Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday was celebrated worldwide on Tuesday, February 07, 2012, and I suspect there will be celebrations for the rest of the week too. I listened to two BBC radio specials about the author, his work, and Indian views about both. I did not know there is such a strong affinity for the 19th century English writer in my mother’s birth country, but now that I do I am not surprised. Themes of social discord, money, poverty, child labor and abuse Dickens explored in his work resonate with many modern-day Indians. I believe (as do many others, I suspect) that novels such as David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist continue to attract readers today from all over the world because of the author’s ability to weave a variety of characters and their experiences together seamlessly.
I have a slightly odd relationship with Dickens’s novel, Great Expectations. I first read it in high school, and was confused by the two endings; the original one still depresses me, while the revised one is a bit too fairytale-like for my tastes. I would re-read the novel over the years, always with the false hope that the main character would avoid getting sucked in by his cold hearted childhood acquaintance as an adult, but alas, he never does. I continue to marvel at the writer’s prose, yet I am saddened by the characters’ journeys and ultimate ends. For reasons I cannot explain, Dickens’s depiction of the main character’s rise and fall in Great Expectations affects me in a visceral way. I think this is why it remains my personal favorite of his publications.
I always light up when I see Dickens’s novels in bookstores and in my shelves at home, no matter how dark they are. I look forward to revisiting more of his work in the near future. Dickens’s work reminds me that no matter how hard my life can get, the trials of his characters in the 19th century make my own slight in comparison.