I can’t let this day pass without saying something about Charles Dickens – surely as much a part of our national heritage as Shakespeare, and very likely accessible to more people.
Today – 7th February 2012 – is the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth. Great pronouncements have been made in Westminster Abbey and we can all feel proud of ourselves as a nation.
So Dickens was an Aquarian. I’m not surprised: Aquarians can be charming, delightful, very much their own people and occasionally so much their own people they seem a little apart from the rest of us. Original thinkers, they follow their own star and can be brilliantly inventive. They know what they know and they have a view of what makes the world tick. Just occasionally they get it wrong, but don’t we all? Some born under stars not in sympathy to the Aquarian vibe might find them hard to understand. Aquarians are special, and they’re not in the business of pandering to the lowest common denominator. Two other famous 19th-century Aquarians come to mind: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, neither of whom seemed the sort to be put off by popular opinion.
If Dickens were alive today, I doubt he’d vote Conservative as he was too painfully aware of the effects of poverty and indifferent officialdom on ordinary lives. Come to think of it, with his talent for spotting cant, I’m not sure he would vote for anyone.
I was introduced to Dickens at a surprisingly early age. My grandmother, whose favourite book was ‘Our Mutual Friend’, collected the complete works and would read aloud the funnier passages from an ancient, leather-bound ‘Pickwick Papers’ which I still have. As an adult, one appreciates the anger that lay beyind the writings, the peeling back of layers of hypocrisy and the sheer fudge surrounding the social injustices that so outraged Dickens.
Later on, at times when life dealt a particularly bad hand, I’ve turned to Dickens: maybe because what the characters were going through was so much worse than what I was dealing with, or perhaps because he has a way of defining the human situation that puts things in context. Or just possibly because Dickens’s slower-paced prose takes one out of the stress-inducing obsessions of the 21st-century into the intimate world of that other way of life.
Thank you, Charles Dickens, for ‘telling it as it is’ in exemplary, inventive prose that has something to say to us two hundred years later.