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Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, December 7, 2014

D is for Dickens, Discord and Dorrit

Yesterday at Westwood's Geffen Theater, I watched Jefferson, Tolstoi and Dickens debate the legitimacy of the respective revisions they each had done of the scriptures. Reviewer Taryn Hillin comments in The Huffington Post:
It's quite a feat to throw three historical figures in a room together and ask them to figure out the meaning of life. Carter, an executive producer and writer for Bill Maher’s "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time," is up to the task.
He uses a formula similar to Sartre's "No Exit" and locks the scribes in a room which -- you guessed it -- has no exit. It soon becomes clear that each man had died, albeit at different times, and entered this room directly after his demise. Eventually they discover what they all have in common: each man was brazen enough to write his own gospel.
Playwright Scott Carter took the stage after the performance for a half hour Q&A with the audience, along with the actors portraying Jefferson and Tolstoi. The discussion centered on what motivated each of these exemplary 19th century figures to pick and choose which Biblical verses to include in their revisions. Some audience members felt it overwhelmingly arrogant to choose to revise what they regarded as The Word of God.

Fortunately, Carter refrained from engaging in any arguments about the historical development of the books of the Bible, and instead focused on his own inner struggle to resolve what he believed to be the answers to "Why are we here?" and "Does God exist?"

In this performance, the character playing Dickens dominated the stage, just as he did in real life, full of sound and fury, and blustering and bellowing. Ever a Dickens fan, I was amused. As we left the theater there were baskets of buttons instructing playgoers to advertise the play by choosing the philosophical point of view that they would back. Because of my allegiance to Dickens I scooped up two that announce, "I'm with Dickens #THREEDEADGUYS."

After all, Dickens brought Christmas celebrations back to Victorian England in the time of reign of the industrial revolution. Dickens novels focused on the cruelties of the new urban life brought about by those changes...the treatment of children, the poor, the unemployed, servants, shop workers. And, of course, A Christmas Carol, became a lasting recipe for how examining ones life and deeds can impact others. In Discord, this is what the three characters ultimately end up doing.

A couple of years ago I celebrated the Dickens bicentennial in a big way. I'm including here an article I wrote then for Uncle Jam. Now it once again is time for me to read Dickens, and this time I'm choosing Little Dorrit. I also hope to attend the Riverside Dickens Festival in February. 

Even Now…The Best of Times

By Terri Elders

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, English novelist (1812 - 1870)  

In the enchanting Oscar-nominated film, Hugo, young Isabelle gushes, “I’m half in love with David Copperfield.”  How delightful that director Martin Scorsese pays tribute to the genius of Charles Dickens in the author’s Bicentennial Year. A confession: I’ve been totally in love with Dickens’ works since adolescence.

Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812.  Yep, two hundred years ago, so the Dickens Bicentenary corresponds with my own seventy-fifth birthday. Late last year I decided I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my personal diamond jubilee than to devote most of 2012 to a celebration of that foremost gem of English authors.

My romance with Charles Dickens began in my late teens when I started turning the pages of David Copperfield. Over the decades I’ve savored nearly everything he wrote. Back in the early ‘80s I attended The Dickens Universe at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when the novel of focus was Martin Chuzzlewit, known as the American novel.

In 2003 I dragged my late husband to Ford’s Theater to see A Christmas Carol, since it was the last Christmas season we’d be living near Washington DC.  Two summers ago I enrolled in a course at the University of Cambridge International Summer School, “Criminals and Gentlemen in Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.”  

You could call me a Dickens groupie, and it wouldn’t be an anachronism. Dickens indeed was the rock star of his time.


I began my Dickens Bicentennial celebration a week early, on Christmas Eve, even though the official onset wasn't until New Year's Day. That evening I settled down to watch The Mystery of Edwin Drood, filmed a couple of years before I was born, and starring the remarkable Claude Rains. Earlier that month I’d taped several other films from the Turner Classic Movies wondrous "Dickens in December" series. I’ve been watching them all winter and spring. If you didn’t get to tape them, most are available through Netflix.
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) with Claude Rains.
  • Oliver Twist (1948) with Alec Guinness.
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1947) with Cedric Hardwicke.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938) with Reginald Owen.
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1958) with Dirk Bogarde.
  • Little Dorrit (1984) with Alec Guinness.
As 2012 progresses, I’m rereading Bleak House, and following the daily discussion of its chapters on a Yahoo Group, Inimitable Boz. I also am reading some of the lesser-known Dickens' works, mostly short stories, downloaded for free to my Kindle:
  • The Seven Poor Travellers
  • Somebody's Luggage
  • Going into Society
  • Mugby Junction
  • The Haunted House
  • Doctor Marigold

In June I'll be celebrating in London with Road Scholar's "The Best of Times." Kevin Flude, a Dickensian expert, will be leading this tour. Highlights include:
  • A pub crawl to Dickens' favorite haunts: The George Inn and the Prospect of Whitby.
  • An outing to marshy Kent to see both Gad’s Hill Place, Dickens' occasional holiday retreat, and the manor that was the model for Bleak House.
  • A visit to Little Dorrit's church, St. George the Martyr.
  • A coach trip to the historic waterfront city of Portsmouth, to the site of Dickens' birth, where now is located the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.
  • A staging of Oliver! at the Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green, by a well-known amateur dramatics group.
I’ve also secured a ticket to see the interactive musical comedy, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, at the Art Theatre. This was the last novel Dickens undertook, and he didn’t finish it. Rumor has it that he offered to tell Queen Victoria how it all turned out, but she refused, wanting to follow it in the serial form in which it was published. This production stops two-thirds of the way through, and the audience gets to vote on how it thinks the book would have ended. The actors then finish up, according to the outcome of the vote.

I’d mentioned earlier that there are two full-body statues of Dickens. Besides the one in Philadelphia, there’s another standing in Sydney’s Centennial Park, New South Wales. Though Dickens never visited Australia, two of his sons emigrated there. Since I have several friends in Australia, I’m thinking of a future trip to see this one, as well. Perhaps in 2013 I’ll be still celebrating Dickens, and this time Down Under!

If you, too, want to pay homage to The Inimitable Boz during his big year, here’s some websites you might investigate:

Home of the largest collection of Dickens quotations on the web.

Site of all things Dickens, quotes, reflections, references.

Searchable collection of Dickens’ works.

Historical and biographical information, scholarly commentary and criticism.

An email list presently reading and commenting on Bleak House.

Included in membership is a subscription to the fascinating newsletter, The Buzfuz Bulletin.

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