The book my father put in my hands was heavy, musty, forbidding. The type was small. There were no pictures.
The author, my father the librarian told me, was a man named Charles Dickens, from a country called England. Dickens was a classic, and now that I had begun to read, my father thought it was high time I was introduced to the classics. So he'd browsed his collection and come up with a book he thought suitable for first exposure. I think it was "David Copperfield." It may have been "Oliver Twist." My father would have selected a book telling the tale of a child, to make it more appealing to me.
I was six.
Obediently, I began reading your novel, skipping the words and the sections I didn't really understand and following the storyline as best I could. When I had emerged at the last page, my father quizzed me about the book. I must have exhibited enough of an understanding that he gave me another of your books. I must have passed that test, too, for after that he started me on other "classics." (I have a vivid memory of sitting upstairs a couple of years later, struggling to comprehend "Jane Eyre" and despairing that I ever would.)
Odd a choice as your work might seem for a child who'd just started studying the English of her own time, never mind that of another century and another land, you might say I imprinted upon it, the way a chick assumes the first living creature it sees to be its mother. Surely that was my father's intention all along. He had great respect for the British as the progenitors of the English language; so naturally he would have had me cut my literary teeth on your words, and those of the Brontes, and Thomas Hardy's, and of course William Shakespeare's, and D. H. Lawrence's, and Somerset Maugham's and many more.
Thus it is that I turn to your books as intellectual comfort food and to your characters as beloved longtime acquaintances. There are your wonderful heroes and heroines, of course, but I read you just as much for haughty Estella in "Great Expectations," treacherous Steerforth in "David Copperfield," desperate Lady Dedlock in "Bleak House," lovelorn John Chivery in "Little Dorrit" -- oh, now I have a longing to dash straight off to the bookstore to renew more acquaintances.
And with your prodigious oeuvre, which I have yet to finish, I am assured of many more happy years of doing so.
Thank you, rest in peace, and may your works continue extant for centuries more.