Check It Out: Celebrating 200 years of Dickens

Earlier this month, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens was celebrated in an event held at his burial site in London's Westminster Abbey.

In attendance were many writers, academics, and other enthusiasts of the man considered to be England's greatest novelist. Nearly 200 of the author's descendants were also present.

Prince Charles laid a wreath on Dickens' grave. Actor Ralph Fiennes, who will be starring in a new film version of "Great Expectations," gave a dramatic reading from "Bleak House." A similar service was also held in Portsmouth, where Dickens was born.

On this side of the Atlantic, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York is presenting "Dickens at 200," an exhibition of the largest collection of Dickens manuscripts and letters in the United States. Festivities were also held in cities such as Philadelphia and Lowell, Mass.

At a recent antiquarian book festival in Pasadena, a rare first edition of "David Copperfield" was one of the star attractions. Even Google tipped its hat to the author with a celebratory doodle on its search page that depicted many of his best known fictional characters.

Around the globe, the British Council, an organization dedicated to furthering cultural relations abroad, sponsored an international 24-hour Dickens Readathon. The event began in Australia with a public reading from "Dombey and Son" and concluded in Iraq with an extract from "Hard Times."

Fans of Dickens will want to take note of the following newly-released titles, which were timed to coincide with the bicentennial of his birthday. All are available to cardholders of the Newport Beach Public Library:

Claire Tomalin, in "Charles Dickens: A Life," has given us what might become his quintessential biography. Tomalin praises him for his success as a writer and for his efforts in the area of social reform, but she does not gloss over his personal failings, particularly in regard to his relationships with friends and family. The resulting portrait is of an extraordinarily complicated man whose virtues and vices were inseparable from his art.

In "Becoming Dickens," Robert Douglas-Fairhurst focuses on Dickens' formative years, including his rise from penurious circumstances, his brief dalliances with careers in law and journalism, and his eventual development as the writer of such early works as the "Pickwick Papers" and "Oliver Twist," which placed him in the first rank of English authors. Douglas-Fairhurst suggests that Dickens succeeded in reinventing both his own life and the novel itself.

Edited by British scholar Jenny Hartley, the "Selected Letters of Charles Dickens" includes more than 450 examples of the author's correspondence, most of which were written at the height of his professional life. Among the famous recipients are Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, Washington Irving, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Taken together, they vividly illustrate the fullness of Dickens' life and enhance our understanding of his work.

"Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius" by Sylvia Nasar, author of "A Beautiful Mind," is an intellectual history of modern economic thought. In a lengthy prologue, Nasar credits the novels of Charles Dickens for drawing attention to the plight of the poor in Victorian England. She argues that his work led to a gradual shift in thinking about economics not as moral philosophy but instead as an applied science, which could be a means toward increased prosperity for all.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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