The Dickens Bicentennial: A Photo Retrospective
2012 was a great year to be a Charles Dickens lover in the UK. It was the Dickens bicentennial – 200 years since his birth in the southern coastal town of Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812. For England’s favorite writer (or should that be second favorite, after Shakespeare?), no expense was spared and no ceremony left undone during this landmark year.
“He is far more deeply ingrained in the culture than any other writer,” said Florian Schweizer, director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, in an interview with the Sunday Times. And with plenty of new biographies published in 2012, along with TV specials, museum exhibitions, and re-releases and remakes of classic film versions of the novels, it was going to be an extravaganza.
The celebratory year began with a pilgrimage to the Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth on that frigid February anniversary. It felt like a momentous occasion, with speeches from the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, direct descendant Ian Dickens, and actor Simon Callow (who I later in the year saw starring in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, a terrific one-man play written by Peter Ackroyd, at London’s Playhouse Theatre).
Portsmouth City Museum was hosting an exhibition of the town’s Victorian-era history, as seen through the works of Dickens (they had a handwritten manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby on display), and another highlight of the day was “The Ballad of Charles Dickens,” a musical skit by drama students from the University of Portsmouth, based on scenes from Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, and Hard Times.
Later in the year I also revisited the Charles Dickens Museum in London just before its temporary closure for refurbishments.
In the summer I took advantage of living briefly in the county of Kent to travel to the real-life “Bleak House,” overlooking the cliffs of Broadstairs. The building was Dickens’s summer home in the 1850s-60s, and is now a hotel.
I also journeyed to see the spooky baby graveyard at St. James’s Church, Cooling, which inspired the opening scene of Great Expectations. Here orphan Pip saw, beside his parents’ grave, “five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine.”
Last but not least, I participated in an open-air production of A Christmas Carol that took place round the streets of York, a favorite medieval town in the north.
I started 2012 with grand plans of reading through the entire Dickens oeuvre (or at least the 6.5 major novels I haven’t yet read), but failed to get past page 200 of Dombey and Son! There’s always next year, though without the impetus of the bicentennial, it may be a while before I pick up my next Dickens novel. Perhaps it’s for the best, though – if I don’t rush through, I’ll still have ‘new’ Dickens works awaiting me for years to come. And that is something to celebrate.
Are you a Dickens lover too? Did you do anything special during the bicentennial year? Let us know in the comments box below!