Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. He was born in Portsmouth, England on February 7, 1812, the second of eight children. When he was 12 years old his father was sent to debtors’ prison, along with most of his family, and Charles went to live with a friend of the family, an impoverished old lady. He was forced to quit school and work in a blacking factory, where he pasted labels on jars of shoe polish.
Dickens never forgot those early traumas. He incorporated his experiences and observations of social injustice into his works, including David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. (Find free novels below.) He was the most popular writer of Victorian England, a virtual rock star in the days before recorded music and movies. His stories, published serially in magazines, were eagerly awaited by the public. Most have remained in print ever since.
The Dickens bicentenary is being celebrated with special events around the world, including a wreath-laying ceremony this morning at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, where actor and filmmaker Ralph Fiennes, author Claire Tomalin, and two of Dickens’s descendants are scheduled to give readings. For a listing of events today and throughout the year, go to Dickens2012.org. Also take a look at the short retrospective of Dickens-inspired movies (above) from the British Film Institute.
To help celebrate, we have gathered together some of the best Dickens material from across the Web:
Films (see our complete list of Free Movies):
- Great Expectations: The classic 1946 version directed by David Lean and starring John Mills, Bernard Miles, Finlay Currie, Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt and Alec Guinness. The film won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.
- Oliver Twist: Another classic by David Lean, this 1948 film stars John Howard Davies as Oliver and Alec Guinness as Fagin. In 1999 it was ranked 46th on the BFI’s list of the top 100 British films of all time.
- A Tale of Two Cities: The 1958 film by Ralph Thomas, starring Dirk Bogarde as Sydney Carton and Dorothy Tutin as Lucie Manette. The film was shot in France’s Loire Valley, with several thousand U.S. soldiers, posted in nearby Orleans, cast as extras.
- A Christmas Carol: George C. Scott gives an excellent performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in this critically acclaimed 1984 film directed by Clive Donner. It premiered in America on CBS television, and was released theatrically in Great Britain.
- David Copperfield: A 2000 U.S.-Irish television adaptation starring Hugh Dancy as David Copperfield, Michael Richards as Wilkins Micawber and Sally Field as Betsey Trotwood.
- The Pickwick Papers: A 1952 film, adapted and directed by Noel Langley and starring James Hayter as Samuel Pickwick.
eBooks (see our complete list of Free eBooks)
- A Christmas Carol – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats - Kindle
- A Tale of Two Cities – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats
- Bleak House – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats – Kindle
- David Copperfield – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats
- Great Expectations – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats –Kindle
- Hard Times – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats
- Mystery of Edwin Drood – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats
- Oliver Twist – Read Online – Download Multiple Formats - Kindle
Audio Books (see our complete list of Free Audio Books)
- A Christmas Carol – Free iTunes – Free MP3 Zip File
- A Tale of Two Cities – Free iTunes - Free MP3 Zip File
- A Collection of Christmas Stories - Free iTunes
- Bleak House – Free iTunes – Free MP3 Zip File
- David Copperfield – Free iTunes – Free MP3
- Great Expectations – Free iTunes – Free MP3 Zip File
- Hard Times – Free iTunes – Free MP3 Zip File
- Oliver Twist – Free iTunes – Free MP3
NOTE: If we’re missing a good Dickens novel, don’t forget Audible.com’s 14 day trial. It will let you download an audio book for free, pretty much any one you want, and they’re all narrated and produced in a professional format. Get details here.