What the Dickens?

Charles DickensBelper Book Chat were proud to find out that they had been selected as Dickens Champions as part of the bi-centenary celebrations in 2012.

Our group was selected by ‘Reading Groups for Everyone’, a project of The Reading AgencyWe were one of only ten groups selected in the UK and as part of the project we read the following books:

Read the birthday poem written by Jo to celebrate the birthday of Charles Dickens.

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  1. hilaryfbbc

     /  December 3, 2012

    “Havisham” review by Jo Kirk, member of Belper Book Chat group

    As a member of one of the reading groups to receive a big pile of Dickens novels from the Reading Agency at the beginning of the year to mark Dickens bi-centenary, we had got through rather a lot of words by the time we received “Havisham” by Ronald Frame in November.

    It is a novel which imagines the early life of Miss Havisham of ‘Great Expectations’. It is light reading after the density of text, complex pondering on the human condition and subtle, clever humour of Dickens. Frame is spare by comparison, spacious and poetic.

    Ronald Frame is like a mischievous pageboy stepping on the train of Miss Havisham’s veil and having fun among the imaginary flowers of her youth. However, there is an incongruity between the lively character he creates and the Dickensian fate to which he later subjects her.
    Thanks to the Reading Agency & Dickens.

  2. michelebbc

     /  November 23, 2012

    Rare literary virus strikes some members of Belper Book Chat group!

    We met for our last discussion of the Dickens Champions reading marathon to mull over a Tale of Two Cities….. It turned out to be a Reading Group of Two Points of View, thus:

    The “Oh yes” group
    The rich redness of it (wine / blood / knitting / caps) – the strong story line that brought several to tears by the end – the bringing to life of these legendary historic occasions…we can go on and on, several of us just lapped it up.

    The “Oh no!” group
    This group exhibited symptoms of reading fatigue including: a loss of reading stamina and appetite; a sense of confusion; a need to engage in displacement activities (such as decorating) instead of reading; other avoidance tactics (claming to have lost reading glasses) or procrastination measures. The cure for this obviously viral condition is to leave Dickens for now and TRY AGAIN, it was decided.

    Overall thoughts about the Champions year
    • A more varied selection of Dickens would have been better; our books were the 2 historical ones (Tale of Two cities and Barnaby Rudge) plus a blur of orphans / prisons / old men and weak young women. But before we started we didn’t know what to choose………
    • Methods of reading varied and have impacted on our enjoyment – audio has brought some of the books vividly to life for some of us; we have watched relevant films and TV too to add understanding.
    • 5 Dickens is probably just too many pages in one year as well as everything else we have been reading. Even the more enthusiastic amongst us have become weary.
    • Reading Guides or suggested ideas for discussion may have helped us to structure our meetings most productively.
    • The reading in instalments experiment, to try to recreate the original publication in serial form, didn’t really work for us but was interesting to try.

    The best of Dickens / the worst of Dickens
    Satire / Very wordy
    Characters / Formulaic
    Social comment / Just too long!

    See: Belper Book chat Dickens Wordle:

    Overall: an interesting special focus for our reading this year –but we’re quite glad it’s over!

  3. hilaryfbbc

     /  July 11, 2012

    Who is your favourite Dickens character?
    See some surprising nominations from the Daily Telegraph:


  4. hilaryfbbc

     /  May 28, 2012

    I have been to hear Claire Tomalin talk very sympathtically about Dickens recently, at the Derbyshire Literature Festival in Calke Abbey; her talk was based on her research for the 2011 biography; John attended some Dickens sessions at the Alliance of Literary Societies annual conference in Nottingham.
    This weekend I visited the ‘Dickens in London’ exhibition in the Museum of London – very well put-together displays of everything from pub signs to undertakers advertisements, paintings and maps of the London of the time, with original manuscripts showing all Dickens’ crossings-out – and facsimile copies of original editions of Household Words and other early serialisations where the chapters were sandwiched between pages of advertisements. A David Copperfield edition I looked at was priced one shilling – between 50 and 100 thousand copies of these weekly /monthly parts were sold on average. The exhibition is on for a few more weeks – there is even a Dickens themed menu in the restaurant there! But it is £8 to enter which I thought rather steep (not that anyone asked for my feedback!)
    And in the shop I bought a little ‘Wot the Dickens!’ badge which I will wear to all future Champions events……

  5. jadebeecroft

     /  March 8, 2012

    No I think your idea is much better Jill – you’ve gone to the trouble of finding out where the original breaks were.

