To any classic bibliophile out there, the mere mentioning of the first six words of this book brings back fresh memories of the timeless classic novel. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness," exclaimed Charles. Darwin? No! The name is Dickens. Charles John Huffam Dickens in his novel 'A Tale of Two Cities'.
Shakespeare spoke highly of Sophocles' tragedies: Oedipus Rex and Antigone. Had Shakespeare been able to live it out till the time Dickens completed his pristine pieces of literature, I believe he would marvel at Dickens too. Since that could not be, we are reminiscing about Charles on his 210th birth month, in the year 2022, from 7 February, 1812.
Growing up, my only friend was Davy; David Copperfield (not the magician). While reading the namesake book, little did I know it was Dickens himself I was empathising with. Dickens' illustrious authorship has gifted us a luxuriant collection of classics which placed him on the mountaintop of Victorian Era English Literature.
It is quite tough to place a finger on what aspect of life Dickens has not written about. And in David Copperfield he conducted his evermore loyal readers through what childhood he lived for himself. Dickens, through the voice of Davy, walked me through what gratifying a life I lived, looked on next to his own.
After more than a couple centuries between Dickens and us, is he still relevant? Our mechanised lives may leave little room for imagination, but a birthday is always a fine excuse to remember a loved one, a wise one, or an old friend; Charles Dickens happens to be all of them for me.
Alongside 'David Copperfield', Dickens prolifically penned 'A Tale of Two Cities', which explores the beauty of love well within the schism between France and England during France's glorious Revolution for Liberté, égalité, fraternité – French for liberty, equality and brotherhood. He also authored 'Great Expectations' where he depicted the life of yet another orphan – Davy and himself alike – named Pip, coming of age and making big on the great expectations set out upon him.
The list goes on. 'The Pickwick Papers', 'Oliver Twist', 'Nicholas Nickleby', 'A Christmas Carol', 'Bleak House', 'Little Dorrit' embody Dickens' most notable works. The array of narrative diversity he brings into each work of his breathes life into them. Long before cameras and visual entertainment existed, his poignant creations would come into view in the mind of his readers' pictorial depictions that took words to a bigger-than-life heights.
I remember this one time when I saw a film named 'David Copperfield' being aired on TV. To make sure it was the actual adaptation of the book on the screen, I lingered on for a few minutes. When I noticed the similarities, I quickly moved away from the channel because I had not yet read the full-length book at that time.
Watching a film ahead of reading the source material itself does spoil the happy-reading experience. Now, it has to be said at this point that most of Dickens' books are not happy stories or ones that end on a happy note.
"I know enough of the world now to have almost lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything." reads one line from my David Copperfield. This one such quote reveals the test of time Dickens had endured to make it where he did in life.
On the other end of the spectrum, he also knew the value of love and celebration.
"…and it was always said of him (Scrooge), that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!", this is one such quote that shows to us the colours of his mind.
In his relatively short novel 'A Christmas Carol', Dickens made me see how deeply he comprehended the values of life, and the value of love and celebration. Scrooge Ebenezer, the protagonist of the novel starts out as a mean and miserly old, crooked man. The story drags him through a multitude of out-of-body experiences that transforms him into a man that knows how to keep Christmas well.
Ever since he released 'A Christmas Carol' to the world, the holiday spirits do not seem to move until every child knows how important it is to learn from Ebenezer's encounter and thus keep Christmas well.
If you Google Charles Dickens, you shall find the extension 'FRSA' right next to his name. It stands for 'Fellowship of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce'. To put things into perspective, inasmuch as the PhD title. FRSA is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) judges to have made outstanding achievements to social progress and development.
Around the turn of the 18th century, when England had become detrimental to human integrity because of the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, it was Dickens who raised his voice about it in his writing; or should I say his pen. FRSA or not, to all the Dickens fans out there, let us all chant in prayers for his soul, for he kept our souls well.