Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dickens: The Key to Character

You find the most fun things walking around Manhattan. I was with my friend Terrie on our way to Bryant Park, when we stumbled upon a Charles Dickens exhibit at the New York Public Library. Always up for a little Dickens, especially at the holidays, we stopped on by.

Some of my favorite items:
- A portrait of his inspiration for the character of Tiny Tim, his little nephew Henry Barnett who had polio (polio still exists in some areas of the world)  
- A Zotrope showing Dickens as a magician in 1870
- A Great Expectations comic book
- An inkwell and pen that belonged to Dickens during his lifetime
- A Dickens action figure - who doesn't need one of those?

They also had two handout post cards featuring two Dickens characters - Mrs. Gamp, from Martin Chuzzlewit, and Silas Wegg, from Our Mutual Friends. I really do love the names Charles Dickens choose for his characters. The Mrs. Gamp post card showed how her umbrella helped define her character and the wooden leg did for Silas Wegg.

Here's the quote on the back of the Mrs. Gump card.

"A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a papboat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the refractory, and lastly, Mrs. Gamp's umbrella, which as something of great price and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation, completed the decortions of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall. Towards these objects Mrs. Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled."

from Martin Chuzzlewit, ch. 49
What a wonderful description, even if I had to look up both pattens (protective over-shoes worn in Europe from the middle ages to the 20th century) and papboats (a small bowl with a lip used to feed children or invalids "pap", which was a mixture of bread, flour and water. Pap sounds like the glue we used to make as children.) You get a beautiful picture of her character and the scene. I especially like that the two pounds of Newcastle salmon was intensely pickled.

This wonderful exhibit is open until January 27th at the NYPL.

If you want even more Dickens, you can read Terrie's take on his career as a crime writer over on Criminal Element.

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