On the eve of the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens it seems apt to throw my tuppence worth into the pot.
I didn't grow up in a bookish house - in fact there were no books in our house bar school books and any books I brought home from the library. Books were a luxury we could ill-afford. My father, now aged 78, proudly claims he has never read a book (and I believe him), my mother- sadly departed - read in her youth and didn't reach an old age in which she could start reading again.I know my three brothers find it difficult to concentrate on the written word. Two of my sister now adults read but had no interest in books in their teens. I send recommendations their way regularly, having a fair idea of what they like. So I didn't 'discover' Dickens apart from movies until he was presented to me when we studied Great Expectations in school for our Intermediate Certificate.
I absolutely loved it despite its long-windedness and Dickens's many caricatures. I feel Mr Dickens really understood people and as he can tend to be mawkishly sentimental his writing appeals to my 'aaah' side. Many of my fellow students thought it a most boring piece of literature, preferring the problem page of the 'Jackie' magazine as reading matter. Then I read 'David Copperfield' - another tale/life to immerse myself in. Dickens characters really leap off the page for me - my sense of melodrama heightened and satisfied in reading his work.
The next one I read is one I return to again and again. 'The Old Curiosity Shop', I don't care what Oscar says (and I'm a big Oscar fan) I still cry every time I read of the death of Little Nell. Imagine the impact it must have had on readers when it came out first! Readers who weren't constantly bombarded as we are by visual and auditory stimulation. When I read 'The Old Curiosity Shop', I am in the shop; for Charles Dickens took me by the hand and brought me there, introduced me to all his amazing characters and told me their tales. Ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And Charles brought all their stories to his readership, people readers could identify with - just as Shakespeare in his day brought all the great stories of the world and staged them for the ordinary populace - many of whom who could read. I went on to read many more of Dickens novels (although not them all - they're on the bucket list) Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol would of course be great favourites and I am re-reading Hard Times at the moment.
When I left school and started my boring administrative job it was only the promise of Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy when I got home that made the day bearable. Another author I liked during the 80's was American horror writer Stephen King. I think King's thumping great reads are in the same vein as Charles Dickens in that they too are big books well populated with myriad characters who are managed muscularly within the plot of the novel.
I think my own writing has been influenced by Charles Dickens - I certainly hope so - and if not then I am glad to have read him anyway, to have walked the world of Victorian times in his company as he exclaims on the odd behavior of some and the valiant nature of others.
Happy Birthday dear Charles, happy birthday to you.