Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings

Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings

Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings

Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings

Excerpt

When the readings by Charles Dickens shall have become
matter of history and the waves of time have rolled over the
present marvellous era, there will be hundreds who to their
children and grandchildren shall tell that they heard and saw
the man who has painted life as it is in England, and to a great
extent universal life, with a master hand.

Sanders' News-Letter, Daily Advertiser, 26 August, 1858

Those grandchildren are long gone. As I near the end of writing this book, there are a few of Dickens's great-grandchildren—his closest living relatives—who still just recall the occasions 70 years ago when as children they gathered at Christmas to hear Dickens's son reading A Christmas Carol. Sir Henry Fielding Dickens was then (in the early 1930s) a frail, bird-like octogenarian: sixty years before, he had attended his father's very last Reading in London, on 15th March 1870. Grandfather Harry read with passion. Tears poured down the old man's cheeks as Bob Cratchit returned from visiting Tiny Tim's grave. When, near the end, the redeemed Scrooge in a frenzy of joy threw open the window onto a brilliant sunlit world, the reader's false teeth flew out.

The bridge back across the generations to those public Readings by Charles Dickens has all but gone. They are lost events. The sound of Dickens's voice never made it on to the phonograph (he died seven years before its invention). His silent voice survives in the novels and journalistic essays and we enjoy reading the same texts as Dickens's contemporaries did. Not so the Readings, and they constituted Dickens's third professional career, one to which he devoted as much passionate attention as he did to his fiction and journalism. All we have left is a few relics. We have his worn prompt-copies, but he never stuck to these in performance; and they . . .

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