I have begun my latest reading project: to swim my way through the oceans of literature that Mr. Charles Dickens created during his lifetime, having purchased 13 Volumes from Kernaghan Books in Liverpool. I must confess, I started The Pickwick Papers a few weeks ago but struggled a little so decided to try David Copperfield. Instantaneously, the episodic nature had me hooked. I wanted to see how a reader of the day would experience Dickens’ work. So I visited the Liverpool John Moores Special Collections and Archive to take a peep at one of their latest acquisitions, a collection of All The Year Round. (A weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens, with which is incorporated Household Words. Price 2D)
The story of our lives from year to year.
The periodical has all types of feature for the reader of the day from marital advice:
The earth is full of couples who are made for each other, not only of couples whose destiny it is to love but of those whose destiny it is to hate. For every spider there is created a fly, for every cat a mouse, for every bird a worm, for every innocent bill holder a really innocent bill acceptor and for every picture dealer a picture buyer.
to advertisements for Dickens’ infamous reading performances.
Christmas Carol and Mrs Camp
MR CHARLES DICKENS READINGS
April 18th (1861)
Little Dombey and The Trial from Pickwick
at St. James Hall, Piccadilly
There is a great exposition of social issues of the day:
…sense of the joy and purity of life comes from the children as they dance and sing in the midst of the toiling crowd. But let the millions who toil in England pass before us in one great procession, and we shall find sad companies of eager, undergrown, unwholesome men walking with none but pale, none but pale and weak eyed women and with none but bruised and weary little children, stunted of growth, some even wearing spectacles, all silent as the grave.
CHILDREN OF WORK June 8th 1861.
The celebrated writer’s fiction proved to be an education tool too, a way of informing and instructing the masses. I particularly like the way we can see the development of what are now understood to be classics in the canon of literature:
In No 84 of ATYR to be published on December 1st will be commenced, GREAT EXPECTATIONS A new serial story, to be continued from week to week until completed in about eight months.
In a world where we have access to instantaneous information at our finger tips, it is hard to imagine waiting weekly for the next part of a story in print. The Dickensian reader would not read the tales in one sitting, they evolved over time and were delivered as episodes weekly in All The Year Round. To think about in a modern context, take your favourite t.v. programme series, say BREAKING BAD, SHERLOCK (please add appropriate title), now put all of the scripts into one place. That is a hell of a lot of words, copious pages of syntax. The way I am attacking the reading of Charles Dickens is not really how it was intended to be read.
The archive space here in Liverpool is really something special. A place to handle the creative past, to instantaneously transport back to previous literary and cultural times.
LJMU archive is accessible to the general public by appointment 10-4 Monday to Friday. It houses a host of intriguing collections:
- THE SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL
- JOHN MCCREADY ARCHIVE
- THE ARTHUR DOOLEY ARCHIVE
- THE LIDDELL HART COLLECTION OF COSTUME
- INTERNATIONAL TIMES
- THE BARRY MILES ARCHIVE
- ENGLAND’S DREAMING: THE JON SAVAGE ARCHIVE
- CYBERNETICS, PUNK, FASHION, COUNTERCULTURE, THEATRE, ART, HISTORY.
In keeping with the technological times we live in, there are also a number of resources online. After all, If Charles Dickens were alive today he would be blogging at All The Year Round dot com, instructing people from his iPad, laptop or smartphone, for this is the way readership is now acquired. And imagine what Oscar Wilde could do with twitter!
Dickens’ Dream by Robert William Buss / Public domain