Kathy Lette says that during lockdown she has been reading Dickens. Her choice illustrates the enduring appeal of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). At the Sydney Theatre Company in 1982-3, we staged David Edgar’s monumental adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby; it ran for 8 hours and 40 minutes. The power of Dickens’ story-telling had a tremendous impact on audiences; he is such a spellbinder. There is now a new book about him : The Mystery of Charles Dickens by A.N. Wilson, sometimes a contributor to this magazine.
Wilson, a marvellous writer, has not written a standard biography. Rather, he revisits ‘the wellsprings of Dickens’ vast and wild imagination’ to reveal why his novels had such immediate and tremendous appeal and why they continue to resonate today, inspiring countless adaptions. But why ‘the mystery’? Well, there were many mysteries in Dickens’ life although he mostly hid them in full view in his novels. Wilson begins with Dickens’ death 150 years ago on his dining room floor at Gad’s Hill; however, perhaps he died elsewhere and was moved home for the sake of appearances.
Wilson writes vividly and sometimes angrily about the treatment of the poor and ‘nobodies’ in 19th century England. He exposes the double standards of both the man and his times. Wilson describes him as a genius ‘who was able to draw forth tears and laughter from readers and audiences to a prodigious degree’. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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