How the Dickens did you know?
You can’t have missed it – the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens. He was a ‘superstar’ the most read author of any time, dominating the literary life of the 19th century in England and USA. Today we are still addicted to his stories captured on TV, stage and musicals.
Many of his stories are autobiographical. As a young lad he visited his father in the debtors’ prison and was well acquainted with the misery of that world. At the age of 11 he was sent to a school in Kent but left at the age of 12 to go to work to pay off his father’s debts!
All of these experiences he revisited in David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and other stories of childhood misery.
No wonder then that he became eccentric and obsessive in behaviour. He would look in the mirror to comb his hair hundreds of times in a day; insisted on sleeping North/South aligned; he would tap certain articles three times to bring him luck. He suffered from epilepsy and was a constant practical joker. His best friend was Hans Christian Anderson who dedicated a book to him.
Dickens made several visits to Newcastle and the North, staying at the King’s Head Barnard Castle, and Alderman Fenwick’s House in Pilgrim Street (later known as the Queen’s Head).
Nelly Ternan became his mistress and lived in Westgate St. She was his model for Estella in Great Expectations. He acted in three of his plays at the Assembly Rooms Newcastle, and later in Pilgrim St. Sunderland. All these experiences have been woven into his stories.
Of the people of Newcastle he said ‘A finer audience there is not in all England, I suppose them to be a specially earnest people, for while they can laugh till they shake the roof, they have a very unusual sympathy with the pathetic and the passionate.’