The two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens has been the occasion for much soul-searching about the role that literature and reading plays in our twenty-first century lives. Dickens’s biographer, Claire Tomalin, has recently claimed that children are being brought up without the attention span to read a Dickens novel because the television is always on in their homes.
Despite the elaborate commemorative ceremony held this month at Westminster Abbey, Tomalin said that many children were deprived of reading classics such as Bleak House and Great Expectations, despite their relevance to our own times.
“What Dickens wrote about is still amazingly relevant”, Tomalin said in an interview with The Times newspaper. “The only caveat I would make is that today’s children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful television programmes, which are flickering away in the corner. Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”
Tomalin believes that after Shakespeare, Dickens is the greatest creator of characters in English. “Because of the way he wrote, he adapts very well for theatre and even people who do not read him know him from films, the TV and musicals. When he went to America in 1842, one of the points he made was that the ‘unimportant’ and ‘peripheral’ people were just as interesting to write about as ‘great’ people.
You only have to look around at our society and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant – the great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt Members of Parliament, how the country is run by Old Etonians. You name it, he said.”
A study published last year by the Centre of Media and Child Health in Boston, Massachusetts, found that children’s attention span was reduced by having a tv on in the background while the played.
If you are interested in rebellion against the tyranny of the television, Oxford Royale Academy’s summer courses are for you. Based in the ancient heart of the historic cities of Oxford and Cambridge, there’s barely a television to be found. We’re incredibly proud of our extra-curricular programme, which is designed to show our students the best bits of England and English culture. Want to create your own memorable characters like Dickens? We even have a creative writing course.