“Dreadful television” culture stops kids from coping with Dickens novels

Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin says modern children "are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans"

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On the eve of Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday celebrations, the Victorian author’s biographer, Claire Tomalin, has spoken out about today’s children being ill-equipped to appreciate his works. Despite his books remaining “amazingly relevant”, she clearly fears that the readers of the future will be denied the joys of his atmospheric tales – simply because they are too long and make great demands on their readers’ concentration.

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She said: “Today’s children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful television programmes which are flickering away in the corner. Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”

Dickens’s bi-centenary tomorrow will be marked with a series of events around the UK. Tomalin will herself be attending the wreath-laying ceremony at the writer’s grave in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, where the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as stars including actor Ralph Fiennes, will also be present.

A street party will also be held in the Portsmouth road where Dickens was born, while a global Read-a-thon will see 24 countries celebrate the novelist’s work.

Stressing Dickens’s cultural importance, Tomalin added: “Very simply, he is, after Shakespeare, the greatest creator of English literature… Everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant: the great gulf between rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt members of parliament, how the country is run by Old Etonians – you name it, he said it.”

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Of course, it’s easy to criticise the youth of today – but how many Charles Dickens novels have you read from cover to cover? Answer just for fun in our Dickens-themed poll below…