tv Charlie Rose PBS December 25, 2013 12:00pm-1:01pm PST
>> rose: welcome to the program and merry christmas! tonight we celebrate the life of the man who wrote about christmas-- charles dickens. "a christmas carol" first published in 1843, shaped the way we celebrate christmas today. the converge of scrooge, the kratch chit feast and tiny tim's closing words "god bless us every one" yes minds us of the simple things about the season. >> "christmas carol" emerged not out of a consideration of christmas but out of the parliamentary report of the employment of children in the mines and dickens read it with such disgust and horror he determined, as he said, to strike a sledgehammer blow against such activities. and the book is the direct result of that. >> rose: charles dickens for the hour. next.
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: charles dickens, a great british writer, was born in 1812. throughout the english speaking world his 200th birthday is being celebrated, included at new york's morgan library. >> on assignment for charlie rose at new york's morgan library and museum. it was founded by pierpont
morgan. he was an avid collector of dickens as was his son, j.p. morgan, jr. we are joined by dr. declan kiley. he is the robert h. taylor curator and department head of literary and historical manuscripts at the morgan library. >> well, here we are in mr. morgan's study. we're looking at the first installments of "david copperfield." one shilling would have got you your monthly parts and here's the beginning part of the booklet and it's just page after page after page of advertisements for books and pills and remedies and all kinds of things. and here you have the original illustrations that accompany each parts separated by tissue, of course, so they didn't smudge each other. and here's the very first page of the narrative. "whether i shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
>> so not only did people buy a dickens novel, the that's how they were written, month by month. is this a standard publication format for vic torn novels or just dickens? >> it became so and it was dickens who pioneered this and was the most successful perpetrator, if you will, of publishing in installments. >> i guess what also made it possible is that they were affordable. >> very affordable. if you think bob cratchit earned 15 shillings a week, even as someone as poor as bob cratchit could afford to buy a novel in monthly parts. >> >> dickens was a charismatic figure and knew how to manipulate an audience of one or 3,000 or 4,000 people. there were reports of people faintings at readings of the murder of nancy by psychs. people swooning at other part of
his readings. that might have just been the conditions in these venues where 3,000 or 4,000 people were gathered together to listen to them. but he certainly knew how to manipulate the emotions of a live audience. he was a consummate actor. dickens' relationship to the u.s. was very much a love/hate relationship. love before he came here quickly turning to hate after about three months. he came full of high ideals. he had been reading about america for a long time and looked upon america as a place that had thrown off all of the old problems of europe and britain, you know, the social system and those kinds of things that dickens felt really got in the way of business and when he got here he was idolized straight off the ship, she was invited out to dinner every night, huge banquets and he was not pretentious. he was many things but
pretentiousness wasn't something he ever displayed. >> so this is a picture of two great victorian novelists, dickens and the factory. tell us about this. >> what caricaturists have tried to capture here most importantly is their social distinctions, their class different. thackerry here wearing top hat, the patrician class, dick nns the common man boler hat. but what the caricaturist is pointing towards is the difference in their readership, the difference being dickens's much broader appeal to the reading public and also i find bowler hat is a hint at his american audience as well. dickens was highly aware of how perilous his own life was in terms of the social circumstances that that he grew up in. his father was imprisoned for debt. dickens became the sole family bred winner at the age 1206 and
said in retrospect, you know, "i could have been a vagabond or a little thief for all anyone cared of me." and it's not impossible to believe that dickens may well have ended up like one of the characters in "oliver twist." >> twist! are you out of your senses? >> please, sir, i want some more >> what? >> dickens as a young man started to go to the theater more or less every single night. the diet of theater is extremely eclectic, as you can tell from his work. but he is steeped in shakespeare hamlet is referred to more often than in any other play. >> whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles. >> but i think it's the focus on the young man and the formation of the young man and the way in
which he can't quite grasp fate or take control of his own life. and in a sense that's really kind of what dickens did manage to do. he was able to turn his life around. he was a master of his own destiny in a way that hamlet isn't. i think dickens was fascinated with the character of hamlet. you know, his vacillation and this kind of thing. in a sense it was what dickens was most afraid of in himself. in some ways, the more you know about dickens, the more shocking it is that he was a man who seemed to need no rest. a man of absolute indefatigable commitment to good causes. he was a tremendously benevolent man and sought to change lives in very real ways. >> rose: that's a night introduction to dickens. we go to london to talk more about dickens and his legacy. joining me actor simon cowell. he has played dickens in theater and certainly on television. his new book is called "charles
dickens and the great theater of the world." also robert douglas fair hurst. his book is called becoming dickens. with me in new york, harvard historian jill laport. john romano who wrote "sbolable cruelty" and "the lincoln lawyer." an also novelist salman rushdie, the author of "midnight children" and other books. he's also a life long dickens enthusiast. i am pleased to have all these guests here and to talk about charles dickens on this 200th anniversary. i begin with you. why dickens? what is it about dickens that makes him continue to -- >> well, for me one of the things was reading dickens before i ever game to the west was that these cities that dickens ascribes, the great rotting metropolis of dickens felt like the city outside my window. and if you grew up in a city like bombay or delhi, it feels exactly like dickens in london.
