Charles Dickens: His 10 most memorable characters

There are the poignant (Jenny Wren), the sinister (Bill Sykes), and the preposterous (Mr. Micawber). There are some so uniquely descriptive (Ebenezer Scrooge) that they have become nouns. But perhaps what the characters of Charles Dickens most have in common is the degree to which they endure. To celebrate the great novelist's 200th birthday on Feb. 7, 2012, here is a tribute to 10 of his most unforgettable characters.

1. Little Nell of "The Old Curiosity Shop"

The orphaned Nell Trent, a girl of "not quite fourteen" is the angelic heroine "The Old Curiosity Shop." Nell lives with her grandfather in his peculiar shop of odds and ends and will ultimately pay a terrible price for her grandfather's gambling habit. Little Nell is sometimes credited with being the first Harry Potter, as American readers were so desperate to learn of her fate that, when a British ship bearing the latest installment of the story arrived in New York in 1841, Dickens fans stormed the city's piers, shouting to the sailors: "Is Little Nell alive?"

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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