Many regard Charles Dickens as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, others do not agree: they see him as the greatest novelist of all times. And it is true that his books have never been out of print and that his novels are continuously turned into plays, films and even musicals.
It is to celebrate 200 years since his birth that Jill Alexander, former Chairman of the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Brian Green, Chairman of the Dulwich Society, have come together to devise a programme to pay tribute to the great writer.
It is not well known that Dickens had several connections with Southwark, both literary and personal. His father was thrown into the debtors’ prison at Marshalsea when Dickens was only twelve and the rest of the family moved in with him, this was often done in those days. It fell on poor Charles to help to support his family and he did not join them. He lodged and started working in a shoe polish factory down by the Thames, an area he got to know well.
This was not an easy time for young Charles, he felt abandoned and betrayed by his family, as he was left on his own. This feeling of abandonment would later be a theme in many of his novels.
When his grandmother died the family was left some money and could leave the prison and Charles could go back to school and move back with his family.
His links to South London continued. His first major serial work was the popular The Pickwick Papers. Mr Pickwick is known to have retired to Dulwich and we have Pickwick Cottage and Pickwick Road in the Village to remember him by.
“The house I have taken is at Dulwich. It has a large garden and is situated in one of the most pleasant spots near London. It has been fitted up with every attention to substantial comfort; perhaps to a little elegance besides; but you shall judge for yourselves.”
In later life, when Dickens had left his wife Katherine, mother of his ten children, he lived with the actress Ellen Ternan. It is known that he rented a house in Linden Grove in Nunhead, for the two of them.
His life is worthy a novel in his own right. He became the first literary global celebrity, and no one has since reached his fame both in the UK and abroad. He toured the States and his readings were sell-outs everywhere. It is said that he never used props or costumes but somehow managed to make the characters come alive through his voice and facial expressions.
Now it is the turn of nineteen actors from the to enact passages from his plays and to read excerpts from his writings. Scenes from The Pickwick Papers – for obvious reasons – Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Christmas Carol are promised as well as songs from the musicals Oliver! and Pickwick. The music director is Paul Grimwood.
It promises to be an evening of delight in the atmospheric Christ’s Chapel next to Dulwich Picture Gallery. There are still some tickets left.
A Bicentenary Evening with Charles Dickens
Thursday 29 November 2012 at 7.30 pm Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich
£12, £10 Friends, includes a glass of wine.
Tickets available online: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk
By phone: 020 8299 8750 (Mon-Fri 10am – 4pm)
Or visit the Friends Desk in Dulwich Picture Gallery