Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Happy 200th Birthday, Mr. Dickens!  Thanks for creating some of the most pathetically appealing child characters in English literature.  Oliver Twist?  David Copperfield?  Pip?  Little Dorrit?  Yep, these are some hard luck kiddies!  So appealing, so (insert your favorite adjective here) plucky, sweet, goodhearted, naive, clueless, fragile, ethereal, hardworking, optimistic, forgiving, consumptive, clever, adorable, prescient - the list of endearing qualities goes on and on.

Charles Dickens' first novel came out during the first year of Queen Victoria's reign.  This makes Mr. Dickens THE Victorian novelist, capturing the crimes of the age on every page.  After reading Dickens, Kingsley and Nesbit, I wonder why people are enamored of the Victorian age.  The inequities between classes seemed so huge.  The city streets were so filthy.  People died of things we shrug about today.  For many, hygiene was non-existent or impossible to maintain.  Even food was drab and hard to come by.

In some ways it was much like today: poor people are poor and suffer; rich people are rich and insufferable; money rules and ruins equally. This is what makes Dickens so timeless.

Dickens' books are like graphic novels but with words, not pictures. (Lots and lots and LOTS of words.  He was paid by the word, you know.) The sweet, the grasping, the groveling, the snobs, every stereotype of every class comes to life in Dickens' work.  His characters have enriched our language.  It is so easy to say someone is a "Uriah Heep" or  a "Fagin" and most people, even people who haven't read Dickens, will understand what you are talking about.

And what does this have to do with Kids Book Website Tuesday?  Well, I just can't let Dickens' birthday go by without pontificating on his contributions, (unlike 2 million other book bloggers out there).

Since I seem to have a theme going here this week, I offer you The Children's Nursery and Its Traditions, a site dedicated to 19th century children's literature.  Be warned: This site is absolutely rife with advertisements!  But it offers a legion of full text books from the 19th century.  (When writing about Victorians, it does one proud to write like a Victorian!)  So if you can't find your copy of Andrew Lang's The Brown Fairy Book, there's a copy, complete with illustrations, on this site.  Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Heidi, they are all available on this site.

You can even find the 1835 edition of Hoyle's here, when an argument on how to play conkers arises.  (I'm not sure that Hoyle's includes conkers in its compendium of games, though.  I use that game solely as an illustration.)  The rules of such games as Speculations, Draughts, Matrimony, even Horse-Racing are included in this book.  Hoyles is still published today and has lent the name to a store in Oxford, England, and an online site for purchasing games of all sort.

And don't forget Carmen Agra Deedy's and Randall Wright's lovely book, The Cheshire Cheese Cat; a Dickens of a Tale, in which our author, Charles Dickens, figures prominently.  The site gives historical background on the book, the times, the buildings, even the language of Dickens.

Read and enjoy, Gentle Readers.  And give a grateful thought to Mr. Dickens, today, and to all his lovely, lovely children.

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