Dickens at 200

January 30th, 2012

Natalie McKnight, Humanities, team GThe following opinion piece was written by Natalie McKnight, Associate Dean for Faculty Research in BU’s College of General Studies. An expert on Charles Dickens and Victorian literature, she is also a co-editor of Dickens Studies Annual.

February 7, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, and celebrations of the event are already happening around the world, from jovial Dickens Fellowship parties on 5 continents, to a press party at Lowell National Park to launch an exhibit on Dickens in America, to a week-long “Tale of 4 Cities Conference” that starts in Paris, moves to Boulogne and Rochester and ends in London.

But the festivities really began nine months ago with “Dickens on Broadway: A Pre-Bicentennial Celebration,” which featured a dramatic reading by Michael Slater, a recent biographer of Dickens, and included a panel of Dickens scholars from around the world addressing the future of Dickens: how well will the notoriously verbose author fare in the digital age – in a world of 140-character tweets? How has globalization affected his reputation?

The verdict? Dickens’s popularity persists and grows, with the help of digital technology and globalization. Electronic versions of his novels make access to his works easier and cheaper than ever, with the added advantage of allowing scholars to search for key words and characters with ease – a real boon to research. And globalization has expanded his readership, with residents of third-world metropolises finding much to relate to in his depiction of 19th century slums.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) tweets and texts and the ever-increasing pace of our everyday lives, countless readers around the world still relish Dickens’s fiction because it makes them laugh, cry, and think, and those are qualities that will never go out of style.

Contact McKnight at 617-358-0180; njmck@bu.edu

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