Book enthusiast Melanie Mitchell aims to get the community reading more. To spur you on, she offers her Book of the Week and Books to Watch choices
Charles Dickens was well-known for restlessly stalking the streets of London by night but it was the city of Portsmouth in which he was born and spent his early years.
The Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum at 393 Old Commercial Road houses three rooms furnished in the Regency style popular at that time as a tribute to one of our greatest writers, who is still celebrated over 200 years later.
Many, if not most, of the dozen or so novels Dickens wrote are considered to be classics and if you haven’t read them you’ll have heard of them (Oliver Twist) and at least seen a film adaptation (A Christmas Carol).
He was popular in his own lifetime and remains immensely readable and surprisingly enjoyable.
The museum is open between Friday and Sunday, 10am-5.30pm, until it closes for the winter on September 27, so it’s worth squeezing in a visit.
n My Book of the Week is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (Penguin Classics, Jan 30 2003) – one of the last novels he wrote.
It stars Pip, the orphan, who you will root for and despair of, the beautiful but cruel Estella and the inimitable Miss Havisham in her wedding dress. It’s a rags to riches tale of a boy becoming a man, overcoming many obstacles along the way.
Dickens wrote for the masses, often in serial form, and he was intent upon keeping readers coming back for more, soap-style, with frequent cliffhangers.
Trust me, you’ll race through it.
n If you’d like to know more about the man himself I’d recommend the abridged version of Peter Ackroyd’s biography Dickens (Vintage, 7 March 2002).
Dickens experienced poverty and deprivation as well as fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams, much like the character Pip, and Ackroyd explores all aspects of his life in relentless detail and with a great deal of passion.
Another acclaimed biographer, Claire Tomalin, reveals the story behind Ellen (Nelly) Ternan, Dickens’ mistress, in The Invisible Woman (Penguin, 21 June 2012).
An actress thought to be the inspiration behind Estella, she spent her latter years in Southsea and is buried at Highland Road Cemetery.
A fascinating account of the woman Dickens tried to keep a secret.
n Mel Mitchell is originally from Portsmouth and now lives in Gosport.
She is Publisher Liaison for newbooks magazine and its related website nudge-book.com, based in Stubbington.