The history of Charles Dickens (sort of) via the Smiths (sort of)

“As everybody knows,” sings Charles Dickens, “I started writing prose.”

Under the 19th-century facial hair is English actor and musician Mathew Baynton. He presents the life and works of Charles Dickens in a three-minute pop song that sounds like it might have come straight from a record by the Smiths, with a flourish or two from lead singer Morrissey.

The whole thing is from a sketch series for kids on British TV called “Horrible Histories.” Which, in turn, is based on a bestselling kids book series -- also called, not surprisingly, “Horrible Histories.” The books and TV show stretch from the Stone Age to the civil rights movement.

The song portrays Dickens’ novels as autobiographical: Little Nell in “The Old Curiosity Shop” was his sister-in-law, the song tells us; “Little Dorrit” about his father in debtor’s jail; “David Copperfield” was himself, working in a factory. Where these parallels can be drawn, they’re more inspiration than anything else. Dickens wrote fiction, not fact: How else to explain the shop owner’s sponateous combustion in “Bleak House”?


For a three-minute pop song, it’s a pretty good biography (thanks for the link, Douglas Wolk). From the videos the show has posted on YouTube, Dickens seems to be the only author it’s tackled in music video form -- although it’s hard to imagine Jane Austen isn’t on the to-do list.


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