it has exactly that characteristic of corruption and filth and then these huge larger-than-life characters that populate it. so i felt dickens was a great novelist. >> rose: jill. you're the historian among us. >> it's interesting. in the united states dickens is taken as an american writer. maybe every country has it way of adopting dickens as a native son which is curious because he has such a vexed and painful relationship with the united states. but i think "great expectations" is the ninth most frequently assigned novel in american high schools and it happens to be the hardest novel assigned in american high schools. it's interesting to think about dickens' readership? the united states, time really changing. i first read dickens as a school girl and famously george orwell talks about dickens being ladled down your throat as a child and how do you as an adult reconcile to yourself as a writer that's forced on you as a kid. >> rose: robert in london, how do you see him?
>> well, keep the child in view is what he said in his notes to "the old curiosity shop." that's what he did life throughout his whole life, i think. he kept the child in view. there was his own childhood that he could never get rid of and dragged around behind him in the way that marley dragged his old chain behind him. but also that sense of wonder, that sense of the imagination is something that he always kept with him. that that sense in which he could always make even the most familiar bits of the world look surprising. >> rose: why was it that he never told anyone about his experience at the factory until later? >> shame. simple unadulterated shame. he managed to make it from a working class childhood through the low middle-class, through the ranks into a stable bourgeois family life and i think that he always felt that he'd managed to climb a lad cher
could easily have turned into a slide. it could have easily have taken him back down to where he came from. so i think he did, in fact, describe that path, that secret, but he did in the disguise. he did it by manufacturing incidents and characters and even little references to the blacking warehouse that he dropped into all his novels as if he wanted to let people know but couldn't quite do it out loud. >> rose: simon, i knew of dickens because of his books but knew less about his love of the theater. tell me about that and how important it was to him. >> oh, it was all-consuming. have a very, very early age he displayed great gifts of performance. he'd stand on the table in the local pub and tell stories and sing songs. he went to the theater at a very early age in chatham, fell in love with it absolutely. also fell until love with the process of making theater. he went to rehearsals, for example, of the amateur company run by his step cousin and he --
as soon as he possibly could he started acting himself. and there was a serious desire on his part at one point to become an actor. he actually applied for an audition to the covent garden theater and simply illness stopped him from taking it up. the audition was deferred to the next season and instead he was invited to become a parliamentary reporter on his uncle's newspaper. then his destiny, as it were, was senate that direction. but he kept on harking back to the theater and performed many, many plays by other people-- ben johnson, shakespeare and so on and became a great director, too. that's the -- perhaps the most surprising thing to she that he became a brilliant director and sought to raise the whole status of the stage in his productions. he was quite obsessed by it. so he did a little amateur production about a week before he died with full energy though he was incredibly frail and he today a friend "i should have run a national theater, that's what i should have done with my life." >> rose: (laughs)
did it impact his writing. go ahead, simon. >> his writing is a performance. >> rose: right. exactly. >> you feel, i think more than you do with any other great writer in the presence of the author. you feel him doing it for you. wanting your admiration for the virtuosity of the different voices he employs. even the prose passages are like great arias. it's all a performance. >> rose: his daughter cheney dickens reported that once she passed by his open door when he was writing and saw him standing in front of a full length mirror and he was acting something about and he asked her about it. he gave her an interesting answer. he said "if you asked someone to list the ways in which an old man walks, he might if he's good think of eight or ten things but a decent actor is imitating a hundred motions." he would rush to his desk and write down what he had just done. so the acting and where writing were one. >> rose: robert, you were going to add what? >> don't talk about it, do it is
what he used to say when he was an editor. the reason he loved acting so much was that you could do things by talking. simply by talking on the stage you could see the reactions on the face of your audience. you can make them laugh and cry. it took time lag of publication and crushed it to a matter of less than a second. so instead of sending out your words on the page and not know what was going to happen to them you could see the effects of your word on the faces of your audience there and then. >> his performances were like writing a book in company. >> rose: i want to talk a minute about the puppet person, too, when he came to america. he had a very successful run as a lecturer and giving public performances. >> that's what he did. these very arduous lecture tours he undertook. he would perform his greatest hits. do all the characters in different voices and --
including the female characters. is it nancy or the death of little nell -- >> nancy. >> he would perform it and nobody seemed to mind that she had a beard, you know? >> rose: he wrote under a pseudonym for a while? >> yes, and his critics like to say baz is all buzz. one of the things, too, about -- i t writing itself was very performive the, physically exhausting. he wrote like a maniac. he had this arduous writing routine where he would write from 9 o'clock to 2:00 everyday and he would be so bubbling over with the enthusiasm of his characters and the imaginative world he created that he would go walk for as many hours as he had written and i think's something really physical on the page for him, too, and there's a wonderful story about -- think about how fast he's writing. he's writing for serial publication, barely ahead of his readers, a wonderful story where he rushes out -- he rushed every bounded up and down the street.
