Today is Charles Dickens’ birthday. Were he still alive today, he would have turned the over-ripe age of 202.
I have always enjoyed Dickens’ writing. I can’t remember if the love affair with his words began with Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol, but I know I was hooked by the time I read Great Expectations. In college, I was lucky enough to enroll in the course: Dickens – Reading in Installments. Instead of reading The Pickwick Papers from cover to cover, we digested the book as it was originally written – in serialized form (like a penny dreadful). My professor was (still is, actually) a leading Dickens’ expert, which made the experience all the more enjoyable for me.
As an added bonus, the college library housed a fairly substantial collection of his works, personal affects, and private letters. For a project my sophomore year, I was actually tasked with cataloging his letters and transcribing them to digital format. I held papers that Dickens held. I read words that Dickens actually wrote – pen pressed on paper. I pictured him bent over a blank pager, a candle flickering on his desk, an inked pen in his hand, considering his words. In short, the experience was amazing.
So, in honor of Mr. Dickens’ birthday, here are five things about the man and his work:
1. He coined some pretty awesome words, including flummox and abuzz. Also, because of Dickens, you can say something gives you ‘the creeps’ and ‘go on the rampage.’ You can read more here.
2. Early editions of his books had some great illustrations and bindings. Case in point:
3. You can read Dickens’ works in serialized form online if you go here.
4. 119. That’s how many words are in the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities. Talk about a grand opening and mastery of the English language and punctuation!
5. He loved his cat, Bob, so much, that after Bob’s death, he had his paw taxidermied and made into the handle of a letter opener. You can see a picture of the letter opener and read more about it here.
So, pull out your favorite Dickens’ work, dust it off, and crack open the spine. Spend a few minutes with Martin Chuzzlewit or Amy Dorrit, and then wish Mr. Dickens a very happy birthday.