a sad, strange figure


The bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens falls in February next year. A procession of volumes to mark this anniversary has already begun, inviting us to ask why this verbally extravagant and often melodramatic novelist has exerted such a hold over the imagination of readers. Dickens is a cardinal representative of the age in which he lived. His writings shape our perception of Victorian London; even his detractor Walter Bagehot conceded that in his evocation of London life he was “like a special correspondent for posterity”. And his characters – from Scrooge and the Artful Dodger to Mr Micawber and Uriah Heep – have become avatars of Englishness. The word “Dickensian” calls to mind not so much the man or the characters he created as the world those characters inhabit: on the one hand a scene of red-nosed comedy and zany good cheer, yet on the other a grimy, impoverished society full of abused children, wrangling lawyers, sadistic teachers and watchful effigies.

more from Henry Hitchings at the FT here.