if you were fwizally with him you would be taken aback. longfellow said he reminded him of dick swiveler. he rushed out to by a new ream of paper because he needed to take the story further along and he got to the book seller shop to buy his stationery and there was a woman there waiting for "copperfield" and he was thinking she was buying the number she had written and he was waiting for the number he was about to write. >> rose: robert, you wrote about him that he used his pen like someone scratching an incurable itch. >> he needed to write. it's largely because he saw the actor's writing, his hand moving across the page as a way of escaping from that past. the more and more he wrote, each line looked like a prison bar, he used it to pin down those characters because then he could be not just a prisoner, he could
be the governor, he could be the governor who could make those prisoners do whatever he wanted to do and then he could leave them on the page and he could escape. >> there's something we shouldn't miss. he was a street reporter, he walked the beat seeing and seeing and telling what he saw. and right to his very last book he was a recorder of what was -- the world around him. so it isn't -- it's become a habit, i think, to think of dickens as expressing the inside of dickens but he's one of the great first observers of the city. >> rose: he maintained a journalistic -- >> he remained a journalist, yes. >> i think in many ways the secret magic of dickens is that he has this grounding in deep naturalistic knowledge. if he's writing about london you know every brick in the street. you know every crack in the sidewalk. he likely graphed into this very
carefully observed reality these element which is we would call surrealism. the government department that exists to do nothing. the jarddice vs. jarndice. the court case that went no where. the city dwarfed by its own garbage. so you had these surrealistic images which are powerful because they're graphed to the real world. because they grow out of the real world they gain power and they don't become just whimsical. >> rose: you're agreeing with that, simon? >> oh, god, yes. there's something hallucinatetory about his prose. sometimes you ask yourself what's this guy on? there's a wonderful passage in "a christmas carol" with where he says of marley's former house. "it was up a yard which it had so little business to be in that you couldn't help fancying that
it must have run there as a young house playing at hide and seek with other houses and forgotten the way out." at once writer has written that then he's tampering with your brain in the most thrilling way. >> rose: tell me about his home life and his wife and his wife's sister. >> well, he was married for 23 years to catherine hogarth whose father owned the newspaper "the morning chronicle" and he lived in a house with catherine and their 10 children. she was pregnant 12 times, had two miscarriages. and he eventually left his wife or forced her to leave him and one of the biggest scandals in british literary history in 1858 when he fell in love with a young actress. here again his life being very much about the theater and forbade his children from seeing his wife any longer which caused a great scandal in england at the time as with dickens' american tour in 1842 which lost him a lot of his american fans.
the scandalous way in which his marriage ended in 1858 and his behavior towards his wife. >> rose: there was suggestions by him or others that she had mental issues. >> there was a conventional defense men offered when they left their wifes so it's not to be credited in any way. it may be true but we have no evidence for that. >> rose: and who was john forster, robert? >> forster was a -- an ex-legal person as dickens was. he was a reporter. he became dickens' best friend. in some way his own really good friend who stuck through him by him through thick and thin. he became his unofficial agent. he became his best editor and eventually he became dickens' biographer and when he wrote the life of dickens in many ways it was the life of a friend it was the life written by a friend about a friend.
