What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens novels
Charles Dickens novels
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Anti-hero Sydney Carton is my favourite Charles Dickens character and I am pleased to learn I am not alone in my adoration of the cynical, world-weary drunkard who finds redemption amid the bloody French Revolution. In fact Tale of Two Cities, in which the character features, is my favourite Dickens novel and my second favourite book of all time - Kes by Barry Hines tops my personal list of favourites.

But back to Sydney Carton - he is the lawyer who sacrifices his life so a woman, Lucie Manette, can be with the man she loves. She has no idea of Carton’s love for her or that he gives his life so she can be happy.

Carton goes to the guillotine with the words: “It’s a far, far better thing I do ...”

He was third in the poll held to mark the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth.

Reformed miser Ebenezer Scrooge was voted the most popular Charles Dickens character, according to a poll held to mark the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth , with vengeful Miss Havisham from Great Expectations coming second

Indeed, seven out of the top 10 characters chosen by Penguin readers were villains or some of Dickens’ darker creations . The pick-pocketing Artful Dodger and his criminal ring-leader Fagin completed the top five.

Claire Tomalin, acclaimed Dickens biographer, said: “People love villains and Dickens’ villains are so well-drawn. He filled them with such energy - they are more striking than his good characters.”The thing about Scrooge is that he’s a double-whammy - he’s allowed to repent and become a good character but he is more interesting when he is being bad.”

She added: “Scrooge’s popularity is surprising, since his modern equivalent might be a banker.”But Dickens excelled in creating villains, and always gave them more energy and brio than his good characters, so that we never forget them.

“Scrooge is a monster, a wicked employer and a heartless miser, but he is allowed to repent and see the error of his ways.

“So perhaps it’s the contrast between his outrageous meanness and coldness and his cheery generosity and lavishness at the end that readers respond to.”

The only three good guys chosen were David Copperfield’s Betsey Trotwood, and Joe Gargery and Pip from Great Expectations.

A Penguin spokeswoman said: “With most of the top 10 characters appearing in either Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, it would suggest that these two novels have struck the greatest chord with the public, although Oliver himself came in at number 11.”

Best-selling authors were also asked to choose their favourite.

Freya North opted for Uriah Heep, describing him as a “loathsome character who seeps from the pages like a noxious gas”.

Daisy Goodwin picked “the anti-heroine of Bleak House”, Lady Dedlock, while Adele Parks chose the “morally ambiguous” Nancy from Oliver Twist.

Tim Lott and Josephine Cox cited Pip and Oliver respectively.

Simon Winder, Penguin publishing director and Dickens expert, said: “Dickens was a master at creating character, particularly those with a dark side.”How fitting then to mark his 200th birthday with a celebration of his finest creations.”

The top 10 most popular Dickens characters chosen by 833 people voting on the Penguin website were:

1. Ebenezer Scrooge - A Christmas Carol

2. Miss Havisham - Great Expectations

3. Sydney Carton - A Tale Of Two Cities

4. The Artful Dodger - Oliver Twist

5. Fagin - Oliver Twist

6. Joe Gargery - Great Expectations

7. Pip - Great Expectations

8. Nancy - Oliver Twist

9. Abel Magwitch - Great Expectations

10. Betsey Trotwood - David Copperfield