It all really started with a book. Several in fact, depending on which ‘start’ in particular we’re referring to. There is of course ‘The Pickwick Papers’ – Dickens’ first novel, published in 20 monthly parts starting from April 1836, which marks the beginning of his remarkable career. There is also the first book you read by him – the beginning of your personal Dickensian experience. And then in September last year, there was as sudden boom in biographies dedicated to the author to start the festivities. There was Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’ Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life and the illustrated Life of Charles Dickens by John Foster to mention a few of the more famous ones. Walk into Waterstones and you might witness a small shrine in the corner. New editions of the classics, mingling amidst the freshly printed biographies, with appropriate new covers, inspired by the latest BBC adaptations.
And then there was TV. BBC presented us with a brand new Great Expectations starring the youngest ever Miss Havisham in the face of Gillian Anderson and even a take at Dickens’ unfinished novel - The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Radio 4 did a five part dramatisation of Tale of Two Cities and, in the beginning of this year BBC released a documentary called Arena: Dickens on Film.
Yet to come, or actually yet to finish, is the largest ever retrospective of Dickens adaptations on film and TV put together by the BFI, Film London and The Charles Dickens Museum – all, sadly far away in London, but extremely tempting despite that (you can find a full schedule of the screenings on www.bfi.org.uk). Also in London can be found a few expositions dedicated to Dickens – in the British Library, open until March 4th, which explores the ways Dickens used the supernatural in his writing. In the Museum of London – a representation of Victorian London and its atmosphere through paintings and costumes – open until June 10th.
Dickens’ home town, Portsmouth, will naturally also join in the celebrations. Running, almost throughout the whole year in the Portsmouth City Museum, is an exhibition enables you to see what life in there was like between 1812 and 1870, through letters from the city archive. On February 7th in Portsmouth, there will also be a festival with street performers, musicians and readings from actor Simon Callow.
Rochester, featured in many of Dickens’ novels, will likewise host a festival from June 8th until June 10th, where the celebrations will include music, drama, talks and readings, and street theatre.
And just to make sure the party doesn’t stop there, in autumn a new Great Expectations version comes out, this time ‘with a ‘thriller’ ending’, directed by Mike Newell and starring, wait for it, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in the lead roles.
So in case you haven’t yet found your way to celebrate Dickens, you can pick and choose – the options are there and the year is ahead of you.
Full information on events connected with Dickens’ bicentennial you can find on www.dickens2012.org