but like a good friend, it told a few sharp truths but it did them in disguise. so we've been hearing about the relationship with ellen turnin. forster reproduces dickens' will in which ellen turnin is the first person mentioned. not his ex-wife, not his children. and forster produce this is without any great show or explanation but it's his way of showing the reader this woman was the love of his life in the last 20 years. >> i want to go back to the poor. you mentioned growing up in india, where did that come from? what was it about describing and writing about the urban poor that so compelling him? >> well, what we've been saying but it's the thing he escaped. and it's the place he -- >> rose: and people want to tell their story? >> he has this that great quality of the great novelist which is that he's omnivorous.
there's nothing of life that is not interesting to him. and he would plunge into these worlds, the poor world which he might have escaped from but still feared, the world of the rich industrialist, or the mill owner, any world that there is dickens wanted to push his hands in up to the elbow. >> rose: and he was also interested -- john, go ahead. >> there's something about his politics about the poor are more interesting than at first it seems. we think of the poet of the sentimental cute -- >> rose: in the people's tribune. >> and that's true. in "oliver twist" you feel how poverty criminalizes prostitution lens against women. but at the same time one of his targets in oliver twist are dysfunctional liberal attempts to cure poverty. the work house. these are liberal institutions and he attacks the philosophers, the ideologues as much as he attacks the -- what poverty does to the poor. he has an interesting kind -- and for him it's the same thing. the poor suffer at the hands of
their friends and oppressers and that's a very kind of modern -- in "tail of two cities" it's very dramatic because the two targets in "tale of two cities" is the brutality of the aristocracy and it's also the tyranny of the left that that then rises in the form of the terror. they're all the enemies to the people in the street. that's the sense in which the city's tribune -- he was ae passionate liberal sensist. >> rose: karl marx says dickens issued to the world more political and social truth that had been uttered by all politicians, publicists and moralists put together. >> but it's also the case that dickens' political vision was largely thought of in his lifetime by serious politicaledlyers as mickey mouse. that finally there was a kind of profound naivete about his thinking of the ordering of power within society. we most inthaert from orwell's essay on dickens. he says the whole problem with oliver twist is no system saves
oliver twist, mr. brownwell saves oliver twist. >> that's a very interesting critique because dickens whole point is that it's at the hand of systems the poor were suffering. he was very modern. a very sort of -- he was a kind of anti-ideologue. he perceives that some of the things being done to cure poverty, the statist moves, were one of the things the poor were suffering from. so one of the scenes that they've always struggled to shoe horn him into an apprehension. >> it's also not a criticism of a political novel to say it doesn't offer a cure. i mean, it's not really the function of is that necessarily. what he does is to see it and show it. and that's a great deal to do. in nicholas "nickelby" talked about the schools he was telling his readers something they didn't know about these schools in an age before television and radio, you know, novel could
still bring the news in a way that now of course maybe has less of a role of doing that. >> and i think he could observe the political grotesque and that's what led to his downfall in coming to the united states. what he saw as a political reporter writing journalism, he wrote a travel narrative of the united states of america notes is that making fun of americans for their love of money but what he chronicles was what he thought tin sids youness of the partisan spirit that infected all elements of american life and he found, i think that americans were unwilling to hear that from him. that if he were more frank about what he thought was the nature of struck chushl problems. >> rose: had he created unrealistic expectations of american in his own mind before he sdmapl >> absolutely. dickens was obsessed with the poor and the story of rising from poverty and he thought the united states would be the idol that had been we detective bid other writers at the time. >> rose: simon?
