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Happy birthday, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, born just under 200 years ago on 7 February 1812, is one of the most quoted writers in English. In addition to quotations, such as ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …’ (A Tale of Two Cities), several colourful characters from his novels have permeated the English language, and have come to represent specific personal qualities (an effect known as antonomasia, by the way).

Don’t be a Scrooge … or Pecksniffian

Perhaps the most well-known is Scrooge, the miser from A Christmas Carol, whose name is shorthand for someone who’s selfishly tight with their money. The catchphrase associated with his character (‘Bah, humbug!’) has become a cry of solidarity for all those who find the fripperies and frolics of the festive season unbearable.

Almost as bad as being called a Scrooge would be to be accused of being a Pecksniffian poser – named after the self-serving, hypocritical character of Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Positively Pickwickian

Putting Scrooge and Pecksniff to one side (where they belong), if I had to pick a Dickensian character to go for a long country walk with, I’d probably pick Mr Micawber, the eternal optimist in David Copperfield who’s always sure that ‘something will turn up’. Or maybe someone who’s Pickwickian in their joviality and generosity, from the eponymous Pickwick Papers.  I might even wear a Dolly Varden hat and carry a gamp for the occasion.