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Celebrating Two Centuries Of Dickens

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English writer Charles Dickens, born in 1812, gave us such works as "A Christmas Carol," "Great Expectations," "A Tale Of Two Cities," and many more.
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English writer Charles Dickens, born in 1812, gave us such works as "A Christmas Carol," "Great Expectations," "A Tale Of Two Cities," and many more.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth. Two new films based on his books are in the works, but a scholar in Virginia says there's more to Dickens than his most popular novels.

Whether it's Ebenezer Scrooge or Disney's Scrooge McDuck, most of us are familiar with some version of the main character in "A Christmas Carol." Which might be the best known Charles Dickens novel.

But, says James Zimmerman, "It is the least interesting thing about Dickens."

Zimmerman is a Dickens scholar and professor at James Madison University. He says there's the Dickens who wrote fourteen major novels, including "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist," but there's also the Dickens who was obsessed with performing.

"He was a performer through and through," says Zimmerman. "So if he was performing with his pen, and writing, and you can imagine, with a quill pen, dipping it in ink, furiously scribbling on monthly deadlines. He was also a performer in person."

That aspect of Dickens is central to a one-man play Zimmerman wrote and has just re-released. It's called "Terror to the End," and it imagines Dickens musing aloud on his last full day of life.

Dickens died on June 9, 1870, in the midst of writing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Zimmerman says he was a rock star of his time. "I think of Dickens as a kind of combination of Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, and maybe Bono," he says.

He toured internationally and gave readings to packed houses. And his serial publications were cliffhangers that captivated American audiences. "There were scenes supposedly in both Boston and New York where the boat bearing the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop was approaching the pier, and people were there at the pier calling out, "Did Little Nell die?'"

Today, audiences are still entranced by characters like Miss Havisham and Mr. Micawber. Zimmerman says it's the energy and creativity of Dickens that makes his work so enduring.

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