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Libraries Mark Dickens 200th Birthday with Exhibits

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
April 5th, 2012

Long before any children attended Hogwarts, visited Narnia, or met a vampire, a scrawny nine-year old boy raised his empty bowl and asked for more food.

He had no wand, magic spell, nor lion to protect him. Yet the orphan set fear aside and stood up to authority. That literacy moment has inspired millions since Charles Dickens first penned the classic tale Oliver Twist, serially published, 1837-1839.

“We all appreciate stories in which the little guy fights against the powers that be. That’s a theme with broad appeal,” said Kelly Diamond, a librarian at the Downtown Campus Library.

Dickens is receiving some special attention this year as libraries and universities worldwide are celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth. The WVU Libraries are marking the occasion with a group of exhibits currently on display in the Downtown Campus Library.

The exhibits focus on his serialized novels and his influence on contemporary culture, and provide a timeline of events happening around the globe during his life (1812-1870).

It might be difficult to imagine reading a serialized work today. Many people stood in long lines to buy the latest Harry Potter novel, dashed home, and read it over a weekend. The same happened with fans of the Twilight and Hunger Games series.

However, early fans of Oliver Twist starved for their next helping. Publishers dished out chapters in 26 monthly installments. Bleak House and David Copperfield were also published as serials. The Libraries’ Rare Book Room houses an original full run of each of these novels.

The complete serial run of David Copperfield is among several works by Charles Dickens that are housed in the WVU Libraries’ Rare Book Room.

Serialization kept the author and his work in the public eye for a longer time. Word would spread and interest in the next chapter would grow.

Also, the system provided a platform for advertising. Ads for diet aids, bedding, clothes, and other items appeared inside and on the back cover of the bound installments.

“People have always wanted to make money, and they have always used writers and artists to make money,” Diamond said. “It was a good arrangement for Dickens.”

Serials served as a great vehicle for advertising in the 19th century. Publishers placed advertisements like this one throughout each installment.

Another interesting component of the library exhibits is a timeline chronicling events that occurred during the author’s life. Most would probably be surprised to see Dickens connected to West Virginia, the Cincinnati Reds, and Neptune, as the timeline shows.

“When people think of history, it gets very compartmentalized. We think of Victorian England and we think of the American Civil War, but we don’t think of them happening at the same time,” Diamond said.

Dickens has even made it to “where no man has gone before.” The section on Dickens’ contemporary influence mentions a traveling A Christmas Carol play that is delivered in Klingon, an alien race encountered in the Star Trek series.

Along with being remade several times on television and in theaters, A Christmas Carol has served as inspiration for holiday episodes of many television shows.

“Dickens’ themes resonate still,” Diamond said.

The exhibit will remain on display through the spring semester in the lobby of the Downtown Campus Library.

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