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More books celebrate Dickens' 200th anniversary

April 10, 2012 |  2:00 pm

Our latest celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth this year is a review this week by novelist Nicholas Delbanco of a selection of letters by Boz. Dickens was the supreme writer, omniliterary with a capital "O," prolific and versatile in all forms. His letters were as muscular and artistic as anything else that he wrote, as Delbanco explains:

He could be generous, uproarious, incisive or discursive and, on matters of business, quarrelsome. His every sentence has flair. He writes with reference to prison reform, the pleasures of a nighttime stroll and the travails of his journeys to America and Italy; he writes devastatingly of the failed poetic efforts of a man who sent him amateur verse...

Oxford University publishes this selection of letters, as well as several other titles, including the studies "Charles Dickens's Networks: Public Transport and the Novel" by Jonathan H. Grossman and "Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor" by Ruth Richardson. Were he living now, what would Dickens have sounded like as blogger? The short items in "Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples" (also from Oxford) give us some idea -- you might treat these as a collection of pseudo-blog posts of the highest quality.

But the real prize for any lover of Dick the Doomed this year must be The Nonesuch Dickens Collection, facsimile volumes of the 1937 Nonesuch collection that were themselves facsimiles of the 1867 editions of Dickens' work (got that?). Published by Overlook, three handsome new volumes are just being released --"The Pickwick Papers," "The Old Curiousity Shop," "Our Mutual Friend" -- to join the rest.

Dickens' energy was fierce, but you can never sense the relentless pace behind his works (unless he wants you to). In "The Old Curiousity Shop," for instance, he makes himself seem the ultimate idler, confiding to us why he prefers walking at night instead of during the day:

...the glare and hurry of broad noon are not adapted to idle pursuits like mine; a glimpse of passing faces caught by the light of a street lamp, or a shop window, is often better for my purpose than their full revelation in the daylight; and, if I must add the truth, night is kinder in this respect than day, which too often destroys an air-built castle at the moment of its completion, without the least ceremony or remorse.

So, if there's $50 burning a hole in your pocket and you want to buy books with it, I'd drop it for one of these fine volumes. Why waste it on a current bestseller? Those you'll never keep, they're like popcorn. The Nonesuch volumes are old friends. They'll  accompany you through life.


Television review: PBS' "Great Expectations"

Book review: "The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens"

Charles Dickens is turning 200, and you're headed ... where?

-- Nick Owchar 

Photo: The Nonesuch Dickens Collection. Credit: Overlook Press