For the past 22 years, I have had the pleasure of representing members of the Dickens family out of England, direct descendants of the great English author, Charles Dickens. Through this work, which principally focuses on branding and licensing initiatives by family members, I have also learned a great deal about Dickens the man, and the tremendous impact he had on social issues. I have even received, as a very generous gift, one of Dickens prized personal belongings.
Charles Dickens was a literary giant and an incredible agent of social change. He dedicated his literary prowess, fame and influence to expose deep societal ills, paving the way for incredible social change that still reverberates with us today. At the end of his life the common acknowledgement was simple – despite all his fame and fortune – Dickens never forgot the less fortunate, the sick and the poor.
Dickens clearly articulated the many social injustices prevalent at the time leading among other things to the abolition of public executions and the introduction of child labour laws. He also singlehandedly resurrected the spirit of giving and Christmas as a festive family holiday, a worldwide phenomenon that continues to this day, earning him the nickname “The Man Who Invented Christmas”. Later in his life he used his talents and his influence to save the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, England from closing, which today is regarded as the finest children’s hospital in the world, and served as a model for children’s hospitals everywhere, including Toronto’s SickKids Hospital here in Canada.
Most recently I was invited to attend the premiere of the newly released film aptly named The Man Who Invented Christmas. It’s a wonderful film dealing with what was going on in Charles Dickens’ life when he wrote his famous work, A Christmas Carol. It is one of most widely published books ever written, and surprisingly, was written in only six weeks! Attending the film reminded me of the broad impact Dickens had on many aspects of our modern day culture.
One of the things that Dickens is less known for, but of tremendous importance these days, is the role he played in the eventual enactment and worldwide growth of international copyright law. Surprisingly, although Dickens and his works were enormously popular in the United States and elsewhere outside of the UK, he never received any compensation for them from those sources. At the time, the US and other countries did not provide protection for the works of foreign authors, something that Dickens was highly critical about over the course of his lifetime.
As Dickens’ stature grew, so did his influence, and together with other authors and voices, the U.S. and other countries remedied this obvious injustice, and international copyright laws and conventions expanded dramatically. Dickens was perhaps one of the world’s true modern celebrities, and he eventually had access to and the ears of royalty and presidents alike. Over time it became evident that such international copyright laws were in the best interests of all authors and creators the world over.
So, as we enter the holiday season and get swept up in the many traditions that abound, let us take a moment to think of and thank Charles Dickens for igniting the holiday spirit of giving and sharing. At the same time, for those of us who serve the artistic, literary, dramatic, musical and even software communities, let us also thank him for blazing the trail for international copyright laws and conventions, and the tremendous social and economic impact such laws have on modern day life.
Happy Holidays Everyone!