Coming up is the anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1942. I don’t recall that but it certainly affected some people I have known very directly and all of my generation in one way or another. Of course less well known is the fact that I was conceived in 1942.
Then there is 1952 and the current Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. That one I remember very clearly for reasons I gave last month. By a very indirect route that brings me to my grandfather, Roy Christison.
That’s him seated on the right of that photo with my brother Ian leaning against him.
You see of the many things Grandpa Christison talked about with me during the 1950s – and oh how significant I now know those conversations to have been in my life and thought! – one topic was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which he, to my astonishment, remembered – along with much else of pre-Federation New South Wales. And another thing that peppered conversations with Grandpa Christison was Charles Dickens. Grandpa Christison’s world-view owed more to Charles Dickens than it did to the Bible – about which he had somewhat agnostic views. He used to say that if you saw someone praying you needed to watch out for the knife behind his back, for example. But Dickens – no friend either of evangelicals and God-botherers – was a pure source of ethics as well as delight. My mother recalled family readings of Dickens, as no doubt many people of my grandfather’s time and tribe would.
And of course it is now the Dickens Bicentennial.
There are quite a few connections between Australia and Dickens, which explains his having an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. As an article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains:
FOR someone who never visited the place, Charles Dickens wrote, obsessed, lobbied and published an awful lot about Australia.
Though plans to make a lecture tour and write a book, The Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down, fell through, Dickens encouraged two of his sons, Alfred and Edward, to go to Australia. And, of course, many of his most memorable baddies, including Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations), John Edmunds (Pickwick Papers) and Wackford Squeers (Nicholas Nickleby) were transported down under…
At first, Dickens saw Australia only as a place of transportation, says a Queensland scholar, Marion Diamond,on her website Historians are Past Caring.
”But by the 1840s, free emigration to the Australian colonies was becoming important. This sparked his interest.” Encouraged further by the discovery of gold, he supported a number of emigration schemes, in life and in fiction. Indeed, at the end of David Copperfield he ”sends an absolute torrent of redundant characters to NSW: the Micawbers, Mr Peggotty and Little Em’ly, and Mrs Gummidge. Just to round things off nicely, he then has Mr Peggotty return, 10 years later, to tell David just how successful they have all been. Mr Micawber has become a magistrate! Mrs Gummidge received an offer of marriage. Martha has married a farm labourer, and they now live happily on their own land, 400 miles from the nearest settlement.”
Like Magwitch and Micawber, the Dickens boys prospered in the new land of opportunity. At least, at first.
Alfred bought a station near Forbes, NSW, and later moved to Victoria, where he and his brother set up a stock and station agency, called EBL Dickens and Partners. He died on a visit to the US.
Edward managed a property in Wilcannia, and for five years represented the town in state Parliament. He later worked as a rabbit inspector and lands department officer for the NSW government. He died in poverty in Moree.
In Australia as in England, the public devoured Dickens’s prolific outpourings in books, stage plays and magazines, such as Household Words and All the Year Round.
As the author’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes, so widely published was his material that it ”helped impose Dickens’s own view of Australia on Australian life and society”.
Marie Bashir, the NSW Governor, is one of many prominent admirers of the author, who died in 1870. She recently recalled how as a ”little book worm” growing up in Narrandera in southern NSW, she visited his statue in the park, and later munched her way avidly through his complete works.
”I can still hear my mother saying, ‘Come to bed, Marie. It’s past midnight. Put that book down’.”
Next entry I will recall another anniversary of a literary nature, and confess more about my new addiction to eBooks!
On the latter:
A sample of what now lies within my Calibre eBook Manager and Reader
now installed on my laptop and Baby Toshiba