- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An anguished, bitter abandoned bride cheerfully helped a mother and daughter search for a book, while a man in a top hat, waistcoat and sneakers shuffled through his notes at the P.D. Brown library in Waldorf on Saturday.
It was all part of “What the Dickens,” an event to celebrate the life and literary contributions of novelist Charles Dickens. This year is the 200th anniversary of his birth.
The event helps “reacquaint people with who Dickens is,” said Cindy Thornley, the cooperating collection supervisor for the library, who dressed as Miss Havisham, the world’s nuttiest bride-that-never-was from “Great Expectations,” “to give people a taste of different stories to really get people curious enough [to read].”
Dickens’ longevity his novels have never been out of print since they were first published is credited to his choice of subjects.
“Human nature hasn’t changed,” said Emily Ferren, executive director of the Charles County Public Library. “He wrote about life in his day … poverty, jealously, society in general.”
Dickens, born Feb. 7, 1812, the second child of eight to John and Elizabeth Dickens. His father would sink in debt and was confined to a debtors’ prison, Marshalsea, which influenced Dickens’ writing of “Little Dorrit,” about a family living at the prison.
According to Claire Tomalin’s biography, “Charles Dickens: A Life,” many of Dickens works were serialized, coming out monthly. Unlike other writers, Dickens would wait to hear readers’ reactions before penning the next installment, often using cliffhangers to keep people interested in the tales.
Over his lifetime, he worked in factories, he acted and traveled, he was the father of 10 and he wrote novels. Novels with names like “A Tale of Two Cities,” “David Cooperfield,” “Great Expectations,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Oliver Twist.” And he populated these worlds with crafty criminals, cruel titans of industry, noble workingmen and vicious heartbreakers with unforgettable names like Augustus Snobgrass, Anthony Chuzzlewit, Durdles, Kit Nubbles and Pumblechook.
“It is amazing how he has endured,” Tomalin said in an online interview with Penguin Books. “How all over the world he still means something to people.
“Something in him gets to people,” she continued. “He was one of the great writers.”
Dickens died June 9, 1870, and is buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey in London.
Funded with a grant by the Charles County Arts Alliance, the local event came together after the library staff realized that 2012 was the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth and that a new film adaptation of “Great Expectations” starring Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwich is due this year. Thornley said that the staff looks at the year ahead big book releases, movies that will hit the box office, games or ideas that are gaining attention in popular culture and plan activities according to what should be bold-faced events of the year.
With costumes on loan from the Port Tobacco Players wardrobe department, librarians and staff members dressed the part of some of Dickens’ more popular characters.
Thornley donned a wedding gown for Miss Havisham, Alyssa Williams dressed as Estella and Anthony Dieguez as Pip, all from “Great Expectations,” Joe Stover was Ebenezer Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol,” Olivia Wallio was Amy Dorrit of “Little Dorrit,” Sara Margiotta dressed as Lady Dedlock of “Bleak House.”
Williams chose Estella, “a destroyer of men’s hearts” because she found her a fun and intriguing character.
“You like her and you hate her,” she said.
Thornley felt the same way about Estella’s guardian, Miss Havisham, a bitter, jilted woman who is crazy, there is no other way to describe her.
In character, Thornley described “herself,” as “being abandoned at the altar” who takes in Estella as a ward and made her into a “creation to destroy men.”
“As for the end of my life?” Thornley said. “It doesn’t get better but I’ll let you read about it.”
Mike Russ, who served as the master of ceremonies, muttered, “Awful woman,” when Thornley was wrapping up her biography before going through a list of Victorian-era words used by Dickens.
“The lure of reading Dickens is finding out what day-to-day life was like in Victorian London,” he said.
Some of the vocabulary used in Dickens stories included “daffy,” which was a children’s medicine mixed with gin; “lumber room,” which is a room to store old, unused furniture; “pudding,” was a sausage; and a “resurrectionist” was a body snatcher a person who would dig up buried bodies to sell to anatomy students.
Victorian times found upper- and middle-class families “blessed with leisure time,” Russ said, which lead to the development of parlor games some of which were played Saturday among those attending the event.
Anna Norris of Camp Springs said Dickens’ stories have a little bit of everything to keep a reader interested.
“There is a love story, some mystery,” she said, counting “Little Dorrit,” the story of a family’s life inside a debtors’ prison, as a favorite. “As I grow older, I’ve realized that he was just a really good storyteller. His novels are unbeatable and still interesting.”