On this day 205 years ago, one of our most famous English authors of all time was born: Charles Dickens. It just so happens that I’m teaching his novel Great Expectations to my students this month, so naturally we had a little birthday celebration for Mr. Dickens–the man, the myth, the legend (*cue massive eye roll from all ninth graders within earshot).
Believe it or not, Dickens was incredibly famous during his lifetime. He was an international literary superstar, and he held readings and dramatic performances of his works. He loved to keep the ladies in the audience in tears or laughing along with him, and his characters’ crazy names are just part of the reason why his fame endures today.
I have a fairly limited experience with Dickens’ work; I’ve read a few of his novels like A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and I’ve halfway begun Bleak House a few dozen times. When I studied abroad in college I took a course on the nineteenth century novel, and Dickens was a pretty large figure in that course, just as he was a pretty large figure in that time period. I read Great Expectations for the course and was impressed with the intricacy of the plot. When you read this novel, you don’t see how all of the characters and seemingly random incidents can come together to form a cohesive story, but by the end of the novel somehow every piece falls into place.
This fact is made more impressive by the fact that Dickens published his books serially. How he managed to keep track of all these characters and their stories over a span of almost twelve months is beyond me! This intricacy and level of detail is also what makes this book somewhat difficult to teach. One class of students will leave and I’ll realize we totally forgot to cover a seemingly small detail that will reappear in a big way later on.
The Audible version I’ve been listening to in order to supplement my reading is great because the narrator is able to capture the different voices and accents of the characters. Great Expectations is a novel about ambition and pride, and Prebble, the narrator, does a great job at conveying each character’s class and social standing just through accents and inflections.
I also love how listening to this book has given me a different way of experiencing the story. The atmosphere and mood of the book really come alive when you hear the convict Pip meets in chapter one growling or Estella and Miss Havisham’s proud and haughty tones. If you’re looking for a classic novel to listen to on your commute, you can download it here. I’ve written before about how to find good audiobooks and the pros and cons of an Audible subscription if you need more tips, but I think that audiobooks can be a great way to ease into the classics.
Let me know what you think of Dickens’ work in the comments below!