Saturday, 4 February 2012

What the Dickens in the North!

Posted on February 3, 2012 by Wendy

clip_image001Writing Game February 2012-01-29

Broadcast on Sunday February 5th at Noon

And afterwards available from Bishop FM

To download as a podcast

And as a free download on iTunes under ‘Literature’

This month on the Writing Game we are celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens in 1812 Two Hundred Years ago.

In the programme Writing Gamer, historian Glynn Wales will put this great novelist in the context of his political and social times . His novels reflect the social and political life of Charles Dickens, whose vast creative energy led him to chronicle his time using his very personal insights into the great themes of the day – justice crime, punishment, politics, economics – and into the idiosyncrasies of personality and the comedy and tragedy bedded into individual lives. As Glyn concludes these issues resonate right down to the present day

Here in South Durham we have a special interest in Charles Dickens because events in our own area inspired what Peter Ackroydyd, in his biography describes as “perhaps the funniest novel in the English language.– Nicholas Nickelby.” Yet despite its distinctive and characteristic comic element the inspiration for Nicholas Nickleby was an essentially tragic.

Dickens – interested in social and educational reform – as we will hear from Glynn Wales later in the programme – had heard of the scandal of what were known as the Yorkshire Schools – boarding Academies within travelling distance of Greta Bridge – the north Yorkshire staging post of the London coach.

The Bowes Academy – which is at the centre of the first drama in this novel – was one of several schools right across the district that were advertised in city newspapers such as the London Times. The one from Nicholas Nickelby which Peter Laurie reads for us on the programme mentions ‘no vacations’ – which is very chilling. These cheap boarding schools were used by the burgeoning Middle Classes to hide away and forget unwanted children – often illegitimate.

At the age of 26 in January 1838 – always up for a virtuous adventure – Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Brown traveled North under assumed names and stayed at the King’s Head, Barnard Castle to get the facts -min true journalistic fashion

There, by pretending they had a child to board, they encounter William Shaw, headmaster of Bowes Academy, in whose school – according to a recent court-case – several boys had gone blind from mistreatment and neglect.

In a cemetery in the area Dickens found the graves of children from these schools, one of which inspired Dickens to create the character of Smike, who is a symbol of all the suffering children in these schools. The relationship between Smile and Nicholas Nickleby is – for me – the centre of this remarkable novel, knitting together as they do a whole kaleidoscope of adventures and encounters which are the comic and tragic essence of this great novel.

I read this and many other Dickens novels when I was young and have good – if fading – memories – of Nicholas Nickleby, To refresh these fading memories I re-read it for The Writing Game this time on my Kindle, eBook reader. And I loved it.

I found that Reading it on the Kindle an advantage in that It made me concentrate on the language on each page and relish the prose for its forensic detail, for Dickens’ marvellous sense of place; for his wonderful rolling Victorian dialogue, for his delight in the ironies of personality and character ; for his anger for the innocents.

It’s true that to read – or re-read – Dickens you have to have patience; you can’t race through the novel as though it were a modern thriller, you might need to change the rhythm of your reading but it is so much worth it. It is like a good meal with several delicious courses:

If you give yourself time and you will relish it even more.

The programme features historian Glynn Wales and Peter Laurie – known for his drama productions and St Johns School – reads extracts from Nicholas Nickleby in an appropriately thrilling fashion.

Broadcast on Sunday February 5th at Noon and afterwards available from to download as a podcast

And as a free download on iTunes under ‘Literature’

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the programme. Love the new look blog!



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