|The Hibbert Assembly
for a secondary school assembly.
|If the school has video facilities, show an extract from the
beginning of the film of Great Expectations where the convict, Magwitch,
startles Pip in the graveyard and terrorises him into bringing food and
Alternatively, after explaining the setting of the incident, read a part of Chapter 1 of the novel, from "Hold your noise," to "you remember that young man, and you get home!"
|Ask whether any of the pupils know what the book is and who wrote it. Then confirm that it is Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.
|That is one of the most gripping openings to a novel. It creates both horror and suspense. We want to know more. What happens next? Will Pip become more involved with the convict, Magwitch. Dickens is very skilled in creating tantalising plots and in making us want to read on. Most of his novels were first published either in monthly parts or as serials in magazines and he knew how to make sure that his readers would want to buy the next instalment.
|The first week in February is a time to think about Dickens because he was born on 7 February, though it was rather a long time ago. He was born in 1812. But I don't want us to think about him just because he was a good storyteller, though he certainly was and many of his books are still widely read today. and, of course, some have been made into films or television serials.
|Dickens was more than a good
storyteller. He was a man who cared very deeply about society and about
human welfare. Although Magwitch, in Great Expectations, is a criminal,
Dickens shows some sympathy for the for the situation of a convict,
living on a prison ship awaiting transportation to Australia.
Dickens took an interest in the welfare of prisoners in real life as well as in his novels. When he first visited America, in 1842 (the Atlantic crossing, by steamship, took two weeks) he spent a good deal of time visiting prisons to find out whether there was anything we could learn in Britain from the systems there, so that prisoners might be more humanely treated
|Dickens was interested too in the care of the sick and of the
disadvantaged, the blind, for example. He took an interest in the way
people were treated in workhouses, and in people's living conditions in
He took an interest, too, in how families coped when there was an industrial strike. He was also concerned about education. He was very critical of some of the schools of his own day where children were ill-treated, or the teachers were weak, or where teaching methods were dull and monotonous. He wanted children and young people to learn to feel, and to use their imaginations.
| Dickens was a Christian. That is to say that he accepted the
teaching of Jesus. He was less concerned about regular church-going or
about belonging to a particular denomination, though for a time he
attended a Unitarian chapel.
He thought the New Testament Gospels were so important that he wrote a simplified version of them for his own children. Through his books he invites others to accept such values as caring for others and integrity.
|We should be thankful for the talents of writers like Dickens whose books we can still enjoy today, and we should also be thankful for the humanity of people like him who used their time and their skills to try to make the world a better place.
|(You might also want to comment that schools are to receive a gift
of 250 classical books, worth £2,500, provided by the Millenium
Commission and the publishers, Everyman, and that there are more books
by Dickens - 12 in all - than by any other writer in this "millenium"
That may be, of course, simply that Dickens wrote more than some of the other authors represented - all Jane Austen's completed novels are included - but other similarly quite prolific writers, like Trollope - 7 - have fewer of their books in the package.)
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