Tuesday of this week, February 7th, was the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, his bicentenary. Various events were held worldwide and we did a little bit here in Sioux City at the Bishop Mueller Library at Briar Cliff University.
Late in January, thanks to having most of our Dickens’ texts around me due to a reclassification project, I decided to see if I could do an exhibit in the campus library. I had been aware of the (then upcoming) Dickens’ bicentenary for a good while based on seeing reviews of new biographies of Dickens, commentaries on his status as a literary icon, and so on.
I asked the director and she said, “Certainly,” and we found a spot. A few days went by and then I got busy and picked the books I wanted to use, found the illustrations within a few that I wanted to display, located the stands, and made a few info sheets with a mini-bio, some web sources for more information, sources for free ebooks and subscription ebooks via the library, and the call number range(s) for books by or about him and his works in our library [the reclass project is not done]. The display debuted on the 1st of February.
A day or two after putting the display together, and no doubt prompted by gathering links about the bicentenary, I thought that it would nice to host a reading ourselves, a Read-a-Thon. I asked the library director if we could do it in the library and got a definite “Yes.” I then asked the president of WREN, our student Writing and English club, if they would co-sponsor the event, which for me simply meant telling the Writing/English students about it and letting me put their name along with the Library’s on the flyer I would make. Alex did a great job and even secured permission from the Dept. Chair for the students to get service credit for reading. [Juniors and seniors have to do so many hours of service to the department and/or university to graduate.] I then asked the prof who teaches Victorian Lit, Dr. Jeanne Emmons, if she would give us a short introduction to Dickens at the start to which she readily agreed, and also claimed the education portion of Hard Times.
From there I designed a flyer with the help of my lovely wife. I found a photograph of Dickens that I could legally use and had Sara place a birthday hat on it at a ‘jaunty angle.’ [See above. Original photo found at Flickr and supplied by the Penn State Special Collections, Darrah Collection, Image 61680. The photo is licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, so feel free to use this transformed work under the same license. Thanks for sharing, Penn State!]
I then hung these up around campus several days in advance. The library director sent out an all staff email advertising the event, too, as I wanted any interested party to be able to come and enjoy listening and to read, if they chose.
On the day of the event, I came in about an hour and a half early to push around some of the furniture to make a space and provide more seating. I also went to the stacks and grabbed a pretty much complete set of Dickens’ works and brought them down on a small cart. A big pot of coffee was brewed and the cake and cookies I bought that morning were put out.
The event was scheduled from 4-5 pm and people started showing up a half hour in advance. By 4 PM we had a good 20+ people with 6 pre-signed up to read.
I gave a brief welcome, introduced myself to those (few) who didn’t know me, and provided the ‘rules’ and encouraged people to sign up on the list of readers. Then I handed the stage to Jeanne who gave us a nice introduction to Dickens’ life, works, and enduring influence and then she read from Ch. 2, Bk. 1 of Hard Times, “Murdering the Innocents.” Next up was Great Expectations from another of our English and Writing profs. Several folks read from A Christmas Carol, one from David Copperfield, and Sara read excerpts from letters Dickens wrote to his friend and sometime collaborator, Wilkie Collins, which can be exceptionally funny.
We only got two additional takers who weren’t pre-signed up but all in all it worked out great as we went the whole hour. I, too, read from Hard Times, and as there is so much wonderful material there I had a hard time (ha ha) narrowing it down. I initially read from Ch. 15, Bk. 1, “Father and Daughter.” I read a fairly lengthy selection making sure to encompass Luisa’s all important ‘digression’ to her father while he is presenting Mr. Bounderby’s marriage proposal to her:
“There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!” she answered, turning quickly.
I went near the middle of the pack and as we wound down and got no other takers but still had a few minutes left, I took the emcee’s prerogative and read a shorter section from Ch. 8, Bk. 1, “Never Wonder,” as I figured it would be good to end with the library scene and “these readers [who] persisted in wondering.”
More folks had shown up throughout the event, including the University President. All in all, I would say that it was a roaring success. More importantly, many others, including most of the English and Writing faculty, the president of WREN, and the librarians, thought so. They were still talking about it the next morning.
Success! And Happy 200th Mr. Dickens!