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May 17, 1975 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-05-17

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The host of Dickens' past

Just inside the door of Professor Bert
Hornback's house there is a tombstone.
Above it there is a mirror with an
engraved advertisement for Guiness
Stout. To the left of the bewildered
visitor there is a huge kite covered with
scribblings and drawings of King Charles
's head.
Bert Hornback is an expert in t h e
study of Charles Dickens. The tombstone
and kite both come from Dickens' nov-
els. His house overflows with thous-
ands of props and relics like these. The
mirror, derivative of one of Horback's
many hobbies, is a gift from a student.
When Hornback talks about Dickens his
eyes light up. His face becomes youth-
ful and enthusiastic as he reels off crit-
ical quotes and spontaneous verbal es-
says on Dickens. You get the feeling
he could go on for a long time.
According to Hornback, "There's the
history of fiction - and Dickens. He
doesn't invent fiction, and it doesn't end
with him, but he's the most important
More often than not, Hornback speaks.
of Dickens in the present tense.
Since coming to Michigan in 1964,
Hornback has taught 21 courses in Dick-
ens. He has also written a book about
Dickens' biblical mythology, Noah's
Arkitecture, published by the Ohio Univ-
ersity Press.
It is not enough, however, to simply
talk to Hornback. You must explore
his house and listen to him explain his
collection, before you begin to realize
just how much this man knows about
Charles Dickens.
A long wooden candle holder rises
above the dining room table, giving it
the aspect of an altar. Between the
candles are tiny brass figurines of Dick-
ens characters that were originally used
as pipe tampers.
In the hallway there are four shelves
filled with books - except all the books
are fake. Hornback explains: "They're
replicas I had made of Dickens' own
library. All Dickens' friends were great
readers, and they all had libraries filled
with leather-bound volumes, and Dick-
ens didn't have any. So he hired a book-
binder to make a whole wall of fake
books, with leather-bound spines and
guilded names."
Hornback has 'used Dickens' titles for
his own false library: Cats' Lives, in
nine volumes; Catalogue of Statues of
the Duke of Marlborough, in ten vol-
umes; A History of a Short Suit in Chan-
cery, iik 37 volumes; Shelley's Oysters,
Malthus' Nursery Rhymes; Noah's Ar-
kitecture; and The Wisdom of our An-
cestors, in volumes entitled Ignorance,
Superstition, The Block, The Rack, The
Stake and Dirt.
From the hall you pass into the "Dick-
ens Room." Over the door of the Dick-
ens Room is a sign:
February 7, 1812 June 9, 1870
The doorway is lined with Victorian
harness braces representing characters
from Dickens. In the doorway itself
hangs a medallion with the face of
Charles Dckens on one side and that of

"All Dickens' friends were great readers," Hornback a bookbinder ton
explains, "and they all had libraries filled with leather- leather-bound spine
bound volumes, and Dickens didn't have any. So he hired
Scrooge, the miserly grouch from a by actors either dramatically or as back-
Christmas Carol, on the other. ground for the graphics."
In later life, Dickens pondered the Since the TV series, Hornback has had
character of Scrooge more and more, many oportunities to play Dickens.
Throughout the house hang pictures of
him dressed as the author. Even when
next to pictures of the real thing, it's
hard to tell the difference. In one of
Hornback's overflowing Dickens scrap-
books is a picture of him dedicating the-
Win Schuler's restaurant in Ann Arbor.
.,The caption reads, "Dickens dedicates
In Hornback's bedroom is a large por-
trait of Dickeis at age 27 done by one
of his students. A composite photograph
hanging from the opposite wall shows
Hornback as the "Young Dickens" star-
ing inquisitively at the "Old Dickens".
In another bedroom hangs a drawing
which shows over 200 distinct Dickens
according to Hornback. Hornback says, characters arranged in a public square.
"Dickens likes the changes Scrooge goes
through. At the end, as Scrooge walks Hornblack most resembles Dickens
around the streets of London, he real- in his persistent humanism. Accord-
izes that everything can give him plea- ing to Hornback, "Dickens convinc-
sure. Dickens called that his Carol Phil- ed himself that to hate anything is
osophy' and tried to get large doses of to waste energy, and the way that
it into his later works." you conserve energy is to love
Once in the Dickens Room, you can- things."
not escape the face of the author. It
stares at you from cushions, plates, sil-
touhettes, memorial postage stamps, sta-
tues and graphics. There are also Dickens
hand towels, a Dickens scarf, a towel
from the Pickwick Hotel, and two boxes f
of Charles Dickens Tea..r4
Hornback keeps his nearly complete f
collection of Dickens' first editions in the '
roam. He reads "David Copperfield", f* r
his favorite Dickens novel, at least once'
a year. He reads the others at least
every other year.
Color graphics. representing scenes
from Dickens' novels line the walls of the:
Dickens Room. They were created for
the television series Hornback did on }
Dickens for the University TV Center. j
It was during the series that Hornback
got his first chance to "be" Dickens. As
he tells it, "We did a whole batch ofy
shots of me in my Dickens outfit and
Dickens beard standing behind a replica
of his reading desk - being him. Andu
it was really fun. I did it mostly rhetor-
ical passages where Dickens speaks as
the narrator. Other scenes were done

make a whole wall of fake books, with
es and guilded names."
The drawing remains a favorite of Horn-
back's: "You can see Dickens' achieve-
ment. There's a whole city here. le just
can't resist creating people. Instead of
introducing Mr. McCawber, he introduc-
es Mr. McCamber, Mrs. McCawber, and
their children, incluidng twins. People
are almost like excressences for him,
whole families keep popping up every-
In Bornback's study sits a replica of
Miss Haversham's weding cake from
"Great Expectations". It has cobwebs
all over it. Above it looms a gargan-
tuan humbug.
Hornback also has a pile of letters he
received from sixth-graders at Ann Ar-
bor's Angell School. They all begin,
"Dean Mr. Dickens . . ." When Horn-
back first visited the class dressed as
Dickens, they did not quite know who he
was. "You better watch out," he told
them, "because for over 100 years peo-
ple have said that I invented children."
The sixth graders found out who Dickens
was real fast.
Bert Hornback does more than study,
play and teach Dickens. He acts as co-
chairman of the Honors Committee and
has ran the noetrv readings for the past
seven years. He also coordinates the Eng-
lish Department's counselors. Besides the
Dickens book, Hornback has published
a studv of Thums Hardy's novels, "The
Metnhnor of Chance," and a short 'nli-
tial. and etlinarv fable called "K i n g
Ri-hard thy Catsno," which ends with
the hero drowning in ten feet of cottage
Hornback most resembles Dickens in
his persistent humanism. According to
Hornback, "Dickens convinced himself
that to hate anything is a waste of en-
ergy, and the way that you conserve en-
eray is to love things."
As you leave Prof. Hornback's house,
you leave the friendly glow of Dickens'
humanism. It is a humanism that lives
on in Bert Hornback, and through him,
in his students.
Looking back you see a forlorn peace
sign in' the dining room window.
John Kralik is an LSA senior, a
member of the Daily Editorial Page,
and an expert in the'study of tovers
floors from close range.

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