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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

"A Sort of Brilliance in the Room": Two Centuries of Charles Dickens

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
Oct 30, 2012 - Jan 31, 2013

     Charles Dickens and his writings completely embody his own time – Victorian London – with only the same totality that Shakespeare did for Elizabethan England. Dickens’s name became synonymous with mid nineteenth century British culture: “Dickensian characters” and “Dickensian London” are now universal cultural reference points. They show the wide range of his influence and how he created eponymous notions of character and place in British literature.
     Dickens’s career spanned almost half a century, beginning with the lighthearted, comic pieces of the 1830s that made his name, such as Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers, to his dark masterpieces of the 1850s through the 1860s: Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend. He created scenes that are forever inscribed in our literary memory, such as Oliver Twist in the orphanage asking, “Please sir…I want some more”; Scrooge confronted with the Ghost of Christmas Past; and the tragic death of Little Nell. He showed the best and worst of human nature: from Mr. Pickwick, Pip, Tiny Tim, and Sydney Carton to the unpleasantness of Bill Sikes, Uriah Heep, and Fagin.
     This exhibition, drawn from the outstanding nineteenth-century British literary collections in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, is mounted to commemorate the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth. It was curated by Dr. Melissa Makala, USC Aiken, and Jeffrey Makala, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. It highlights Charles Dickens through his multiple occupations: as a novelist, journalist, editor, public speaker, and international celebrity. It also explores the multiple personae he embodied throughout his lifetime (including Boz, “The Inimitable,” and “Father Christmas”). And it considers Dickens’s influence on his own generation, as well as how he continues to inspire us today.