How Old Is The Boy Who Played Oliver Twist Movie The Dickens Bicentenary: What Can Dickens Offer Us Today?

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The Dickens Bicentenary: What Can Dickens Offer Us Today?

A loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom.”

(David Copperfield – Chapter 9)

As a hypnotherapist, I am increasingly aware of how we are influenced by culture. And I mean “culture” in the broadest sense – music, film, television, books, plays and so on. Unless we’re cramming for an exam, “culture” is a leisure activity, something we do when we’re relaxed, when we’re enjoying ourselves, when our guard is down.

As I have argued elsewhere, we are affected in countless ways by the ordinary things we encounter in our daily lives. These things affect our mood, our behavior, our outlook, our choices, and yet, for the most part, we are blissfully unaware of any of it. We blame our negativity on the bleak economic outlook, our anger and frustration on our colleagues or other road users or the noisy kids in the neighborhood or our family and friends. It’s someone else’s fault.

But how do we relax? We watch soap operas, where people betray and attack each other, where every episode contains at least one fiery line, where the violence is just beneath the surface. Or we go to a club or a gig and our ears are bombarded with deafening volume of songs whose “message”, if we can generalize to that extent, seems to be selfishness and cheap short-term gratification. Even talent shows and even culinary programs have turned into gladiatorial contests where winning is everything and egoistic “self-belief” is always the key to “success”.

The problem is compounded by the fact that these days we must make no distinction between pop culture and great art. To do so is “elitist”. We have to put Michael Jackson next to Mozart, East Enders next to the Oresteia. Well – not me. As politically incorrect as it may be, I don’t play that game. For me there is such a thing as great art – great literature, music, drama and film. I believe with complete conviction that it is the power of good. The government clearly isn’t, as it is ceasing to provide funding for arts and humanities at FE level.

For me, there has always been a special aura around Dickens. My grandfather had an old Odhams Press edition of the complete works in 15 volumes. As a child, I was fascinated by these thick, chunky little books with their tiny print and their delightfully grotesque illustrations. I spent many hours just looking at the pictures.

It wasn’t until I left school that I actually read a Dickens novel. Was Dombey and Son. To begin with, I simply saw it as a challenge. I wanted to see if I could actually get through it. But I was hooked from the start. This was not an endurance test or endurance trial. This was an odyssey through a world I never knew existed. I finished the book too soon. I wanted it to last forever.

That was many years ago. I haven’t read it again until today Dombey. I didn’t feel the need. I read it so carefully and remember it so vividly. But when I return, I will find a thousand wonderful things that I did not notice the first time.

Dickens is happy. Much great English literature of the 19th century languishes in obscurity. Who reads Browning, Shelley, Byron or Tennyson today – except reluctant students? Even more than other similar novelists—Jane Austen or George Eliot, for example—Dickens has somehow penetrated our collective national consciousness to a degree surpassed only by Shakespeare. Even if we’ve never read a word of Dickens, we know about Scrooge and Oliver Twist, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Micawber. Television adaptations, film versions and musicals based on Dickens’ novels remain as popular as ever.

What can we learn from Dickens? How can this great and humane writer help us? I suppose the man himself can certainly be a shining example of the virtues of industry and sheer hard work. Dickens was almost frighteningly prolific. His career as a novelist lasted only about 33 years. During this time he produced 15 enormous novels (the last one remained unfinished). That alone would be more than a lifetime’s work for any normal person. But in addition he produced numerous short stories, newspaper articles and about 14,000 letters. Yet he still found time to travel, to socialize, to make connections, to engage in philanthropic work of one kind or another.

As far as novels go, Dickens so often tells us what we already know, but he does so in a uniquely compelling and powerful way. The Beatles set the words “Money can’t buy me love” to a banal melody. But Dickens wrote A Christmas carol and High expectations. The same band put the words “All you need is love” to a dreary beat that doesn’t even deserve to be called a tune. Dickens showed the truth of those words in Little Dorrit.

Among countless other things, Dickens’ works teach us

· That “success” is not the be-all and end-all.

· That inner decency will overcome adversity.

· That love can melt the most stubborn hearts.

· That there really is such a thing as society.

· That love and pleasure are not one and the same.

· That we must accept what we cannot change, but change whatever we can.

· That charity begins at home.

· That integrity will always trump the trappings of wealth, power and class.

When we think of Dickens, his larger-than-life characters are often the first thing that comes to mind. The early novels are full of them: Pickwick and Sam Weller, Fagin and the Dodger, Smyke, Quilp, Mrs Gamp – the list is almost endless. But, for me, the quintessential Dickens is to be found in the later works, with their darker plots, their elemental mists, their vast reach into the recesses of the human heart. In them we find reason, simple humanity, which shines ever brighter against a dark background. It shines from the simple heart of Joe Gargery High expectations. And lights up the quiet neighborhood Little Dorritwhile Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, husband and wife at last, united by a love infinitely stronger and deeper than mere infatuation and physical attraction, descend into an autumn morning, to a life of usefulness and happiness:

“They descended quietly into the noisy streets, inseparable and blessed; and as they passed in sun and shade, noisy and eager, and arrogant and forward and vain, agitated and annoyed, and making their usual tumult. “

Read Dickens. Read it slowly – not like you would if you were cramming for an exam or working through the syllabus. Read it with both your head and your heart – and feel the healing power of great art.

Charles Dickens: February 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870

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