>> but he had a particular personal experience of what he thought was american hypocrisy. when he arrived in new york one of the first things he did was to talk about international copyright law. he felt writers were being cheated-- himself among them-- of their due earnings because copyrights resided with publishers and there was no international copyright law ever in america so his books were endlessly recycled, reprinted without him getting a penny. his statement on this was regarded as outrageous by the american press who denounszed it instantly and said if that's all you've got to say, go home, we don't want to know, we don't want you lecturing us. they believed rather the way people believe that you can download anything the internet free, that the man had written the book and it was in the public domain. >> rose: freedom t freedom is very interesting there because in some sense what he hated about america was the people made too free with him. this was the great land of opportunity, the great land of freedom, the great democratic
experiment and yet people were perhaps a little too familiar with him. he didn't like the fact they treated him as an equal even if they were working class ordinary people. that's very strange. but on the other hand, it's typical of dickens because he hated cant, he hated hypocrisy of any kind and what he saw in america, in his eyes, was an experiment in democracy that had gone wrong. it had gone wrong because it was based upon hypocrisy. everyone was equal and yet there was a slave owning class in which some people were treated worse than animals. >> rose: >> and the darkest moment of that whole strip in philadelphia when he goes a prison in philadelphia where criminals are brought in and a black hood is put over their head and they're kept in solitary confinement and he goes to see a man kept in solitary confinement in this tiny little cell for six years begging, begging for something to do. and he's sitting in the cell, this man in philadelphia prison and dickens reports that he just
sit there is wearing a paper hat of his own manufacturer. it's the coldest possible moment about what it is to be a write we are nothing to do. to become chained -- all t themes of dickens' owning any and the darkest piece of dickens and the grotesque nature. >> he said no white man ever hated slavery as charles dickens someone said in boston and i think that has to do with the childhood sense of imprisonment that we're talking about. but the great dickensian critic john bowen has pointed out that there's a record where dickens transcribes catalogs of escaped slaves from the south and in this one case he silence it is theatrical performive the voice and simply writes down what he's reading because you can't -- in this one case you can't outdicken the reality of how sbru in it was. and that kind of hate hatred of slavery, the hypocrisy and some personal bell had been rung. >> it looks very impressive looking back at this but how vocal and powerful a critic of
slavery dickens was at that time and of course his voice was very large and he had a lot of readers and therefore it was very influential. in the discussion of the slavery question at that time and i think the compassion of dick seasons not to be underestimated. he had an incredible ability to put himself in the reality of other people not himself and to feel their life that comes out of the books. i think what's interesting -- how it comes out is in the earlier novel there is's the notorious sentimentality of some of these characters but as the books -- as he gets older he can still do that but without the sentimentality. so if you -- >> one of the best examples of that comes in "bleak house" when there's a boy who sweeps the street in the terrible polluted -- he's very concerned about air pollution-- pollution of london and he dies. he dies on the page after you've spent a few hundred pages feeling badly for him he finally dies and dickens turns and says "dead, ladies and gentlemen,
dead, you committee, dead parliament." and he ends this passage by breaking the fourth law and saying to the reader "dying thus around us everyday." suddenly you're being told this isn't a book-- i should say this ain't a book. and here it comes, this reality around you. >> rose: simon or robert, talk about dickens and christmas and how he came identified with christmas. >> well, of course, it's often said that dickens invented -- washington irving invented christmas, actually. but what dickens did was to make christmas into a symbol of something and obviously what he was saying, his very simple message was if we can be kind to each other on this one day of the year why can't we extend it across the whole of the year? and look on those below us as fellow passengers to the grave. but actually fascinating thing about "christmas carol" is that it emerged not out of a
consideration of christmas but out of the parliamentary report of the employment of children in the mines and dickens read it with such disgust and horror he determined, as he said, to strike a sledgehammer blow against such activities and the book is the direct result of that and the core of the book comes when the spirit of christmas present is about to take his leave of scrooge and scrooge discerns two feral children emergeing from the robes of the spirit, he says "spirit, are these children yours?" and the spirit says "they are mankind's. the girl is want, the boy is ignorance." and he says "those two will destroy civilization." and that is the absolute core of that book. dickens' passionate rage about what mankind does to its children. >> rose: >> at the same time, he was acutely aware of how vulnerable that vision of family christmas
was. so in "great expectations" the scene where magwitch encounters pip the second time on the marshes, that is on christmas eve. similarly when edwin drood is murdered-- probably by his uncle-- that, too, happens on christmas eve. these are times where families get together, and there are also times like modern family christmases where families are often driven apart by internal discord. >> rose: dickens in london and during his time, how famous was he? how celebrated was he? how was he viewd? >> i think very famous, very celebrated. >> rose: was he considered different then than he is today? has his fame grown? >> i think it's the same kind of fame. i think in that sense the work is so authoritative it shows you how to read it, it tells you what it means, it creates its
