Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? I never used to be. I own (and have read) the complete set of his work, was forced to read Hard Times and Bleak House for school exams, and as a PhD student encountered his female unfriendly views on whether women could be professional writers (not if, like Elizabeth Gaskell, they had a husband, apparently). However, when I had to teach university students about Dickens’ place in English culture, I began to see him in a different light.
A Christmas Carol had been my son’s favourite book for years before this, but only when I realised how much that book and its ghosts and its original illustrations had affected English traditions did I really revise my opinion. (And I must admit to a closet admiration for David Lean’s 1946 movie of Great Expectations, which I watch whenever it is repeated on TV).
Meeting Monica Dickens
I once met Charles Dickens's great grand-daughter Monica Dickens, also a popular author, and sat with her in the bar at a writers’ weekend. She was delightful, thrilled to be surrounded by writers, but said that her (rather posh) branch of the family rather despised the whole writing profession and were somewhat ashamed of the family members who had been involved in it.
Monica was a lively and vibrant person, who was as content writing columns for women’s magazines as adapting popular novels into Readers Digest book club editions. Just a jobbing writer, in fact, like Charles.
An Audience with Gerald Dickens
Monica Dickens was delightful company, so when a friend spotted Gerald Dickens, Charles’s great great grandson, on the programme of Crosby Civic Hall, Merseyside, part of the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival, I decided to ‘give it a go’ and a group of us went along together. This was a one-man show with the minimum of scenery and costume changes, yet Gerald kept our interest from the beginning.
The first half of the show was dedicated to connecting Dickens’s stories to his real early life, skilfully intertwining letters, diaries, biography and characterisation very entertainingly. After a rendering of the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes - the same that Charles used to enact to audiences in such melodramatic detail that many fainted - the break was welcome.
Then the second half ran to nearly an hour of Nicholas Nickleby, with all the characters from bullying headmaster Squeers to poor cowering Smike portrayed by Gerald, a complicated process that provoked some hilarity when the props would not stay where they were put!
Christmas Classic - A Christmas Carol
Gerald has been working to illustrate his great great grandfather’s life and works by combining his acting and writing skills for literary festivals since 1993. He ends 2011 with an American tour with Dickensian Christmas Tales, especially A Christmas Carol, for which rendition he is particularly famous, ending in historic Williamsburg on Christmas Eve. Gerald Dickens's biography.
2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth.