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The winter of despair

Charles Dickens’ opening lines of A Tale Of Two Cities still rang sweetly in my ears. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” as on February 7 the whole literary world, with the exception of avant garde Malta, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of the best-loved writers in the whole world.

The activities and events held in the far-flung Commonwealth countries did not surprise me in the least but to have the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires, celebrate with pomp and circumstance the literary merits of Dickens in Victorian England with public performances and readings was indeed a revelation. Despite the fact that England and Argentina are again locking horns over the Falklands issue, the Argentinians joined by the most eminent cultural figures have risen above all political considerations to demonstrate that universal literature has no frontiers or barriers.

The veritable literary wasteland on our much vaunted island of culture, which considers William Shakespeare and Dickens as “old hats”, was visible on February 7 when, as far as I know, not a single major event was held to mark the event. If ever there were proof of the paucity and decline of the English language in Malta this was surely it. Unlike Little Oliver we could not even “ask for more” as we had none.

In the circumstances it is most fitting to continue with a Dickensian theme. It is felt that strong under currents have made Malta linguistically “A Bleak House” without any “Great Expectations” inviting “Hard Times”.

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