Christmas post

School’s out!  Holiday reading suggestions . . .

The 10.12.2011 Guardian Review credits Dickens with one of the top ten governesses in fiction: Miss Wade in Little Dorrit! “Best” in this case means “one of the most enigmatic.”

The Guardian, as others have pointed out, cares so much about independent bookstores it issues a special color supplement listing and describing all those in the British isles, and yet its own Bookshop sells at a steep discount from retail price.  Last week Claire Tomalin’s widely-praised biography, normally £30, was on sale in the Bookshop for £21, and was their 6th bestseller.

The Folio Society is offering four of its “much-loved” editions for Christmas. One of these is Great Expectations with illustrations by Marcus Stone and an introduction by D. J. Taylor. No price is mentioned. Enquire at <>.

Michael Slater has pointed out to me that The Times on December 3 suggested Dickensians should revisit the 19th century newspaper for columns that may have been written by Dickens (Ben Macintyre, “Dickens and The Times,” pp. 10-11) or might have influenced him (Ben Macintyre, “Was Oliver Twist a child of The Times?,” p. 4).

Film3Sixty magazine, distributed by the Guardian and the Observer, runs a column in the 2 December issue mentioning some of the films that will come out shortly: “Charles Dickens: A Creator of the Language of Cinema.” Those releases include a BBC three-parter of Great Expectations, another version of the novel being directed by Mike Newell, starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, and scheduled for release next year, and a huge retrospective of Dickens films screened at the British Film Institute from December to March 2012, kicked off with the BBC documentary from Arena: Dickens on Film.

The Times for 3 December (Slater again) carries a whole round-up of Dickens books (pp. 14-15) briskly characterized by Andrew Billen: a lushly illuminated and smartly abridged edition of John Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens, edited by Holly Furneaux, described as “a work of passion and scholarship”; Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life—“judicious and brilliant”; Mirian Magolyes’s Dickens’ Women, in which the great actress admits “she cannot forgive [Dickens] for his treatment of his wife”; Jenny Hartley’s “invaluable” Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, which includes Dickens’s explanation of his marital separation to Angela Burdett Coutts at “the lowest point” in his life; a new edition of Dickens’s Life of Our Lord; Charles Dickens (titles of books aren’t copyrightable), “a delightful jackdaw folder for grown-ups” by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley; a reproduction of The Manuscript of Great Expectations, housed at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum; Slater’s The Genius of Dickens, essays that range widely over Dickens’s fiction, journalism, letters, and speeches; a volume thickly illustrated by photographs of Dickens’s Victorian London, edited by Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London and Tony Williams, pictures “less vivid than Dickens’ prose” for Billen but for me, quite magnificently evocative even though nothing may compete with Dickens’s rhetoric at its best; and Quentin Blake’s “pale illustrations” to yet another edition of A Christmas Carol.

This hardly scratches the surface of Dickensian Christmas. Simon Callow continues his one-man performance of A Christmas Carol into the new year, and at the theater you can also purchase the paperback of his 2003 Dickens’ Christmas: A Victorian Celebration. If you go to see Martin Scorcese’s film Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you’ll encounter many Dickensian characters and clever twists as the hero and his side-kick Isabelle tour the lost world of silent movies, many of which were inspired by Dickens’s writing. (Hugo may be just on the cusp of something big: Michel Hazanavicius’s black-and-white silent film The Artist pays tribute to all the original melodramatic filmmakers, such as Erich Von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, and King Vidor. It was snapped up by Harvey Weinstein for release in the USA, signaling a run for an Oscar.) The many pantomimes staged at this time of the year bring back some of the theatrical conventions and magic Dickens enjoyed as a boy. And if you stay at home, dial up an interactive novel/app launched last week by the Museum of London, that according to Philip Baillie “is the next best thing to having your own time machine.”  The episodes will be published monthly during the Museum of London’s Dickens exhibition: look for “Dickens: Dark London.”

And don’t miss the British Library’s exhibit exploring Dickens’s interest in the immaterial: “Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural” will run until 4 March in the Folio Society Gallery. For Dickens, ghosts were always a feature of the Twelve Days of Christmas. There are supplements to the exhibit on the Library’s learning website, including a lecture on Dickens and the Gothic by Professor John Bowen, and videos of performances by Simon Callow, whose own biography of Dickens will be out next spring.

Any one of these treats may be accompanied by one of Catherine’s dinner recipes, on sale at the Charles Dickens Museum, and by one of Dickens’s many hot compounds of spirits, fruit, and sugar—though I still haven’t heard further about “his favourite” potation, the Rocky Mountain Sneezer, which was served at the reading of The Chimes on 2 December. It sounds as if it would make bells ring in my head for days.

Well, these are just some of the items brought to my attention this season, and I make no claim for having discovered all the riches in stores. For an American even this list is amazing. If I’d lived here all my life and my children and grandchildren knew about these delectable “collectables,” I’d be broke and living in very crowded quarters!

Merry Christmas!



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