In conjunction with the exhibit Charles Dickens: The Key to Character, September 14 through January 27.
The stories of Charles Dickens (1812–1870) appeal to the child inside every reader because his characters are easily visualized by the mind’s eye. Influenced by the fairy tales Dickens read in his youth, his villains tend to be exaggeratedly wicked, while heroes and heroines wear almost saintly auras. Dickens distorts descriptions of characters’ features and dress, speech and gestures, to suggest their inner states of mind and ethical dispositions. For example, the vengeful spinster, Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, portrayed in a faded wedding dress with one shoe on and one off, becomes emblematic of all jilted lovers. Like Madame Defarge’s knitting, or Mr. Micawber’s verbal tics, the exaggerated physical detailing that Dickens gives Miss Havisham associates her in the manner of a stock character to a single emotional trait or moral quality. Dickens’s art of characterization is discussed in this slideshow presentation that links him to the graphic narratives of the previous century and, earlier, to early modern emblem books.
William Moeck, a writer in residence in the Library's Wertheim Study, co-edited Paradise Lost 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary before organizing NYPL's 2008 exhibition John Milton at 400: A Life beyond Life. A frequent chair of Renaissance and Victorian literature panels at conferences of the Northeast Modern Language Association, he is guest curator of NYPL’s exhibition, Charles Dickens: The Key to Character. He teaches literature at Nassau Community College, SUNY.
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