Celebrate Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday with the British Newspaper Archive
To herald the bicentenary of Charles Dickens‘ birthday, we are today launching a new 7 Day Credit Package to help you to make full use of your time researching in the archive. The new package is 7 days (600 credits) for the bargain price of £9.95!
The Philosophy of Micawberism
Just like Mr. Micawber with his ’temporary pressure of pecuniary liabilities‘, the British Newspaper Archive Team has been hoping that a bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens might turn up soon. So we‘re delighted to find that a Boz bicentenary has suddenly turned up in 2012, and we‘re looking forward to celebrating the life, art and times of this writer of genius.
Newspaper Sketches of Boz
The newspaper archive contains thousands of stories about Dickens, with a simple search for ’Charles Dickens‘ currently returning an amazing 7,670 pages (this total increases daily, as new papers are added to the website). Once you start reading the search result pages, a clear picture of Boz‘s life quickly begins to take shape – all you need to do is to choose the area you‘re interested in researching.
Reading Tours and the ’Boz Ball‘
For instance, if you‘d like to learn more about the reading tours that Dickens performed in the UK and Ireland, then the archive contains dozens of reports and advertisements from regional papers. Indeed, the reading tours (first for charity, later for money) that Boz gave dominate the Dickens‘ searches, demonstrating what a Trojan worker the man was. American visitors to the newspaper archive can read about the US tours that Dickens undertook, including the ’Boz Ball‘ that took place in New York (not to mention the controversy that Dickens caused with his campaign to try and persuade the US to introduce a copyright law).
’Grip‘ the Raven and Dickens’ Love of Animals
The archive also contains stories that illustrate the quirky side of Dickens. A good example of quirky angles is the article on Dickens‘ love for animals, together with a vivid description of the gallimaufry of pets that lived in Boz‘s family home (this story is available on the BNA‘s Facebook page). There are also stories about ’Grip‘ the pet raven – a bird good and true – who was the garrulous muse for the raven in ’Barnaby Rudge‘.
On the subject of muses, you can also read about real life Victorian characters who inspired Dickens. One such inspiration was the millionaire, Angela Burdett Coutts, who organised charitable work with Dickens, including the establishment of ’The Home‘ for homeless women and the ’Ragged Schools‘. In tribute, Dickens dedicated the novel, Martin Chuzzlewit to her. Similarly, there is his friendship with the actor, William Macready, the dedicatee of Nicholas Nickleby. Muses are not always people and ravens, however, so you can also read about the strikes in Preston, which led to the writing of Hard Times (the only novel he set outside of London and which he dedicated to Thomas Carlyle).
Gossip About Dickens
The archive also contains gossip about Boz‘s private life (we especially like the diplomatic explanation of all the gossip provided for the edification of Northern readers), reviews of his books, obituaries, serialisations of his novels, news about his magazines (’Household Words‘ and ’All The Year Round‘), Dickens on Christmas, reports on the Staplehurst train crash (an intriguing tale…), adverts for his books/tours, visits to the theatre, letters about him, portraits, the 100th birthday celebrations (poignantly, a simple wreath of his favourite flower, red geraniums, was placed on his grave in Poets‘ Corner, Westminster Abbey), the list of stories goes on and on…
Dickens and Son – Divided By Debt
One especially poignant article is an advertisement that Dickens himself placed in the papers in March 1841. This advert was a simple notice stating that he would no longer be responsible for paying the debts of his father, John Dickens (a former guest at the Marshalsea). While it‘s just a very short advert, it reveals much about the writer‘s relationship with his father. The advert also illustrates a major theme of Dickens‘ writing: debt.
Story Galleries on Facebook
To give you a taste of the many reports that the archive contains on Dickens, we‘ve created two story galleries on our Facebook page, with the following titles:
- Newspaper Sketches of Charles Dickens,
- ’Grip‘ the Raven and Other Creatures Loved by Boz.
In summary, the newspaper archive contains so many interesting stories about Dickens that a book called ’Newspaper Sketches of Boz‘ could be researched and written. As a former sketch writer for newspapers, we think that Dickens would have appreciated such a ’tables turned‘ birthday tribute. That said, perhaps the best approach is ’go all Mr Micawber‘ in the archive and just see what turns up? What better way to celebrate the 200th bicentenary of Boz?
All the Best,
The British Newspaper Archive Team.