Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Life Lessons from Charles John Huffam Dickens

Today is the day; it's Dickens's bicentenary. Two hundred years since the man who was to create Oliver Twist, Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Havisham came into the world. I feel a peculiar affinity to Charles John Huffam as he's the most well-known writer I'm exploring as I write up my PhD on the Victorian Christmas. It's amazing how this writer's works seem to have subtly seeped into the national, and international, mindset. Whenever I'm in London I can't help but remember his descriptions of the urban metropolis. I walk down the same streets and, with his words in mind, I'm able to vividly recapture the sights, smells and colour of a city almost two hundred years younger. 

In the first year of my research I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of the writer, entitled Dickens. I was struck by Ackroyd's depiction of Dickens's unflagging creative energy. One of the things that is undeniable about him is that he was an incredibly hard worker. To regularly write novels the size of Bleak House; contribute to, and meticulously edit periodicals; and travel around the country giving public readings, you'd have to be, especially in Victorian London. Not to mention Dickens's theatrical endeavours, his charity work, and, of course, his yearly contributions to the Christmas marketplace. While I'm no hero-worshipper of Dickens (have you read this article?) I always find hard workers very inspirational. In between his work, and often as a thought-filled extension of his work, he loved to walk. Walking was part of his daily routine - sometimes he would clock up double-digit miles wandering through the bustling city, and often in the middle of the night he would set out on a dark ramble through the streets of London. After reading about Dickens's schedule of solid writing sandwiched between endless walks, I remember feeling challenged to walk more myself. Now I usually walk for an hour each day, and although it may not be through the dark streets of nineteenth century London, and I definitely don't walk 20 miles, it gives me that space to move and think and focus, and...it's a little bit of the real Dickens in my daily life. 

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