Dickens – More Relevant than Ever?

BBC is producing a new 20 part drama for this holiday season, which is titled, Dickensian. It sounds pretty intriguing, as it will feature various famous Dickensian characters all interacting with each other. Here is a link to the DailyMail article, which has a promotional poster with all of the characters. The ones we’ll all recognize are from A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.

Obviously, Dickens remains relevant since the BBC has produced a series based on his characters, which means they think the lure of Dickensian characters will be appealing to people. What I found even more interesting is this article, which features quotes from Dickens’s biographer, Claire Tomalin. In the article, Tomalin claims, “Dickens is very relevant at the moment in England. Because we are producing Dickensian conditions again…The need for food banks, the ending of children’s support from the state, the attack on the health services and the BBC, the universities being commercialised – so many of the things that Dickens fought for and stood for are being attacked. I think he was never so relevant. We miss him.”

In Riley’s blog post, she wondered what social problems Dickens would find relevant today. Tomalin gives her best guess at an answer here. Although her response is more focused on Britain’s problem as a nation, I think a lot of what she says about the current dire conditions of poverty is applicable to us in the United States. As a whole, we tend to dismiss social conditions of historical times as being inherently worse than current times. We like to think we become more progressive as time passes. However, I think Tomalin’s statements have a lot of truth to them. As a current society, we do prioritize some social issues, especially those related to race, gender, and sexuality, that Dickens didn’t emphasize in his novels. However, can we really say conditions and opinions of poverty are much different than they were in Dickens’s time? I think about how people still hold the “poor people are just lazy” sentiment or how there are still so many socioeconomic disparities in healthcare. Tomalin is right in this regard; I would attribute some of Dickens’s continued popularity to the fact that many of these social issues still haven’t been fixed or gone away, even in present day.

To quote A Christmas Carol, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” Dickens’s warning remains as true as ever. We must remain alert to the social injustices of our time and especially ones that aren’t immediately visible, usually concerning those who often don’t get a voice in mainstream media.

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