mood and its voice so well that i don't think we read dickens differently now than they did then. the richness of the language, the comedy, the unforgetability of the characters, you know, it's the only differences that we're not reading in the serial form, not reading it in installments which i think created that whole business of installment publication creating a way for readers to interact with texts. >> rose: why did he do that? >> because everybody did that. >> rose: okay. but it wasn't to make it more affordable to serve in. >> no, that was how publication was. you would by your chapters every month or whatever it was and you would have them bound yourself >> i think the popular readership of dickens is very much a source of continuity but his critical reception has been subject to a great deal of vicissitudes. henry james crawled underneath his parents' table and hid because the next number of david copperfield would come and he
would listen allowed and he wasn't supposed to stay up but he gets caught and sent to bed. henry james as an adult completely repudiates dickens because it was necessary to for that generation of critics to establish their critical credentials by rejecting dickens as a caricaturist, as politically naive and a lesser novelist than thackery. it's not until the 1920s and '30s that his redemption is affected and partly by the story of ellen turnin becoming public and its more interesting to the new critics. >> he was put aside by the modernists at first. bloomsbury had no use for him. he was too victorian and they were getting rid of the victorian stuff but it's interesting that a broad -- there had always been a sharp literary and esthetic appreciation. dostoyevsky admired bill psychos, the humanity of someone that evil was very striking. freud, proust, these are great
readers. it took a while for the literary and aesthetic side of english and american critics to appreciate him >> but the books never disappeared if your books survive after your death, that never happens by accident. >> rose: speaks louder than cit circumstance. >> dickens story is a story about the limits of criticism. there was an air storksy of critics and a growing democracy of leaders. literacy rates were spiking in the early 19th century and suddenly the readers outnumber and outgun the critics and dickens prevails. >> rose: weigh in on dickens today and how he has been seen since -- in the last -- since he died at age 58 >> well, that change of critical opinion is very striking, indeed. there's a huge academic industry whereas at the end of the war it
was still regarded as absolutely beneath critical attention to devote your life to being a scholar of dickens. you had to be a very brave person to who did that. but in terms of the reading, well, the truth of the matter is of course, that dickens lives much more on celluloid and to a less extent on the stage now because the stories are so extraordinary, the characters are so huge and theatrical, obviously. but in terms of the actual -- there is a problem. people feel daunted by the look of a dickens page as they open the book. they think what is all this? especially his rendition of dialect. and what's fascinating to me is that the moment the two read -- that you read a page of dickens outloud it comes to live. i think that was that was more encouraged than it is. that people actually read the books because he was as i say the writer as actor and it's a
script really. a dickens novel is a script and interestingly on the installment question very often those books were bought by somebody who could read and read out loud to those who couldn't. thus his words were conveyed to the great population who couldn't read anything at all. >> one of the problems with biographers and i count myself as culpable in this is that we have in a sense produced dickens as a public celebrity, a public figure and often we neglect the writing itself and -- but in some sense dickens is responsible for that. he was the first literary celebrity and this is the one that everyone knew about. the word celebrity comes into the language the year he starts to write "david copperfield" and he trices to live up to that image. those brightly colored garish flashy waist coasts he wore, they were his costume, his image. they were the brand dickens that he was deliberately cultivating.
>> david cuper field obviously autobiographical? >> absolutely, yes, but like a lot of his works it's autobiographical in disguise, the disguise is perhaps less marked in that novel than in some of the others. but it would be impossible to take a single page of dickens and treat it simply as a mirror that he held up to his own life. it's a distorting mirror where some bits are unexpanded, other bits are shrunken and what you get is a very, very strange melding of fact and fiction and salman rushdie was saying earlier. >> rose: this is a clip from "david copperfield." here it is.
>> copperfield! do i have the honored a dressing the bearer of the name copperfield? >> yes. >> wilkins? >> i hope i see you well. your esteemed stepfather, a man of business like myself has charged me with the honor of providing you with suitable quarters while in town. >> you mean aim to stay with you sir? >> in short, yes. purnd the impression that your pelican issues in this metropolis have not yet been extensive and that you might have difficulty penetrating the mysteries of the modern babylon in the direction of the city road i place myself at your
disposal. in short, in case you get lost, i've come to take you home. >> rose: you have said that in "copperfield" he confronted his youth and in expectations he confronted his adulthood? >> yeah, i think he needed to write through both of those things. i think that shame was a powerful thing his whole life it was also a thing where he felt that -- to be a great american writer was not to be ashamed of the lowness of your origins. that's what benjamin franklin did. we always celebrate starting very low. in our presidential campaigns nothing could be better. >> in great expectations he allows his sort of hidden character, pip, to be morally flawed.
