This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and London is awash with celebrations, exhibitions, publications and tenuously linked products connected to the great writer.
Regular readers know that I am partial to a classic novel (both modern and your more classic classics) and Dickens is one of my favourites, so the Charles-o-rama is okay with me, for the time being anyway. It’s not often a writer has such public focus for an entire year, so although I assume one will get a little tired of hearing of his brilliance and listening to lectures proposing what Dickens would think of Twitter and the crisis in the Eurozone were he alive now, overall I see it as a positive and inspiring thing. (A colleague of mine has been so inspired he is planning on having a year of Dickens to kick through some of the novels he never got around to reading. Fabulous idea, if you ask me.) It’s also had me thinking about classics in general and when my writing muscles are back in shape I have a couple of recently read titles to post on — including a Dickens’ novel. Until then, here is the always firm-thinking and eloquent Richard Flanagan on our relationship with classic literature.
Book twelve and already some old friends are back in the fold. Perhaps this is a sign that my reading tastes are too narrow. Perhaps I’m just running with a few themes at the moment. In any case, as with Mr Pip and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins pop in to say hi, in fact, Mr D is the subject of half of this book which deals with desire and the strictures the times (Victorian) and one’s position in society places on one’s life, one’s happiness, one’s actions and one’s existence. ‘That’s on a large scale. It deals with so much more. Love, for example. The strong, the denial of, the forbidden, the innocent, love in all its forms both present and absent. The other subject of this novel which takes it’s starting point from history but fills in many gaps with imaginative guesswork, is Mathinna, the young aboriginal girl adopted (and then abandoned) by Sir John and Lady Franklin in colonial Tasmania.
The only place the stories cross is via the Franklins. For a while I kept waiting for Dickens to magically appear in old Hobarttown thinking that the main characters had to meet for the novel to come full circle. But it’s not in the subjects that the story connects but in the ideas. Reading Wanting reminded me that Mr Dickens, though I love his books, was not always the most admirable of men. And it reminds me of a fabulous book I read as a child (and later too) called Mathinna’s People by Nan Chauncey. It also reminded me that even when a book leaves you with a somewhat sad and despondent feeling at the end, that it can still be something worth reading.
Richard Flanagan gave the closing address at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year and it was fantastic. To add a political flavour to the Pile o’ Books blog for the first time, I implore you all to read it. It is a fantastic speech and a powerful argument against changing the current territorial copyright laws. You can read the full transcript here