February 7, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of a beloved Victorian era writer from England, Charles Dickens. His name is known to many worldwide, not only to literary buffs but also to countless students across the globe who were made to do book reports on some of Dickens' works and to visual arts enthusiasts! Many of Dickens' novels and novellas have been turned into stage plays, movies and television shows. Through the valiant works of professional translators, Dickens can now be read in many languages.
Dickens' wrote about what he knew, the Victorian era. He created stories with vivid characters that his readers could relate to whether with sympathy, empathy, apathy or extreme dislike. Anyone who reads his works from the first word to the last will never forget the images that his words conjured. Many were too real for comfort while others were definitely unforgettable.
A literary genius is born
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. His parents were John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow. Charles was the second of eight children and at a very young age he experienced a life that he would later draw upon during his years as a writer. His father was imprisoned due to debt causing a 9-year old Charles to stop attending school. He had to spend time working at a blacking factory where he experienced appalling conditions which no child should ever experience. Charles felt much despair and loneliness. But fate smiled upon the Dickens family and once again, Charles was back in school. He never forgot his experiences at the blacking factory. These experiences eventually made their way into two of his works: Great Expectations and David Copperfield.
Dickens eventually became a journalist. By 1833, he worked at The Morning Chronicle as a parliamentary journalist. In 1834, 'Boz' was born. 'Boz' was the pseudonym he hid behind when his series of short pieces (known as Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People) were published in The Monthly Magazine. By 1836, he was a married man having wed Catherine Hogarth in April. Pickwick Papers came out the same month.
Dickens wrote weekly periodicals, novels, novellas, plays, travel books, and other works. He also administered to a number of charitable institutions. A known theater enthusiast, Dickens once performed before Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Travelling was also part of his life. Dickens travelled to such countries as Italy and Switzerland. He also had a chance to visit the United States twice in his lifetime.
Dickens was blessed with 10 children. He died on June 9, 1870 at his home in Rochester, England after suffering a stroke the day before. His remains lie in what is called the Poets' Corner in London's Westminster Abbey. Charles Dickens was 58 years old.
Dickens' literary offspring
Florid (flowery) and poetic are two adjectives used to describe Dickens' literary style. He is known to put comic touches to his works. Dickens was able to describe in realistic detail the London of his time and the London that he loved. In fact, some say that the city of London was the major character in most of his works. Dickens was adept at mixing fantasy and realism thus drawing in a wide range of readers from across cultures and countries.
Dickens blessed the world with many literary works to choose from both of the fiction and non-fiction sort. A number of his works seem to be autobiographical while others were definitely social commentaries of existing conditions during his lifetime. Dickens was known to criticize poverty, slavery and the social structure of Victorian England. His first-ever published work was a sketch in 1833 called A Dinner at Poplar Walk, which is also referred to as Mr. Minns and his Cousin. Soon after, more works sprung from the imagination and pen of Dickens. Among them were novels such as:
Pickwick Papers (1836-1837)
Oliver Twist (1837-1839)
Nicholas Nickelby (1838-1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841)
David Copperfield (1849-1850)
Bleak House (1851-1853)
Little Dorrit (1855-1857)
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Great Expectations (1860-1861)
One novel that went unfinished was The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Some of Dickens' short stories included:
A Message From the Sea
George Silverman's Explanation
Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings
Some Short Christmas Stories
The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners
The Wreck of the Golden Mary
Other works of Dickens' (some were written in collaboration with other writers) were:
A Christmas Carol (1843)
A House to Let
Master Humphrey's Clock (1840-1841)
Mudfrog and Other Sketches
Sketches of Boz
Pictures from Italy
The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices
Three Ghost Stories: The Haunted House, The Signal Man and The Trial for Murder
To be Read at Dusk
Dickens was born and raised in London, calling English his mother tongue. He spoke using this language and conjured up all his various masterpieces in English. But this did not stop Dickens from entering the consciousness of people who spoke languages far different from his. Because he was brilliant at writing about characters, locations and stories, these elements in his works are almost tangible that his global readers could easily relate to them in some way or another.
Thus, some of Dickens' works have been translated into different languages such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and even in Urdu, just to name a few. Some books are bilingual or subtitled. You can also find translated Dickens' works in audio form online.