and to be ambiguous not simply the child put upon who has to overcome adversity and rise. as in "copperfield." by the time he's writing "great expectations" he's willing to accept that there are flaws intrinsic to the character he's tried to right through. and i think that's what makes it such a remarkable journey. >> rose: john, you have gone fro from professor to screenwriter. how does dickens influence what you might want to do on the page? >> i was so surprised when i made that move and moved to los angeles to join the after the at "hill street blues" and i found that people were talking about stephen crane and conrad and they were talking about dickens. especially about dickens. >> rose: sitting around a room
talking about him? >> the writers, which can be one of the great places of creative any if america, the writers' room in a show. we were all at various stages of having dropped out of english departments one way another to get there in los angeles and the subject of dickens was always coming up. we were writing about cities, we were writing about crimes, we were writing about cops. dickens was one of the first people to notice how interesting a placeman is standing between legitimate and the illegitimate in a changing modern city and the conversation turned off and as a popular writer, not a -- we were writing for television and so was he. in fact, when you talked about the fact that people -- when simon talked about the fact that weekly part would be read allowed to others in the family living room by dad, it resemi-ables nothing so much as an american family gathered around the television set to see what happens this week to its favorite characters. so we felt a closeness to dickens. in fact, david mamet, who wrote some "hill street blues --".
>> rose: i didn't realize that. >> it wasn't well known. the final system season. and in the years late her in the movie with alec againness called "the bear" he took the plot of the play dickness wrote and reset in the contemporary terms. dickens is on the mind of anyone who writes for the public and their own artistic muse. >> rose: simon, when you're playing dickens, what are you reaching back to try to find as your own load star:? >> you have to connect with this torrential energy. it's like riding a bucking bronco. the man is absolutely bursting with undischarged energy the great thing is that you have to master it. unlike shakespeare where you must allow the character to penetrate into your soul as it were. with dickens you have to hang on to the ears of someone if you're going play them-- as i've done.
it's exhilarate bug you need to be in good shape to do it. >> rose: you have written that dick seasons still becoming dickens, robert. what did you mean? >> well, what i mean is that the shade of dick seasons dickens in our minds the way we understand dickens is changing. i said earlier that he used the page like a distorting mirror but he's also like a distorting mirror we hold up to our own concerns so at the moment, for instance, riots in london, that was in barnaby. we think about bankers "little dorrit." we think about riches being bestowed on people who don't deserve them. that, of course is "great expectations." if we look for contemporary parallels and echo we find them in dickens. >> rose: you quote in the epigram of "becoming dickens" a
line from oscar wilde which says "one's real life is so often the life that one does not lead. ." why did you choose that? >> well, because dickens realized early on that he was going to have to choose some path in life but he tried out lots of alternatives. one of which we've heard about being a parliamentary reporter, another we've heard about being an actor. at one point he thaubt about emigrating to the west indies. what he finally realized is he could live out alternative lives vicariously on the page through his characters. through fiction he could live lots of parallel lives and lots of after lives and wouldn't have the to commit himself to any one of them. he could simply do it through make believe of telling stories. >> when he left the blacking
warehouse he must have made a conscious or unconscious decision to turn himself towards the like because there was an engulfing blackness inside him. that 18 month he is spent there was almost enough to wipe him out as a person. and he emerges from the blacking warehouse at the age of 14 as a brilliant witty lively and life enhancing person that mask put him in fantastically good said the for many, many years but the inner blackness starting oozing up out of him and unsettled himer the sglichlt one of the ways of using ning his writing was using blackness. >> our friend, the late christopher hitchens, wrote eloquently about his illness. he also wrote about dickens, i think the last thing he wrote.
>> he just had this incredible attentive memory to summon up dickens but i think one of the things about dickens is the way in which he stays with you. if it's your profession there's this extraordinary shelf of books which as we were saying you can look and find endless contemporary references and as time is past the strength of that body of work has made him really the english novelist. remember that even shakespeared that period when people thought he wasn't that good and his plays were given happy endings where romeo and juliet are not dead in the end. even shakespeare has a slump, you know, before he's established as the national poet and playwright. dickens, too. it's now at a point where if you're a writing in the english language you must know about dickens. >> dickens and shakespeare on
the same page? >> yes. i think when you talk about it, one way to know why is to think of a character like scrooge. how does one come up with a scrooge or a falstaff or hamlet? how does one come up with macabre? there's something about a creation that -- a character creation that becomes iconic the first time you read it that you only find perhaps in shakespeare and dickens. i think you can almost make that statement. i'm sure i'm forgetting -- >> one of the things they have in common, shakespeare and dickens, is a brilliance at portraying low life. when you think about shakespeare, you think about the great macbeth, hamlet, but he's incredibly good at soldiers getting drunk in pubs and, you know, prostitutes and cut purses, if you look at the low life of dickens and shakes fear's an enormous meeting point there.
