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Hard Times from Iraq and Our Mutual Friend from Syria


Charles Dickens will be 200 tomorrow. The event is being commemorated around the world, with lots of royal activity in London and a 24-hour read-a-thon starting with an excerpt from Dombey and Son in Australia at 7 am.

Someone with a wicked sense of humour (not the British Council, surely?) had tremendous fun in matching Dickens’s titles to countries. Hard Times, unsurprisingly, comes from Iraq, Our Mutual Friend (probably Basher Assad himself) from Syria, Bleak House from Argentina (never forget the Falklands) and The Old Curiosity Shop from Japan. An excerpt from one of his least-known works, The Uncommercial Traveller, comes, suitably, from Pakistan.

Britain, staking a claim to recovery from recession, is sticking optimistically to Great Expectations. Meanwhile, the Greeks are reading from Barnaby Rudge, although I can’t help thinking David Copperfield would have been more appropriate, particularly Wilkins Micawber’s:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

As true today as it was in 1850. If you, like me, are a Dickens fan, you can follow the recorded excerpts on Twitter @britishcouncil from 7 o’clock tomorrow morning. I would also highly recommend Claire Tomalin’s wonderful Charles Dickens: A Life which I devoured in three sittings just before Christmas.


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