This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of English literature’s most beloved authors. No other writer has had so great an impact on our perception of Victorian England, and few can claim to have created so many characters (by one count, Dickens created 989). Several of these characters are now better known than many of the real-life celebrities of their day. Who, for example, has never heard of Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future?
A small exhibition celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday will be on display in the Hill Memorial Library Lecture Hall from January 23 to April 28, 2012. Visitors will learn about the author’s tragic life and lasting legacy by exploring materials drawn from the library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts.
First editions of several Dickens novels, including Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Little Dorrit, will be among the items featured. A focus of the exhibit is Dickens’ method of writing and publishing. The library is fortunate to own examples of all the forms in which his stories first appeared. “When most people think of Dickens, they think of fancy leather-bound, gold-tooled books,” said exhibition curator Michael Taylor. “What they don’t realize is that his stories were usually first published in cheap monthly magazines or parts so that working-class readers (the subject of so many of his novels) could afford to buy them.”
It has always been popular to adapt Dickens’ novels for the stage and screen. Selected items from the library’s extensive collection of Dickensian ephemera reveal how Dickens’ characters have enjoyed a second life in the theater. Also displayed in this section of the exhibit are programs from charity performances of Dickens’ works. Dickens Bazaars, for example, were often held to raise funds for schools and churches, and in 1914, London’s Royal Court Theatre hosted a reading of A Christmas Carol to raise money for World War I relief funds.
The exhibit is being produced in conjunction with Baton Rouge’s “One Book One Community” program, which has chosen Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist for its 2012 “Big Read.” For more information on the exhibit, contact Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books, at (225) 578-6547.