As well as celebrating Dickens with special events across Sheffield local libraries have been joining in the spirit of things. So here’s a quick round up.

At Parson Cross they held a Dickens family fun day. There were Dickens related crafts and activities for the attending children. Adults received their free copies of ‘Oliver Twist’ and chatted with staff about the book. Everyone has a great time.

Staff at Burngreave Library really got into the Dickensian spirit. They dressed up in a Victorian style, had cake and invited borrowers to have a go at a Dickens Quiz and wordsearch.

Thanks to the staff at both branches.

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Dickens on film

Our friends at Showcomotion, the young people’s film festival at the excellent Showroom Cinema are celebrating Dickens and ‘Oliver Twist’ with us. This Sunday there’s going to be a showing of David Lean’s 1948 version of Oliver Twist, starring Alec Guiness as Fagin. ]#

It’s a brilliant chance to see a classic on the big screen so get yourself down there. You will, of course, be able to collect your free copies of the book at the Showroom as well.

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The Victorian Workhouse

We had a hugely popular and incredibly interesting event at the Central Library on Monday evening. Suzanne Bingham spoke about the rise and fall of the workhouses. It was very pertinent to ‘Oliver Twist’ but what I found most interesting was that Dickens portryal of the workhouse, while accurate, provides just a snapshot of what these institutions were like over an evolution spanning hundreds of years.

Suzanne told us that up until Dickens’ time the laws regarding the poor were generally well meaning and quite benign. It was during the 1830s that laws were changed and it was decided that the best way to encourage the poor (the majority of who were either children, elderly or disabled) away from the workhouse (thus saving on the better offs taxes) was to make life there as difficult as possible.

This hard workhouse was the one that Dickens wrote about, and there are examples around in Sheffield today. However, the rest of the nineteenth century saw gradual stages of easing conditions, usually as a result of a scandal, and by the twentieth century the workhouses, although no picnic, were generally more compassionate.

Thanks to Suzanne for the talk.

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All the fun of the fayre…

The Weston Park Whit Fayre took place yesterday and there was all sorts going on. Victorians mixed with Stoemtroopers and you could have a ride on a Helter Skelter or listen to Lewis Carroll tell one of his stories.

In amongst everyone the library service was giving out copies of ‘Oliver Twist’. Around 200 people received copies of the book yesterday and I’d like to think that they were pleased. Some of the people I spoke to had read it fifty years ago at school and were eager to see how their memories matched the book. Other people had never read any Dickens before but were interested in taking a chance on something new. It was fun to speak to so many different people.

Special thanks to the Weston Park Museum for letting us keep all our books there overnight…

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What do you make of Oliver?

On the face of it Oliver is arguably one of the least interesting or engaging characters in his own novel. He’s pushed around by the other characters, does as he’s told and generally never seems to grasp his own fate in his hands. Additionally he never really changes as a result of his experiences like, say, Pip or David Copperfield (although we admittedly have the advantage of seeing the latter two characters grow up).

Oliver starts the novel a pure innocent and ends it pretty much the same. In fact (problematically considering Dickens spends a good deal of the book portraying the upper crust of Victorian Society as hypocrites) Oliver’s essentially noble nature shines through throughout.

What did you think of Oliver? He did stand up for himself against Noah but does he stand out against the mischief of the Dodger, or the terror of Sykes?

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The Weston Park Whit Fayre looks like it’s going to be a cracking day out. It starts at 11am and there shall be a couple of librarians around, giving out some free copies of ‘Oliver Twist’. If you see us please come and say hello!

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I had a great time in the Central Library last Friday. As you can see from the picture above Mike Gardner of the Dickens Fellowship really came prepared for his reading and the twenty five or so people listening really enjoyed themselves.

Mike read four episodes from ‘Oliver Twist’: Oliver’s birth, his experience of the workhouse, the intorduction of the Artful Dodger and the death of Nancy. What the reading really brought home to me was how theatrical Oliver Twist is. Dickens toured extensively, reading passages from his own books, and you could see why that would be a great thing to behold. The emotion, the humour and above all the life of the book really shone through and I have to thank Mike ever so much for that.

The image, incidentally, is taken from the web story here. It’s the University of the Sheffield’s news channel. Embarrassingly, they also did an interview with me about the City Read, which is here.

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