I recently visited the land of my birth, and I was able to get my “London fix” and spend some time with dear friends in this big city.
Although I love living in Coastal Georgia and enjoy the beauty of our area as well as having the city of Savannah on our doorstep, I occasionally need to reconnect with my roots and spend a little time in England, and London in particular.
Last week, I visited the Charles Dickens Museum, which I had last visited about 30 years ago. This museum is located across the road from the office where I held my first full-time job in marketing on Doughty Street in Bloomsbury in London.
I remember skipping the sandwich at my desk one lunch hour back in the 1980s to explore this great British author’s history, and it was great to see it again after all these years.
Some of the exhibits had changed, of course, but the house and key aspects remained as I remembered them, which seemed strangely reassuring in our fast moving and ever-changing world.
Since many of the traditions we all recently shared during the holiday season started with Charles Dickens and were immortalized in his books, I thought it would be interesting to share some information and history of this greatest of all British authors.
His books helped to shape and influence the traditions of Christmas in England, many of which were imported by British settlers emigrating to the “New World” as the America was known at that time.
Charles Dickens was the most popular English language author of the 19th century, and one of the most popular of all time. His dozens of novels and novellas include “The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Bleak House,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Great Expectations,” and the immortal tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future: “A Christmas Carol.” Wow!
Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-70) moved to 48 Doughty St. in London with his wife and first child in 1837, the year Queen Victoria began her reign. At that time Dickens was a young writer using the pen name “Boz.” By the time he and his growing family moved out just three years later, he had become an international star.
During his lifetime, Dickens toured throughout Europe and the USA on book tours where he read from his novels to large audiences. Interestingly, his novels were the soap operas of his day as they were serialized every month and published a few chapters at a time for his fans to purchase at a modest charge.
Remember that Great Britain was changing rapidly during the 1800s with improved technology, communication and transportation networks, and literacy spread quickly along with a growing middle class with more disposable income.
The cost of full, printed books was still very high, but short, serialized chapters were affordable to the majority of citizens during the Victorian era.
The Charles Dickens Museum in London is a narrow but tall house with five floors and is displayed as the family home it was for the Dickens family. It is filled with their personal possessions, including paintings, ornaments, Catherine’s engagement ring, Dickens’ handwritten novel drafts, some of his clothing and his writing desk.
Dickens did not come from wealth. In fact his father spent time in a debtor’s prison, which led to Charles working at Warren's Blacking Factory (making boot polish) from the age of 12 to help support the family.
This traumatic experience was a major influence in his life and the subject of poverty and debtor’s prisons appears in many of his novels. Dickens would walk the streets of London by night for inspiration for his novels, visiting the areas a short walk away from his respectable house, which held law courts, workhouses, factories and slums.
Dickens entertained guests a great deal in fine style and enjoyed performing in amateur theatricals from childhood and into his adult life, which culminated in his solo performances reading his books to the public.
Charles and Catherine Dickens had 10 children but in 1858 the author became dissatisfied in his marriage and separated from his wife.
There is much more information at www.dickensmuseum.com
I say goodbye this week with a quote from the great man himself, taken from his book of 1844, “The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In.” This is the second in his series of Christmas books, after the most famous “A Christmas Carol:”
“So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you!”
God bless America and Happy New Year!