Thursday, 29 March 2012

Dickens tackles social issues (I)

At our first TOCS reading group meeting today, we talked (among many other things) about the fact that Charles Dickens used his novels to address specific social problems - and that the awareness his novels created often led to the solution (at least partially) of these problems. In Oliver Twist (1838 - full text and Kindle here), one of Dickens's most famous works, he describes the ghastly living circumstances of workhouse labourers. As a boy, Dickens of course spent time in a workhouse himself, while his father was in the debtors' prison - a horrible experience which influenced this author's work greatly.

British historian Ruth Richardson has just published a new book called Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Photo: Celebrating Dickens 2012

In this book she describes her discovery of the actual workhouse Dickens worked in as a child, and the building's astonishing proximity to a residential house Dickens lived in for years. See her enthuse about her discovery in this video clip:

(full version here)

or read about her petition to save this historical workhouse from demolition here. (It worked, by the way, and the building was saved.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The pleasures of rereading

Victorian literature is filled with authors whose works merit - in fact, almost require - rereading. David Gates elaborates on the pleasures of rereading in his wonderful article "Now, read it again" from Newsweek magazine.

(Image from here)

The Victorian swimsuit edition

Ever wondered what naughty photo shoots looked like in the Victorian era? Check out these vintage photographs collected by Charles H. McCaghy from Bowling Green State University, Ohio.

According to the article in the Daily Mail, these images "reveal just how different beauty was 120 years ago than it is today". Something to think about!

Read more here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

See what's in the Charles Dickens Museum!

While we can't all go to London right now, we can at least get a glimpse of all the treasures in the Charles Dickens Museum there by watching this clip:

The Charles Dickens Museum from on Vimeo.

The museum, like life in the Victorian era, centres around the home. "Our refurbishment programme here," says museum director Dr Florian Schweizer (02:51), "has been mainly designed to bring back the kind of domestic atmosphere - the home atmosphere - of Charles Dickens's home. [...] So we can really recreate a setting that Dickens would (probably) recognise if he came back and visited this house once more."

The video clip features a wonderful painting by Robert William Buss called Dickens's Dream (1875), which shows the slumbering author in his study, surrounded by the spirits of his characters.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Monday, 12 March 2012

"Please, sir, I want some gore"

Oliver Twisted (2012) by JD Sharpe is a gruesome but fascinating reimagining of the classic Dickens novel (without the -ed at the end).

(Image from Egmont UK)

The novel is classified as horror/thriller and intended for teen readers, but anyone with a knowledge of the original and a stomach for the macabre is sure to enjoy it. Read a review by Martin Chilton here or visit the book's official site. You can also buy the hard copy book here or the e-book here.

Hardly sensational?

Read history lecturer Lucinda Matthews-Jones's lukewarm review of Peter Ackroyd's new short biography on Victorian sensation novelist Wilkie Collins here.

(Image courtesy of The Journal of Victorian Culture)

Is this something you would be interested in reading? Have you heard of Wilkie Collins? If you'd like to read what sensation novels are all about, you can find the full text to his two best-known novels here:

The Moonstone

The Woman in White

And yes, they are available for Kindle. For free.

Trishna of the d'Urbervilles

A film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891 - full text here) by British film director Michael Winterbottom was released at the end of last year. The intriguing part is that it's set in contemporary India and stars a heroine called Trishna instead of Tess.

Watch the trailer here and let us know what you think:

Sunday, 11 March 2012

How well do you know Dickens?

How well do you know the work of Charles Dickens? Take the quiz by Richard Lederer here.

And if you want to get to know the man himself better, this year has seen the release of not one but two Dickens biographies: Charles Dickens: A life by Claire Tomalin and Charles Dickens and the great theatre of the world by Simon Callow.

Don't miss this clip of Callow (who is also a famous British actor) talking about some London spots that were important to Dickens:

Video courtesy of The Guardian.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The face of a genius

UK sculptor James A. Matthews has completed a bust of Charles Dickens in celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of the author's birth this year.

Read more and see additional images here (picture from Matthews's blog).

Dickens video clip from 1901 found!

The world's oldest surviving Charles Dickens film (i.e. based on something he wrote) was discovered in February of this year - just one day after the 200th anniversary of this famous author's birth on 7 February 1812. The discovery of The Death of Poor Jo, which dates back to March 1901, was made by British Film Institute (BFI) curator Bryony Dixon. Until now, the earliest known Dickens film was Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost, released in November 1901. Both films were made by pioneer filmmaker G.A. Smith. (via the BBC)

(Note that the clip has no sound.)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

George Eliot's Middlemarch illustrated (sort of)

If you've read George Eliot's Middlemarch (full text here), take a look at this three-metre panorama of Middlemarch. Do you think it really depicts the whole novel?

Video clip: “Dickens and London”

This clip from the BBC’s Teaching English website features Charles Dickens’s great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Hawksley as she talks about this brilliant author’s feelings toward the city where so much of his work is set. “When Dickens writes about London,” Hawksley says (1:11), “he writes about it warts and all. That’s what’s so wonderful – he writes about the things he loves, but also about the really bad sides.” See the clip here:

I’ve always been struck by Dickens’s descriptions of London; even when he’s essentially being negative, the language is so fascinating and beautiful that you can’t help but be drawn in. I’m including two of my favourite passages here: one from A Christmas Carol (1843), and one from the opening of Bleak House (1852).

It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale. (From A Christmas Carol)

London.  Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall.  Implacable November weather.  As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.  Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.  Dogs, undistinguishable in mire.  Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers.  Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere.  Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.  Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.  Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats.  Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.  Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongy fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy.  Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time—as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look. (From Bleak House)

(Find the full text of both of these novels and countless others at Project Gutenberg.)

Which passage/sentence is your favourite?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Attention, all curious minds!

The Old Curiosity Shop is a blog that will run parallel with a marvellous reading group of the same name for English 178 students at Stellenbosch University. This reading group will entail a weekly gathering for the discussion of various short Victorian texts - poems, short stories, advertisements, cartoons - accompanied by refreshments of course. If you are interested in attending these edifying meetings, please indicate your preference of a time slot in the poll on the right hand side of the screen. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!