All Posts Tagged Tag: ‘Charles Dickens’

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The Best of Times (But Will There Be Cake?)


Did you see The New York Times Magazine‘s feature on England’s Dickens World on Sunday? “The World of Charles Dickens, Complete with Pizza Hut.” And for dessert, a slice of Miss Haversham’s wedding cake….

Nothing much really happens if you just click this image. For full effect, you have to use your imagination.

If you can’t (or won’t) go to Dickens World, you can celebrate the celebrated Victorian author’s 200th birthday right here at home, with a lively interlude of learning and awe at the “Charles Dickens’ 200th Anniversary Exhibit,” on display in the Rare Book Room of Davidson’s E.H. Little Library, free and open to the public Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Feb. 29. The display includes copies of Dickens’ works, including first editions of both David Copperfield and Pickwick Papers, as well as a copy of David Copperfield autographed by illustrator John Austen.

The real treat for me in a trip to the Rare Book Room is simply being in the inner sanctum of the room itself, bolstered by the expertise of archival guides. The “RBR” is a grand and impressive study of a space—sort of a 1974 Presbyterian version of Lord Grantham’s library in Downton Abbey—and it never fails to unfold magical perspectives for me. Time itself takes on the unhurried (at least in my imagination) allure of old in the RBR, its books imbued with the artisanal care that humankind has offered to its most important  words since time immemorial. Or at least from Gutenberg down through the 20th century and beyond until very, very recently—a week ago last Friday, I think it was, on Twitter.

One of the RBR’s oldest books is a 1492 Venetian edition of Seneca. Think about that. In 1492 Venice, Seneca was already a hallowed classic, a century before Shakespeare.

“Like, Columbus 1492?” a student always asks Sharon Byrd, special collections outreach librarian. Yes, like Columbus 1492, she’ll respond with the patience of, well, a librarian.

An encyclopedic knowledge of the RBR’s contents resides in the files of Sharon’s head. “You’ll have to interrupt me or I won’t stop,” she quips. On the shelves over the Dickens display are two centuries’ worth of Gentleman’s Magazine dating to the 1730s. (“Sort of The New Yorker of its day—or, I should say, its centuries.”) In a curio cabinet around the corner there is a Sèvres bisque porcelain bust of Débussy, a Japanese firebird/phoenix-rising plate, and a black marble and malachite inkstand that would be at home on Dumbledore’s desk.

Older than the oldest actual book in the place is written Gregorian chant from 1250, Sharon shares. “And for the oldest thing with writing on it, we have cuneiforms from 2350 BCE.”

The day last week that I was there, Sharon had out for academic class study the recently restored 1821 Bible of Omar ibn Sayyid. It is a storied Bible, unique in all the world, a singular product of the confluence of two continents tied by slavery, two religions tied by language, a lineage of history that made its way to the Rare Book Room by way of the N.C. governor’s office in 1871. Tidbit: Printed by a woman, a rarity in its day, the book’s recent restoration was also accomplished by a woman.

You never know what you’ll find when you step into the Rare Book Room of E.H. Little Library, but whatever your great expectations, you can be assured of the best of times…