Various cultures are able to enjoy the fantasy, romance, melodrama, humor, action, mystery and sentimental themes of Dickens' literary pieces because of the great work that translators across the globe done. It is through the hard work and perseverance of translators that Dickens continues to be relevant to many today across continents and across cultures. It also helps that the work of Dickens continues to influence new writers today the same way he influenced Russian writers in the past like Dostoevsky. Edmund Wilson and George Orwell pertained to Dickens as his time's greatest writer.
Today's British teens have their own language. In order to bring Dickens closer to the younger generation, writer Martin Baum came up with a unique translation of A Tale of Two Cities. He translated the novel into youth slang or yoof-speak. Baum initially translated several Shakespeare works into yoof-speak because he wanted to make Shakespeare fun and accessible for the English youth. In A Tale of Two Cities, the opening lines "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" has now become "It was da best of times, and not being funny or nuffing, but it was da worst of times, to be honest." He even renamed the title "Da Tale of Two Turfs." Baum shortened and translated 16 of Dickens' works into one book he aptly titles: "Oi, Mate Gimme Some More!" Whether Dickens would approve of these versions or not is the million-dollar question.
A number of Charles Dickens' literary masterpieces have landed on the big and small screen. Major theater companies have also had great successes in putting up their own stage versions of various beloved Dickens' classics. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations are just some of Dickens' works that were brought to life on stage, film or TV. Some of the visual adaptations of Dickens stayed true to his works. Others were inspired by his stories and spun new tales based on his genius.
It may be safe to say that it is Dickens' A Christmas Carol that is the most adapted of all his writings or at least the most well known. A Christmas Carol is a beloved Christmas story about Ebenezer Scrooge and how Scrooge's outlook in life was changed after his partner Jacob Marley and three convincing supernatural beings, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, visited him. This Dickens novella is well known by all ages because it has been adapted in so many different ways and the main character, Scrooge, has been played by countless high-profile actors from many countries and across generations.
One of the most popular versions of A Christmas Carol is Jim Henson's The Muppet Christmas Carol. This version was and is still is loved by both children and adults alike. Michael Caine plays Scrooge opposite Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit. Disney also created their own version of A Christmas Carol with Donald Duck playing Scrooge and Mickey Mouse playing Bob Cratchit. A Christmas Carol has been retold many times and many ways over and till now, the story has not gotten old. This speaks to the genius of Dickens and his ability to whip up enduring stories and characters that stand the test of time.
Dickens' enters the Internet age
Dickens could have never imagined what is going on today. Literature in all its forms is now available for free and for a fee on the World Wide Web. A number of Dickens' works are on the Internet. A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations and the Pickwick Papers are just a FEW of his works available as e-books, audio books and podcasts. Through the Internet, Dickens' is easily available to technologically savvy book lovers and to students who simply need to find a more creative way to get through a long book.
Students of Dickens are given newfound references in different forms – written, spoken, and visual. Furthermore, new technologies are allowing people from across the globe to connect with each other and share their thoughts, feelings and simple musings about Dickens, his works, his characters and his life.
Last year, experts on the works of Dickens explained how new technologies are being used to introduce and advance the works of Dickens to audiences worldwide. Internet sites led by Google books and YouTube are providing access not only to many of Dickens' well-known works but also to his works that only a few Dickens' lovers appreciate. Tablets and e-readers have made it possible to accumulate a collection of Dickens' works without having to deal with loads of books. You can take with you Dickens wherever you go. With a few taps on the screen of a tablet or e-reader, you can already jump to chapter 40 of Great Expectations. Movies, TV shows and stage plays based on Dickens' works can also be viewed on computer screen. You can watch Patrick Stewart playing Ebenezer Scrooge or an animated version of Oliver Twist. How cool and convenient is that?
Dickens' works can be downloaded, uploaded, read, heard and watched online and offline at home, in school, at work, in the mall or in a cozy coffee shop. You can read Dickens while in a car, plane, train or even a canoe. Whether you are up in the mountains, by the beach, in the boondocks or at the International Space Station, you can have your fill of Dickens' literary genius. Dickens is available 24/7! His works have been translated into many different languages allowing people from different cultural backgrounds to enjoy and learn from his works. Although some lines may get lost in translation, his message transcends language barriers. Dickens' stories are universal and timeless.
Prepare yourself for the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens on February 7 by enjoying at least one or two of his works. If you have time, get to know more about the man behind Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Don't let the next weeks pass without at least getting a glimpse of this prolific literary genius known to many as Charles Dickens.
Photocredit: Charles Dickens. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)