>> a writers writer and a prisoner of his own genius. he's so trapped in that room with this pot of ink inside his soul but he reached those readers, the readers who were the lowly. forever when he would tour meeting people who knew his characters better than he did. >> he also has this thing which very few writers can claim of creating characters who escaped the books they're written in. you know? sherlock holmes is such a character. and hawkeye is such a character. scrooge is such a character there are characters where you don't have to know the book because-to-know the characters. >> take a character like mr. dick in "david copperfield." what an extraordinary creation. her's someone -- he's clearly somehow referring to himself, mr. dick, mr. dickens. he seems to have some undiagnosable mental illness and whenever he sits down -- the sweetest character. whenever he sits down to write a memorial to parliament explaining the tales of his inheritance gone awry he says
"the memory of charles the 1st head drifts into his writing and he ends up the fouling up the writing so all he can do is cut up the paper and attach it to the tail of a kite and watch it lift over the hills. where does that come from? the world charles dick seasons in there so it comes from inside him but it's beautiful, it's ha lucetory in simon's phrase and it's the miracle of imagination. >> rose: this may not be the right crowd to ask this question but if you want to demur from the adulation for dickens, what would you most say? robert? >> i'd say that he couldn't describe women as anything else than angels or frumps. i'd say he was a closet racist. i'd say there were times when as his daughter katie said "my father was a very wicked man" and i'd say none of that meaters at all. none of it matters because the humanity and generosity and the warmth of the writing can extinguish all of that.
>> rose: simon, what would you say to demur? >> you have to face the fact that there are uninspired passages that take a long time. (laughter) and but what is extraordinary -- chris fir christopher hitchens said in his final essay, yes, there are bad passages here and it is hard to know which novel which character comes from but dickenss echoed g.k. chesterton, he's like one great bail of fabric out of which the novels are cut randomly. it's that again in which you're in touch with dickens himself wherever you look and he was such an extraordinary, such a great, such a complex human being that you can't get enough of it. >> rose: sglil. >> rose: >> when you're a reader you make bargains with writers. when i was a kid i could not stand the girls. the little tiny nells,, but my
bargain with dickens has always been i will put up with the girls if you will be very, very funny. >> rose: so you put up. (laughs) james talked about some novelist like dickens and tolstoy were his examples of writing loose baggy monosisters. they were often a mess, those novels, you were to wade to the unfortunate parts to get to the good stuff which is what you carry away for life. so there's no question there were structural flaws and that seems to be a lesser matter than the brilliance of the imagination and the heart the emotional genius. >> rose: it's the hard i get. >> i think a lot of the children are sickening. "god bless us, every one" you want to smack him. >> rose: this is a man who writes children's books. >> sometimes with dickens' children you want to beat them up. >> i agree about his treatment of women but there's also something to be said for his occasional penances he
performed. the creation of esther in "bleak house" is trying to get it right. she's neither cute nor innocent and in "david copperfield" he moves from a kind of prisony milk toast adora to agnes who really is -- to be agnes' husband and lover you must become everything that is in you to be and your summoned to a full growth by a woman like that. there's nothing amelia like about -- >> i would disagree with what john is saying about the loose baggy monster things. because it's very much created by the serial form because you're having to produce these books in this partial stage and i think it's remarkable how architected they are considering the scale of these books and the way in which they're written and of course, dickens was obsessive about tying up the loose ends. so the end of the book he'll tell you what happens to every character in later life including their pets.
>> rose: (laughs) he had a great desire to make the thick shapely. >> i'm not going to argue the form of the novel with salman rushdie. (laughter) >> rose: on that note, i thank you all. thank you simon, thank you, robert, a pleasure. >> thank you. >> rose: an hour about charles dickens. charles dickens 200th birthday in twelve, in february. thank you for joining us. see you next time.
captioning by vitac, underwritten by fireman's fund every single bite needed to be -- >> twinkies in there? >> wow. >> its it's like a great big hug on a cold day. >> not as spicy as i can handle and my parents put chili powder in my baby food. >> french fries bits all over the table and just a lot of