A vibrant and colorful exhibition at the Parkway Central Library highlights one of the most enduring legacies of Charles Dickens's genius: the unforgettable characters he brought to life. By some estimates there are 989 named characters in his works, with names like Toodle, Tappertit, and Tattycoram; Buzfuz, Bumble, and Bucket.
Each of Dickens’s novels is populated with a profusion of unique personalities who are animated by the extraordinary power the author had of seeing his characters and making us see them. Driven by a fascination with human behavior and fueled by his gift for precise recall, Dickens often remarked that his characters and stories “took possession” of him.
The writer G. K. Chesterton said that “The whole of Dickens’s genius consisted of taking hints and turning them into human beings.” In putting pen to paper Dickens interwove satire and sentimentalism to create some of the most bizarre and eccentric characters in fiction. Of Sairey Gamp, the befuddled, sadistic midwife of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens writes, “The face of Mrs. Gamp – the nose in particular – was somewhat red and swollen, and it was difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a smell of spirits.” Of the immortal Samuel Pickwick he remarks: "To those who knew that the gigantic brain of Pickwick was working beneath that forehead, and that the beaming eyes of Pickwick were twinkling behind those glasses, the sight was indeed an interesting one.”
To aid his creativity Dickens made lists of odd names, gleaned from church registers, tombstones, and a resource called Bowditch's Surnames. According to biographer Peter Ackroyd, Dickens's characters did not exist until he had named them and "it is that, which like a spell, brings forth their appearance and behaviour in the world." Facsimiles of original and published illustrations, set against a backdrop of London Street scenes from the collections of the Rare Book Department, Theatre, and Print and Picture Collections bring these characters to life in a vivid and imaginative way.
The exhibition will be on view in the West Gallery on the first floor until March 23rd, 2012 and can be seen during Parkway Central's normal hours of operation: 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Friday; 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday; 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the Free Library's Year of Dickens, including a full calendar of events, visit freelibrary.org/dickens.