    I’ve printed off your plan. I’m going to use it as a bookmark and follow it. Interesting experiment….

  6. Jade, I should have read your post on here before writing my email on a very similar topic.


  7. madeleinebbc

     /  March 7, 2012

    Was very interested to read your views on Great Expectations TV adaptation Malc. I watched the first one, half watched the second because I thought I ought too, and then didn’t bother with the third as I had something else to do that night, and catching up on iPlayer didn’t seem worth the download time. Lots of people slated it, saying that although the characters were as Dickens described them, they weren’t using the lines that Dickens gave them. When the author had such well crafted dialogue, why change it?

  8. jadebeecroft

     /  March 7, 2012

    Following last night’s meeting, I’ve decided to try to read Little Dorrit as it would have been read when he first wrote it – in installments. So I did some maths last night and thought I’d put the results on here in case anybody else fancies trying it this way too.

    There are 16 weeks to go before the Little Dorrit meeting, 34 chapters (if my Roman numeral googling is accurate!) and 860 pages in the free editions we have been given. So that works out at an average of 53 pages, or 2-3 chapters, each week. Obviously trying to finish in a sensible place – not mid-way through a chapter, so you get the cliffhanger Dickens would have intended.

    Worth noting that I never normally read books like this. I’m a very monogamous reader – I pick one book up and read it until I finish it, without flirting with any other books during that time. So having Little Dorrit as my “mistress” while trying to read other things at the same time will be interesting….

    Good meeting last night BTW – TOCS kept us talking for quite a while.

  9. hilaryfender

     /  March 5, 2012

    I have discovered some short stories – about railways – by Dickens! I can heartily recommend MugbyJunction to all – it includes a ghost story ( The Signalman) – a great little satire on railway catering (The Boy at Mugby) – a story by Wilkie Collins brother, another Charles – and two stories by women….. something for everyone I’d say. A greatly enjoyed read on a recent trip to London (by train, of course!). And like many short stories – no time for ‘windbaggery’ – they pretty much cut straight to the chase.

  10. jadebeecroft

     /  February 24, 2012

    I’ve done it! I’VE DONE IT! I’ve finished The Old Curiosity Shop!!!

    I almost had to do a lap of the lounge with my shirt over my head last night to celebrate.

    But now the other four loom…. and Dignitas is looking like a tempting alternative….

    Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme. But he doesn’t half go on a bit does he? Moira was right the other night in calling him an old windbag. By the end I frankly didn’t really care whether Little Nell lived or died, as long as she brought the story to a close.

    Good points – well his characterisation is amazing and some of the ‘stories within stories’ are really lovely – they keep you going through the more long-winded bits. I personally loved the Marchioness and Whisker the naughty pony. You certainly could never accuse Dickens on not bringing his tales to vivid life.

    I can also imagine how when TOCS was first printed, it would not have seemed as long-winded, as not only did they have fewer distractions in those days, but it was also initially serialised.

    Right…. what’s next then…..?

  11. hilaryfbbc

     /  February 22, 2012

    Aaah yes – I agre with all that – but the ending was WRONG!
    Missing out a key female character.
    Unforgiveable in my view.
    Try listening to it read by Martin Jarvis – nothing missed out – another new dimension really. .

  12. malcolmbbc

     /  February 22, 2012

    Sat down to watch the latest adaptation of Great Expectations (shown on the telly over Xmas) at the weekend. We only intended to watch the first part, but were so gripped that we had to watch the second hour … which ended at such a point that we had no choice but to continue with the third (and thankfully, final)! part.

    Ray Winstone was terrific as Magwitch and I was also interested in the ambiguous portrayal of several other characters. I think Dickens characters often come across as extremes – either nauseatingly nice, out-and-out villains, or there for comic effect. There was some of this here: Orlick and Bentley Drummle as brutes and cads, Joe as the reliable and good man. Yet the main character Pip starts a good lad with a kind heart, yet seemingly becomes more remote from his feelings as he tries to mould himself into what he assumes his benefactor would want. Or Jaggers – a formidable lawyer with an unyielding exterior, yet someone who has perhaps struggled with the law’s inability to help everyone. Then, Miss Havisham, a famously slighted and vulnerable woman, who nonetheless is implacable in moulding her protegee to bring revenge on mankind.

