It seemed almost fitting that in the weekend preceding his bicentenary it snowed. The streets of London were illuminated with snowfall, leaving the roads covered in a layer of snow reminiscent of his Christmas Carol.
As the father of English prose turned 200, the tributes had been flooding in, showing that the work of one of our great national authors is still appreciated. And rightly so. The man was a genius. Over the Christmas period, the BBC aired a plethora of programmes celebrating Dickens work: the adaptation of Great Expectations proved a massive hit with the viewing public and critics alike (helped, no doubt, by the charms of Douglas Booth), whilst Mitchell, Webb, Fry et al parodied about every Dickensian stereotype you can think of in their comedic turn The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. In conjunction with this, Armando Iannucci extolled the virtues of the often over-looked humour of Dickens’ and Sue Perkins presented a show detailing the troubled personal life of the man behind the pen.
Alongside this, in the week of his birthday, many other tributes have been emerging to praise the longevity of the writing of Dickens: In addition to his talk about his favourite author at the National Theatre, and the release of his new book Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, Simon Callow did a live Q&A with the Guardian on Friday discussing his love for Dickens. A variety of places across the UK have been laying claim to the author; asides from the obvious locations of London and Portsmouth, Suffolk town Bury St Edmunds have installed a plaque commemorating Dickens stay in a hotel there whilst writing The Pickwick Papers. The author even trended on Twitter on his birthday, drawing a number of tweets including my personal favourite: “Twitter is like a Dickens novel. It has 140 characters, everyone has silly names and you can lose hours to it”.
The coverage of Dickens over the last few months has been a delight for those with a place in their hearts and bookshelves for the Victorian author, and has no doubt been effective, to some degree, in attracting new readers to his work. Whilst this celebration of our literary heritage has been refreshing, it begs the question: Why do we not do this more often? At the risk of sounding jingoistic, as a nation we have produced a phenomenal array of literary talent that is worthy of recognition at any point,so why should we not celebrate it more often, rather than waiting for an occasion such as bicentenary? Although I think Mr Dickens would be offended by the claims that if he were alive today, he would be writing for EastEnders, good literature doesn’t have to be pretentious – as the BBC adaptation of Great Expectations showed, many ‘classic’ novels are extremely accessible to a range of people and lend themselves to dramatisations wonderfully.
With the most enigmatic of Dickens’ novels, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, coming to our screens in the coming weeks, we can only hope that the ratings will show that there is an audience who enjoy enjoy our literature, and will perhaps encourage producers to follow up their success.