Why to Read Dickens Now (Or Watch Him on TV) – TIME Entertainment – Radhika Jones
When Charles Dickens began writing his first novel—in 1836, the year before Victoria took the throne—the literacy rate in England was less than 50 percent. By the end of her reign, in 1901, it was 97 percent. More than any writer of the time, Dickens helped close that gap. He did it by publishing stories that people desperately wanted to read and creating a market for thousands of other writers to do the same.
It’s only fitting that so many of Dickens’ novels, which I’ve been reading and rereading in advance of his Feb. 7 bicentenary, involve plots or subplots or scenes that pivot on learning and literacy.
Nobody writes like Dickens anymore. There are authors who write as well or better, but they do it differently. Tastes change, and a truly Dickensian 21st century novel would be as weird a cultural experience as a sudden rash of non-ironic Mondrians. But a lot of the expectations contemporary readers have when we pick up a novel are the ones the great 19th century novelists — Austen, Dickens, Eliot — established for us. Perhaps the most important one is that, even after all the dissonances of modernism and post-modernism, the majority of readers still expect a novel to be satisfying, whether it’s a mystery or a romance or science fiction, whether it ends with a birth, a marriage or a death.
Really fascinating piece on Dickens and his work!