Happy birthday to the Incomparable

Image from Wikipedia entry on Charles Dickens

That’s right. Charles Dickens is 200 years old today, or would be if he hadn’t died back in 1870.

I have to admit; I’m a fan. But why? The man was notorious for improbable plots, even if they did result from writing himself into blind alleys by publishing novels as serials before figuring out just how he was going to wrap everything up.

And except in some of his late books, he couldn’t write a plausible young woman to save his life. Usually they’re boringly, inhumanly pure little prizes for the hero, except for the few Fallen Woman who are boringly, inhumanly guilt-filled, moaning puppets. He seems to have hated politics and economics, or at the least to have no idea how they work. He loves to hang over deathbeds in a way that makes us very uncomfortable now – though maybe that’s because, in modern, prosperous countries, we can usually keep our distance from death in a way that wasn’t possible in Dickens’ lifetime. And that’s just a few of his faults as a writer, and doesn’t even touch on his flaws as a man.

And I still love his stuff. It’s so full of energy, so full of precise details. I come away feeling as if I’ve really visited Jacob’s Island, or been invited to dinner at the Veneering’s, or spent Christmas at Dingley Dell. It hardly matters if anything like them ever existed in the first place, they’re so alive on the page.

So, happy birthday, Mr. Dickens, and long may you stay in print.

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