The Country Focus for the 2012 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is United Kingdom and as part of the Cultural Programme we are being treated to a series of British Council talks with leading authors about the legacy that Charles Dickens has left on both our life and literature. Although far away in both time and geography from Dickens, the Fair proves that his work is as alive and kicking as ever.

The spirit of the ubiquitous Charles Dickens has woven in and out of literature talks and screenings, from a screening of David Copperfield, a silent movie produced by Thomas Bentley in 1913 to discussions from British Council authors including Jasper Fforde, Philip Ardagh and illustrator ILYA.

Yesterday at the Book Fair I watched a beautiful reworking of the classic Dickens story, David Copperfield in a silent movie produced by Thomas Bentley in 1913, cleverly distilled by the filmmaker into yet 8 minutes – a short time but containing great emotional power. This was screened at a Book Fair event called “The Life and Adventures of Literature: Bringing stories and literary characters to different audiences”.

Flickering across the screen were a black and white horsedrawn carriage, and the timeless story of the friendless protagonist who decides to run away to his Aunt, Betsey Trotswood. At the heart of the narrative is the ship-wreck at Yarmouth: the overturned boat and Ham’s body on the beach are as heartrending as if learning the story for the first time, even if one has read or seen it countless times.

How do we bring back literary characters that excite us? This was the question at the heart of the session which explored the paradox that great literary characters are both eternal and specific. Various innovative adaptions were enumerated including a project in Portsmouth by a rap poet, making Dickens’ exposure of poverty and exploitation in sweat shops relevant to our contemporary world where child labour still exists in some workplaces around the world.

The fantastic Dickens 2012 British Council campaign further elucidates the author’s contemporary relevance, and the British Council Literature Director Susanna Nicklin points out that issues tackled by Dickens such as social inequality are still so resonant today, and not only to people in the UK but all around the world.

This piece is an excerpt of a piece written by Anita Sethi for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair‘s Show Daily newspaper.

Anita Sethi is a writer, journalist and broadcaster.