In 1812, on this day, Charles Dickens was born. I don't know if he was born with a caul like David Copperfield, who was modeled after Dickens himself.
An old wives tale had it that such a birth---with the amniotic tissue covering the face---was a stroke of good luck. If so the good luck is ours.
Only Shakespeare stands above Dickens as an English writer. A good reason to think about him today. When I do, I think of the immortal characters he created. Call them caricatures if you like. They are as real as anyone you'll meet in life. Probably more real.
"David Copperfield" was the first Dickens novel I ever read. I read most of it on the Archer bus on the way home from the law firm where I clerked while in high school. I loved the fact that David was a law clerk too. In the pages of that novel, I discovered Mr. Micawber who always believed something would turn up to keep him out of debtors' prison. And the coachman Barkis who was always "willin'" to marry David's Aunt Peggotty. And [hiss] the unctuous, sanctimonious, villainous Uriah Heep, David's evil nemesis. I was indifferent to those slow trips home because I was riveted to the fortunes of young Mr. Copperfield. Dickens wrote his novels in installments for publication in magazines. Whenever I picked up the storyline on the next trip home, I imagined myself like his contemporary who read it in the next magazine issue.
I went on to read almost all of Dickens' novels. I reread them too. I just reread "Great Expectations" while a new movie version was playing on PBS. And I don't know how many times I have read "A Christmas Carol". Its charm never palls. I love to do what Dickens himself loved to do: read his stories out loud. He toured in a one-man show diverting his audiences with dramatic interpretations. And who would know better how to do it?
What we need in today's world are more redeemed Scrooges. We need the greedy bastards who hold the common good in contempt to have a change of heart. Like Scrooge at the end of the tale, we need the modern Scrooges to say "I'll raise your salary, and I'll endeavour to assist your struggling family." I know that it would make the spirit of Dickens feel his optimism was justified, and that he could finally rest in peace.
Filed under: literature