Doug Austin as Charles Dickens. File photo
Doug Austin, familiar to Idyllwild audiences for his performance as Charles Dickens, will bring an insight into Dickens’ opinions and views on important social issues at the next Idyllwild Community Recreation Council’s (ICRC) Speaker Series event. In a talk called “Discover Charles Dickens Through his Personal Correspondence,” Austin as Dickens will focus on the British author’s two visits to the United States — in 1842 and 1868 — and his impressions of American culture and social institutions. Austin as Dickens appears on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at Silver Pines Lodge at 6 p.m.

Austin’s choice of Dickens as character and avatar comes from a shared concern over social inequalities — Dickens abhorred the American institution of slavery, the inequality of women, the oppression of children in the workplace, inhumane conditions in prisons and asylums and the ubiquity of alcohol. Dickens once observed, “No British business was ever done without a meal. No American business was ever done without a drink.”

Austin and now-deceased wife Mary’s commitment to local philanthropy arose from their strong commitment to helping foster honor, decency and fairness in the treatment of all people. This they shared with Dickens. Doug and Mary led the Olde English Theatre players, and were present at all holiday occasion in Idyllwild dressed in their Victorian garb.

In his talk, Austin will discuss Dickens’ surprise and then outrage at his treatment by the American press. In England, Dickens’ works were often serialized and published monthly in London magazines.The serialization helped catch readers up in Dickens’ narratives, leaving them always wondering what would come next. It also helped to market his books when they came out in print, making him, at a very young age, the most popular author in British history. Dickens began to publish “Oliver Twist” at the age of 25 and “Nicholas Nickleby” at 26. So it came as a surprise when, at the age of 30, he first visited the U.S. and found his works had been widely printed without his permission and without payment of any kind. Austin noted that England, at the time, had copyright laws and the U.S. did not. Nor were there any international copyright laws. Austin noted the response of the American press to Dickens’ upset was to label him “a cockney cheapsgate,” questioning why, by demanding restrictions on publication of his work, he would “deny the masses a great read?” This is an area Austin will explore through Dickens’ correspondence.

He will also read about Dickens’ disgust with the politics of Washington, D.C. Austin noted Dickens once said, “Before Washington was developed it was a swamp. Afterward, they simply exchange mosquitos for politicians.”

As a result of his first trip, Dickens called the United States “the republic of his imagination,” it being so very different in fact from the ideal he had imagined.

Austin’s insights into Dickens’ mind, motivations, and the social issues of the time provide a bracing experience that will help audiences find parallels with today’s social problems.

Austin’s presentation is free to the public. A wine and cheese reception at 5:30 p.m. precedes his talk at 6.