It seems not to have passed too many people by, that had he not perished way back in 1870, English author Charles Dickens would today be celebrating 200 years of life (though how cheerful a 200-year-old man might really be is anybody’s guess).
I had thought to write a colorful defense on this page of Dickens as a mystery and suspense novelist--which he unquestionably was, though not exclusively--perhaps peppering into my argument a few choice passages from Bleak House (1853) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (still uncompleted at the time of his death), and adding others from his 1865 work, Our Mutual Friend, which I am only now reading for the first time. Of course, I would also have found a way to name-drop Dickens’ famous protégé, Wilkie Collins, who is remembered these days mostly for his mystery fiction (having penned 1860’s The Woman in White and The Moonstone, 1868).
But there have been so many posts devoted to Dickens’ birthday today, that I shall simply mention four I think are worth your attention:
• “The Dark Side of Dickens,” in which fiction writer and reviewer David Abrams--while applauding Dickens’ books--recalls the author’s sometimes disagreeable personality. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that Charles Dickens the Writer was a genius,” Abrams begins, “but Charles Dickens the Man was an asshole.”
• “Charles Dickens, Crime Writer,” which has Criminal Intent contributor Terry Farley Moran making the argument I had thought to put forth, and making it well. “Charles Dickens,” she explains, “didn’t become famous as a writer of mystery/detective fiction, as it was not a commonly defined genre during his lifetime. But as we look back, he was definitely a master of the craft.” I couldn’t agree more.
• “Charles Dickens at 200: Still the Great British ‘Idol.’” As reluctant as I am to recommend anything from USA Today (the most white-bread and dull of American newspapers), reporter Bob Minzesheimer does offer a fairly good overview of Dickens’ continuing influence on our entertainment media.
• “Charles Dickens’ Birthday and the Age of Verbosity,” in which Washington Post writer Alexandra Petri proffers a spirited tribute to Dickens’ persistent long-windedness. “Dickens ... took an awfully long time to say whatever it was he was going to say,” she notes. “And he had an incentive to do it. He published his books in installments, in the pulp form of the serial--cheaper than full-bore novels, and far more addictive. On the bright side, this makes his books useful for stopping doors and ironing recalcitrant skirts. On the downside, you really feel, upon emerging, that you know everything that can possibly be said on the subject of allegorical knitting.”
Elsewhere on the Web today, you’ll find lists of “The 10 Best Charles Dickens Characters of All Time” and “Five Myths About Charles Dickens,” as well as The Guardian’s “fiendishly difficult” Dickens birthday quiz and search engine Google’s nod to the Victorian Age’s greatest novelist in the form of a page-top “doodle”.
(Hat tips to Mystery Fanfare and Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)
READ MORE: “Charles in Charge,” by Kent Jones (The Maddow Blog); “The 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens’ Birth,” by Mercurie (A Shroud of Thoughts).