Man Of Many Parts: This year marks Charles Dickens’s 200th anniversary.
“The Inimitable”, Dickens called himself. He was, and is. Born in 1812, as a boy he was put to work by his feckless father in a blacking factory on the banks of the Thames—a shaming experience, crucial to his formation both as novelist and workaholic. When he died aged 58, he left behind 20 novels, five short-story collections and a child’s history of England, all bursting with characters so vivid and vital it’s hard to believe they are entirely fictional.
Bill Sikes, Mr Micawber, Wackford Squeers, Betsy Trotwood, Pumblechook, Bumble, Quilp—whether you meet them in school set books, or watching weekend television, they are unforgettable. In each, caricature is counterpoised by startling vivacity; they warble, lisp, shamble and dance with an energy that speaks of almost too much life. Now, as Dickens turns 200, they are taking up residence in the imaginations of a new generation, through the film of “Great Expectations” directed by Mike Newell, and the BBC’s version with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham; through touring theatrical productions; and through his own, inimitable, words.