shredded; books that have outlived their readability, either because they have literally fallen apart or the content is no longer either useful or acceptable.
Although I’m sure there is a plethora of tattered Dickens out there, I wasn’t really surprised that I didn’t find a lot when searching for images for this post. Dickens should be read and treasured until the pages completely disintegrate – and then by then there would not be much left to carve.
“Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.”*
I am a word lover in awe of those who can not merely find the right word to put in the right place to say what needs to be said, but who can find a new word, the best word, the most exciting, evocative and impactful word to nudge, to punt, to shake a brand new sensation into the heart of the pedestrian reader.
Charles Dickens is one of those who inspires that admiration, that awe and incredulity. I smile when I read Dickens’ novels – sometimes inappropriately through the most horrific and effecting scenes – just as I might smile when receiving a gift, because Dickens had fun with words and it’s a privilege to join in the play.
“Humour is the soul of his work. Like the soul of man, it permeates a living fabric which, but for its creative breath, could never have existed.” George Gissing in ‘Charles Dickens: A Critical Study’
According to many, Charles Dickens was one of the most influential writers when it comes the shape of modern English.
“One way to measure the extent to which Dickens has enriched the lexicon is to see how often he is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary to illustrate the usage of words and phrases. Among writers quoted in the current edition of the OED, Dickens lags behind only Shakespeare, Scott, Chaucer, Milton, and Dryden for total number of citations (9,218). No one in the past two centuries comes close.” Ben Zimmer
As the most widely read Victorian author, Dickens brought the earthy slang of the times into widespread and enduring usage: sawbones and butterfingers were popularized after publication in The Pickwick Papers. Many of his own creative concoctions – words, phrases and characters’ names – have also become part of the general lexicon.
And then there is his own name. Due to the indelible mental pictures he painted, Dickensian has come to mean more than just a reference to his works, but an expression evoking the squalor and alternatively the conviviality of his representation of the Victorian era. Dickens was a master of character as well and boorishly comic people have also been referred to as Dickensian.
Dickens had to grow up with a name that already evoked amusement, perhaps partially accounting for his unique and creative sense of humour. The use of ‘dickens‘ itself as a euphemism for fury as in, ‘we ran like the dickens’, mischief or the devil has been traced back before Charles’ time to Shakespeare and possibly beyond.
SOURCES & RECOMMENDED ARTICLES
Ben Zimmer’s “Not to Put Too Fine a Point Upon It”: How Dickens Helped Shape the Lexicon
Sevaan Franks “A Christmas Carol” manuscript reveals Charles Dickens’ writing process
Jonathon Green’s “Heros of Slang: Charles Dickens”
David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page
InfoBritain Charles Dickens Biography and Visits
The Victorian Web Dickens: A Brief Biography
Nonfiction Monday: A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson – Review of the book for Grades 2-5
Dickens 2012 Curriculum resources
Jill Krementz Covers Charles Dickens at 200 at the Morgan Library and Museum New York
*Title quote from The Old Curiosity Ship (ch. VII) by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens is known for his memorable characters. He was a brilliant observer and took note of names and characters he found compelling, sometimes getting into trouble for basing the characters in his novels a little to closely on the original. The archetypes of the miserly Scrooge and affected Pecksniff have become so common to modern vernacular that one does not have to be familiar with Dickens’ work to understand the implications of their use.
Ruth Richardson, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society has sleuthed out the possible real-life counterparts of many of Dickens’ characters in Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor.
“Detective work by Ruth Richardson has revealed that a trader named William Sykes sold tallow and oil for lamps from a shop in the same bustling east Marylebone street in which Dickens lived between the ages of 17 and 20.
Nearby, Richardson discovered the home of a sculptor derided by locals as a miser, the premises of two tradesmen named Goodge and Marney, and a local cheesemonger called Marley – “so suggestive of Scrooge and Marley”, she said.
They all lived yards from Dickens’s modest lodgings at 10 Norfolk Street above a small cornershop. Crucially, he lived nine doors from the barbaric workhouse now thought to have inspired Oliver Twist a few years later.”
More at The Guardian
February 7th will be Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. Watch for the ‘net to be flooded with the sharing of his life and his gifts. As an admirer, I’ll be along for the party.