From 1837 until 1859, Charles Dickens regularly visited Broadstairs in Kent. In 1937, the then resident of the Dickens House, Gladys Waterer, conceived the idea of putting on a production of David Copperfield to commemorate the centenary of the author’s first visit and of having people about the town in Victorian dress to publicise it. With the exception of the years of World War 2, the Broadstairs Dickens festival has been held annually in the third week of June ever since. People dress up in Victorian clothes, events and talks are held throughout the week, and a variety of Dickens-related entertainment is put on. Events are in fact held throughout the year, including quizes, talks, balls, and costume demonstrations. So why celebrate the life and work of someone who has been dead for over 140 years?
Charles Dickens is without a doubt one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian period. Incidentally, have you ever noticed that such great artists are often referred to in the present tense, despite being very much deceased? Great authors like Dickens continue to live on through their work, breathing life through the pages and speaking to the sensibilities, hopes, feelings and intellects of all who read their stories. Although language and the way we express ourselves has changed significantly in the past 200 years and is changing ever more with the dominance of social media and technology, Dickens is still readable in a modern context and remains one of the most important authors in the history of English literature. His social critique, accessible insight into the human psyche, dark humour and classic British wit are still relatable.
Aside from creating some of the most iconic characters in the history of literature, Dickens’ work often concerned itself with the downtrodden underclasses, and provided a valuable social commentary on 18th century Britain. Reading his work gives you a strong insight into the customs, values, and socio-political issues faced by Victorian Britain. His work reflects not only the past, and not just Britain, but also the present. The same political issues still exist and we experience the same consciousness now as people did then. We relate to the story of Oliver Twist because exploitation, greed, moral corruption, injustice and huge inequality are still very much alive in modern British society-not to mention the many countries in the world in which child labour is a cruel reality. In terms of speaking to our hopes and aspirations for life, who in our celebrity and status obsessed culture hasn’t longed for an escape from mundanity in favour of a life of wealth and luxury? In Great Expectations, Dickens highlights these universal longings and exposes the vacuous sense of disappointment that lingers once such great heights have been achieved. The novel makes for a valuable commentary on the human condition, which strongly reverberates whith our own sensitivities.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Brit who hasn’t heard of A Christmas Carol; it’s almost impossible to avoid cinematic renderings of the novel on television come December. We revisit the works of Dickens and other great authors time and time again because their work is still engaging. The same societal problems continue to haunt our civilisation year after year. The personal turmoil, yearnings and dreams people had in 18th century Britain are still felt by people today the world over. Celebrate the life and work of Charles Dickens with locals and tourists at the Broadstairs Dickens festival in the third week of June every year. Visit the beautiful town he loved so much and step into the rich past of Britain. Dress up in the traditional Victorian clothes that we now consider eccentric, and partake in the practices we now consider quaint, but remember that this is more than just a celebration of a genius from the past. It is the celebration of an author who still exists today in the pages of our books, and indeed the screens of our kindles, a testament to his immortality.