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Londoner of the Day goes to Charles Dickens, on the bi-centenary of the author’s birth.

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The phrase ‘Dickensian London’ quickly summons up an image of dark, dank alleyways, dirty deeds taking place in murky streets – and conditions of grinding hardship endured by a mass of Victorian society, disenfranchised from the well–heeled spirit of the age.

Dickens’ works have been in publication constantly since 1830; two years before the Great Reform Act - an early, cautious, bid by government to expand the social franchise.

Characters created by the writer have entered the public consciousness.

Few people can not know about Oliver Twist and his escape from Fagin, the manipulative leader of a London pick-pocket gang.

Or a Christmas Carol, the star of which; Ebeneezer Scrooge, was recently voted Dickens’ best character.

“The thing about Scrooge is that he’s a double-whammy - he’s allowed to repent and become a good character but he is more interesting when he is being bad,” acclaimed biographer of Dickens, Claire Tomalin, said.

“Scrooge’s popularity is surprising, since his modern equivalent might be a banker.

“But Dickens excelled in creating villains, and always gave them more energy and brio than his good characters, so that we never forget them.

“Scrooge is a monster, a wicked employer and a heartless miser, but he is allowed to repent and see the error of his ways.

“So perhaps it’s the contrast between his outrageous meanness and coldness and his cheery generosity and lavishness at the end that readers respond to.”

Images of poverty and class are constants in Dickens’ writing, often portrayed in such close detail as if the intention is to sting the reader. The fact his father languished in debtor’s jail for part of Dickens’ childhood, meant the writer had a personal connection to what he wrote about.

Actor Simon Callow explained why Dickens appeals to him, a century and a half later.

“The reason I love him so deeply is that, having experienced the lower depths, he never ceased, till the day he died, to commit himself, both in his work and in his life, to trying to right the wrongs inflicted by society, above all, perhaps by giving the dispossessed a voice.

“From the moment he started to write, he spoke for the people, and the people loved him for it, as do I.”


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