Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th February, 2012
The winter chill this evening was positively Dickensian, but there was much warmth, wine and laughter at that Chelsea New Curiosity Shop, the BookHaus, where author Peter Clark launched his latest work Dickens’s London under the benign direction of publisher Barbara Schwepcke. One of her young staff engagingly juggled clementines while reminding us of Dickens’s memoir of the world’s first white-faced clown, Joseph Grimaldi. Clark’s book, a slim volume that comfortably slips into a jacket pocket, takes as its starting point a volume the author found on Dickens Walks in London by a chap in the 1890s, allowing Clark to muse about the places along the walks at the time of Dickens, in the 1890s and now. Dickens was not the most charming of men — he treated his wife pretty abominably — but his power of evocative description was second to none. As a fine journalist and chronicler, he was able to invent unforgetable characters, and attach memorable names to them. I read most of Dickens while I was at school — I wonder how many boys or girls do so today? — though I have never gone back to him. But his bicentenary is bound to create a new burst of appreciation for his novels, as well as a mountain of new biographies (including one by my friend Simon Callow) and studies, of which James Clark’s seems set to be one of the most endearing.