    Its all superbly done, and the only gripe we had was that some of the accents seemed to suggest that Pip’s family was from East Anglia, rather than the Rochester marshes.

    I’ve also got a copy of the classic 1946 film version of ‘Expectations sitting on my shelves… I’m looking forward to watching that soon, so I can compare its approach. Of course, I’ll also be wanting to re-read the book!

  13. jadebeecroft

     /  February 19, 2012

    Well I think I hit a wall last week, I was romping along really well with the TOCS and really enjoying it, to the point of making it my favourite Dickens so far, when for some reason I just ground to a halt and stopped reading.

    And then I couldn’t get going again. I ended up reading a recipe book (of all things!) for three days instead.

    So I’ve had to jump-start myself back into it, and I’m just getting going again, but I’m now struggling to maintain an interest. I’m only 150 pages from the end, so I’m hoping I can rekindle my earlier affection for it before I finish.

    But I think one of the problems with Dickens is that, even though his stories really are lovely with some fascinating characters, he can be a bit longwinded, and if you don’t attack him with gusto you can find yourself getting a bit stalled.

    Those are my musing so far anyway…. back to TOCS…..

  14. hilaryfbbc

     /  February 19, 2012

    Excess baggage caused by long sentences ….that almost sounds like an argument for an (say it quietly) e-book reader……………………………………………….

  15. alanbbc

     /  February 16, 2012

    I have just finished The Old Curiosity Shop.With such deliciously long sentences I think that like Diane Abbott he would struggle to express himself using twitter and he would find texting very frustrating.I am going on a short trip next week which might be a good time to start the next but I will have to keep excess baggage in mind!

  16. madeleinebbc

     /  February 13, 2012

    Well Michelle is making good progress! Well done you…

    I’m on Chapter LV in The Old Curiosity Shop, and Disc 3 of 28 of Martin Jarvis reading David Copperfield. Thought I’d better crack on with it, being 34 hours and 39 minutes long, and having it for just 3 weeks at a time from the library. What will I do if I try to renw it and I can’t because someone has requested it? I might just have to go to ground with it! Malcolm suggested taking a week off work, as it would exactly consume the whole working week…

    I also bought myself a 2nd hand copy of The Mystery of Edwin Drood from Scarthin books yesterday – maybe a bit foolish as it was £2 for quite a thin paperback volume, whereas new paperback classics were just £1.99, and most of those were several times thicker… I concluded that I was doing my bit for the environment by choosing the preloved copy (there was no new Edwin Drood available) and supporting the local small business, rather than sclepping into the city to spend money at a chainstore.

    I really liked the TV adaptation, but I was left wondering at the end of the first episode – ‘What’s the Mystery?’ He’s killed him, hasn’t he? I’m looking forward to finding out where the join is, between Dickens’ own story, and the end the TV writer added.

  17. hilaryfender

     /  February 12, 2012

    Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens
    The Derby Evening Telegraph of Friday 10th February carries a feature article and two photos taken at the Queens Head on Feb 7th 2012, showing some of our Book Chat members who have signed up for the Dickens Champions project.
    See it on this link here:

  18. michelebbc

     /  February 11, 2012

    I’m immersing myself in Dickens! Finished The Old Curiosity Shop, watched the adaptation of Edwin Drood, coming the end of The Tale of Two Cities audio book in the car (gulp!), started reading Barnaby Rudge.

  19. malcolmbbc

     /  February 4, 2012

    More coming up on the radio. Also to appear as a podcast for those of us unable to listen “live”:

    Dickens in London: Five Short Dramas

    Five short dramas by Michael Eaton, telling the story of Dickens’ life. With Samuel Barnett, Alex Jennings and Antony Sher. Music by Neil Brand. Broadcast in the Woman’s Hour drama from the 6th to 10th Feb. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 for details of short films that accompany the series.

    Podcast here:


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