Charles Dickens and his Legacy
Here we are again! December! I know most of us will be concerned about the game “You’ve just been Whammed”! (How long can you go through December without hearing ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham?) But have you heard any version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ yet? Within the last month, have you heard The Ghosts of Christmas Past mentioned, the names Scrooge, Marley or Tiny Tim? Have you visited a Christmas Fair to be welcomed by people in Dickensian costumes, visited a Kentish town and come across a Dickens fair or village? Better still, have you seen a film, TV or cartoon adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’?
Left: A Christmas Carol (Animated version) (2009)
Below: A Christmas Carol (1951) Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley and Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.
It could have been during a Blackadder special, and even the Muppets have depicted the story. Gonzo becomes Dickens and narrates the story ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Muppets and humans break into merry song and dance. It is safe to say that this story, as well as many others written by Charles Dickens, have become embedded in British culture.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
“It has been said that Charles Dickens invented Christmas. This, of course, is not true. It is more correct to say that with his 1843 masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, he reinvented Christmas.” (The Charles Dickens Homepage)
Who was Charles Dickens?
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7th February 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Charles was one of eight children. Times were hard for Charles and his family. The family followed his father’s employment from Portsmouth to Chatham in Kent, where John worked in the Naval Pay Office at the dockyard. In 1824 John Dickens was sent to prison for not being able to pay his baker the sum of £40 and ten shillings. John was imprisoned for three months and released in May.
During this time, Charles was forced by his mother to work at a blacking factory. For Charles work would have been hard as he was just 12 years old, and he worked 12 hours a day in poor conditions. Once John was released, the family got their savings back, but for Charles he already had a wealth of experience as a young apprentice to share with his readers through his storytelling. Some say after his time at the blacking factory he changed and left his childhood behind him. In the story ‘David Copperfield’ he shares his memories of working in the warehouse.
Warren’s Blacking Factory, where Dickens worked as a child, stood near where Charing Cross Station is today: Charles Dickens Museum.
Did you know?
Charles Dickens spent his youth and most of his adult life in Kent. He has many links with Kent. I wonder how many characters from his books were inspired by his personal life as well as the places he lived.
Dickens lived in Kent from 1816 – 1822 when his father worked in Chatham and then again in from 1856 – 1870 at Gad’s Hill Place, Higham. The surrounding area of Gad’s Hill appears in the Pickwick Papers, including a depiction of the local inn, The Leather Bottle. Great Expectations takes the reader through local scenes such as the Cooling Churchyard, The Guildhall, Satis House and The Ship, all located in Rochester.
“Novels all associated with Kent were Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two cities, Great Expectations, Our English Watering Place and Out of Town”. (Professor Carolyn Oulton)
Broadstairs was one of Dickens’ favourite places, and he was fascinated by The Goodwin Sands. He disguised Folkestone, another favourite location of his, as Pavilionstone and included it in the novel Little Dorrit. David Copperfield is set partly in Dover and Canterbury, and Great Expectations is a powerful story of young men whose lives are shaped by the Kent landscape.
Dickens set his last novel, ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ mostly in Rochester. The novel includes landmarks such as the Cathedral cloister and Eastgate House.
“In 1865 Dickens narrowly escaped death when the train in which he was travelling from Folkestone to London jumped a gap in the line occasioned by some repair work on a viaduct near Staplehurst, Kent” (Jill.L .Matus)
Only one of the first-class coaches escaped without damage and this was Charles Dickens’ coach. This makes me wonder if this was one of the reasons for another of Dickens’ novels, titled, ‘The Signalman’.
“In The Signalman, Charles Dickens demonstrates the powerlessness of humanity in the face of technological advancement by interconnecting the supernatural to the mundanity of life during the industrial era”.
(Boo Sujiwaro, 2017)
Illustration taken of the accident near Staplehurst. 1865.
Charles Dickens died on 9th June 1870, aged 58 years old, at his home, Gad’s Hill Place. Dickens wanted to be buried at Rochester Cathedral, but due to his worldwide reputation he was buried at Westminster Abbey. He rests at Poets Corner alongside writers such as C.S. Lewis and Thomas Hardy. You can find out more about Poets Corner by going to the Westminster Abbey website.
If you wanted to find out more about how Dickens was inspired by Kent, please do check out Kent Maps Online.
Charles Dickens became an adjective: ‘Dickensian‘
The adjective ‘Dickensian’ was created within Dickens’ lifetime. The first entry of ‘Dickensian’ appeared in the English Dictionary back in 1856.
Today Dictionary.com notes Dickensian as the following;
of Charles Dickens or his works (resembling or suggestive of conditions described in Dickens’ novels, esp)
squalid and poverty-stricken: working conditions were truly Dickensian characterized by jollity and conviviality: a Dickensian scene round the Christmas tree
So, as with Dickens’ fiction, Dickensian proves to have positive and negative connotations of his time.
The Victorian era, Industrial Revolution and Charles Dickens
Dickens grew to hate the world he was living in and would call the Industrial revolution “A vision of hell”, but in his fiction he would use this vision to immortalise the Victorian era. A new age of men and machines was introduced, resulting in new, large factories. He would write about the mistreatment of children in these factories and how they were put to work in hard conditions at a young age.
In ‘A Christmas Carol’ he shows people’s greed and need for money, with the examples of Marley and Scrooge, but also the mistreatment of the less advantaged characters, like Tiny Tim and his father Bob Cratchit. Dickens had compassion for children, and through his writing he portrayed this in order to seek public understanding of what was happening around him and the need to change people’s views. He drew many characters from life experiences.
I have no doubt that, as with Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, you will come across a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ or maybe one of Dickens’ other tales, especially this time of year. Whether or not you agree that Charles Dickens invented Christmas, you might agree he is one of the greatest Victorian writers of his day. His fiction is still enjoyed now, hundreds of years later, generation after generation, worldwide.
If you wanted to read one of his tales there are many resources discoverable via LibrarySearch
Go to LibrarySearch and your A-Z collection of Databases select either of the above collections and search for Charles Dickens.
Don’t forget to check out the 3rd floor of Augustine House for further resources!