If the social critic and novelist Charles Dickens had witnessed this year's U.S. political season, he might have given some Scrooge-like social criticism: Bah, humbug.
“He always had a distrust of politicians wherever they came from,” said his great-great-grandson Gerald Dickens. “He distrusted anything organized, anything official.”
The great Dickens once wrote a sketch about a local election and its 19th century negative campaigning.
“Each side would say the other guy was bloomin' awful,” the current Dickens said. “That came to my mind in the buildup to your election.”
But just as Ebenezer Scrooge eventually saw goodness all around him, Charles Dickens saw the good in America and came to love it.
“One reason Dickens loved America — and the idea of America — is that he sort of lived the American dream,” his descendant said Monday. “He came from a very difficult, humble background and became successful and a leader in his field by absolute dedication and hard work.”
This year is the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth, the subject of much attention in Britain. Gerald Dickens, an accomplished actor from Oxford, England, this weekend is bringing Dickens and many of his memorable characters to Omaha and Council Bluffs.
Wearing a Victorian-era suit and a top hat, the latter-day Dickens portrays two dozen Dickensian characters through changes in voice, movement and posture. It helps, he said, that audiences are familiar with the stories, which allows him to focus on the atmosphere.
Gerald said he is amazed, especially as the Christmas season nears each year, at how widespread the influence of Dickens remains — even more so in America than in England.
The Omaha Community Playhouse has not only staged a musical version of Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” since the 1970s, but also sends the show around the country with professional touring troupes.
A December tradition in Omaha is Dickens in the Market, with singers in costume strolling the Old Market area.
Gerald Dickens will perform “A Chance Encounter with Mr. Dickens” Friday afternoon at the Field Club, 36th Street and Woolworth Avenue, and then “A Christmas Carol” at a dinner there Friday evening.
Both of those events are sponsored by the Douglas County Historical Society, as are “Carol” at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Field Club; and “The Complete Works of Dickens” Saturday evening at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha. (For tickets, go to www.douglascohistory.org.)
On Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Dickens will perform “Carol” at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, sponsored by the Historic General Dodge House (www.dodgehouse.org).
Growing up in England, Gerald Rhoderick Charles Dickens — it's a family tradition to include “Charles” in male names — didn't read Dickens, thinking the prose was long-winded and the language was strange.
In 1993, for the 150th anniversary of “A Christmas Carol,” he was asked to do a reading for a local charity. That led to a fascination with his famous ancestor and the production of one-man shows.
He has performed in large theaters and stately homes, on cruise ships, at workshops and in schools and universities. He is now on an American tour.
The original Dickens toured America giving theatrical readings and was a huge draw.
“He was a very modern sort of person and celebrity,” Gerald said. “He certainly wasn't one of those artists whose fame came only after his death. He was a No. 1 top dog.”
The secular celebration of the joy of Christmas was coming into vogue around the time he wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and that novella helped popularize the holiday beyond its religious significance.
Dickens himself was a bit of a Scrooge, very demanding of his 10 children. Some of them, Gerald said, “found it difficult living in his shadow.”
Only two of the 10 left surviving families, but about 300 Dickens descendants gathered in February for his birthday.
In airports and elsewhere, people recognize the name Dickens and ask if Gerald is related. But so far, he said, it hasn't netted him an airline seat upgrade.
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