Bob Denton gave himself a writing exercise – to produce a Dickens version of what Charles and Mary Lamb had done for Shakespeare’s works. Intended for young readers, their Tales From Shakespeare provided children with a very readable precis of each of the comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare.
Bob grew up with a complete set of Dickens, that his grandfather had purchased over a hundred years ago, and volume by volume. Bob realised that his grandfather’s collection was an early-twentieth century habit that had derived from Dickens success at publishing part-works in the 19th century.
There were three inherited collections. The second was a many-volumed part-work set of the Harmsworth Encyclopaedia, for which his grandfather had bought leatherette covers but failed to have them bound. Bob had used these for a different perspective on his homework, often pllagiarising its artcles without acknowledgement. Finally there was an illustrated large-format version of Dante’s Inferno, its graphic illustrations gave the young Bob images that were equal parts horrorific and erotic, nightmare material.
So, Bob planned an online simple-language version of each of Dickens works. It turned out to be something of a marathon, and Bob still views it as a work in progress that needs to be revisited. It can be examined here!
What that exercise did achieve was a real appreciation of story and of character in the works of Dickens. Bob mused that it was a shame that his use of language and the Victorian settings would mean many would not be moved to persevere.
Bob also felt it sad that most modern reworkings of Dickens had ulterior motives, they added a Woke perspective, they injected characters of colour, they changed characters to have different sexual proclivities… Why was this? The story and the characters can live in a modern setting without introducing current vogue issues.
Bob selected what he considered two of the best works of Dickens, one early and one late. Oliver Twist from 1837-1839, and A Tale of Two Cities from 1859.
Displaced: Olive did change the sex of its eponymous protagonist, but the modern care system while not being quite as brutal as that in Dickens time still fails many of its ‘customers’. Fagin becomes a Bulgarian but the events follow the Dickens tale.
Denounced: A Tale of Two Courts moves the historic setting of the French Revolution and Republic, to one that occured precisely 190 years later, that of Iran. Dickens story fits very smoothly into this new situation.