Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. Born in Portsmouth, England, he lived from Feb. 7, 1812 till June 9, 1870. The works of Charles Dickens — which include Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and of course, A Christmas Carol, have been praised by other authors for their realism, skillful prose and treatment of social issues — and criticized by some for being sentimental, melodramatic and implausible. One thing is certain, however: his books are among the most famous in the world and have never gone out of print.
But who exactly was Charles Dickens, and why should we care today?
Our friend Carol van Strum said, “We should care for the same reasons Dickens himself did, passionately and unceasingly: his books were an early warning bell for civilization of the dangers of industrialization, colonization, empire, the class system and the obscene enrichment of a few at the cost of everyone else. I think his books are scorned today for the very reason that their message is so timely; far better people should think him out of fashion and cliche than that they actually read the books and look around them with newly opened eyes to the poverty and despair all around them; they might see with clearer vision the hypocrites and pompous moralizers dominating our airwaves, and they might learn to laugh at the idiots masquerading as our wise leaders. And to top it off, he is great fun to read.”
Dickens was an Aquarius, and when it’s working well, that is one of the most socially conscious signs. Yet it is his conjunction of the Moon and Neptune in Sagittarius that adds the visionary leavening to his chart. In fact, that visionary quality was truly wide: with both the Sun and Moon conjunct an outer planet (Vesta in the case of his Sun), Dickens could see a big world. That vision, in part, led him to visit the nascent United Sates twice in his life. The U.S. at that point was still expanding into its western frontier, during a rather unruly stage of its history, and an ocean crossing was still a relatively dangerous undertaking. His two trips across the Atlantic are markers of that Sagittarius Moon’s sense of adventure.
Dickens was, in part, a crusader for what he deemed the disproportionate economic burden placed on the backs of the poor in Victorian England, including work and sanitation conditions; a strong critic of class stratification at a time when England was the major world power. In addressing these subjects in his novels, he was able to embody the service aspect of his Virgo ascendant.
He began his writing career as a journalist and became a serial novelist who skillfully wrote the installments shortly before they were published (rather than pre-writing them all) and still ended up with cohesive stories — a form of writing whose necessary attention to detail and organization further speaks of that Virgo ascendant. Often basing characters on people he knew, Dickens created characters who seem quite alive and real in their peculiarities, such as this housekeeper described in Great Expectations: “Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than the dirt itself. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by religion.”
A quote from David Copperfield illustrates the very fine line tread by the poor between relative contentment and and the despair Carol mentions above: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
That’s a pretty slim margin of error, and one too many people in England, the U.S. and around the world still find themselves on the wrong side of. Perhaps we need a modern-day Dickens — a writer who can not only capture the imaginations of millions of readers worldwide, but inspire us to lean our own imaginations and talents into the task of treating all of humanity as human. At the very least, we do have Dickens himself, still very much alive and relevant in his books, if we’re willing to listen to his message and see our world through his eyes. At the very least, Mercury — the planet of writing — has made sure to add some zing to his 200th birthday by joining in today’s Full Moon setup. With all that solar and lunar light at Mercury’s disposal, we may actually be able to see what Dickens was trying to show us today.