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Do Yourself a Favor: Read Dickens

As he nears 200, the novelist is more relevant than ever: Michael Levenson
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2011 10:16 AM CST
Updated Nov 7, 2011 1:45 PM CST
How Charles Dickens Explains the 21st Century
Charles Dickens.   (AP Photo, file)

(Newser) – Charles Dickens wrote in the 19th century, but at nearly 200 years old, he’s an expert on the 21st century as well. "For the mid-Victorians, government intervention was unthinkable, the market was king, only private philanthropy was tolerated," writes Michael Levenson for Slate. In other words, to paraphrase a Tale of Two Cities, it was a time much like the present. Dickens "has caught up to us, or we have reverted to him," Levenson notes. "Either way, it’s time to return to Dickens."

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Dickens portrayed everyone from the upper crust to the "wasting orphan," and he recognized his country’s sense of "exceptionalism" even as it declined. He offered a "withering attack on power small and large" as he revealed "economic fraud and political evasion." Sound familiar? Levenson—who admits he loves the novelist "the way you're supposed to love only a parent, a partner, a child"—suggests celebrating the author’s upcoming birthday by picking up one of his novels, or one of two excellent new biographies, written by Claire Tomalin and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, respectively. Click to read Levenson's take on the bios. (Read more Charles Dickens stories.)

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