As Dickens Festival Approaches, Things to Know about the Author
(Crystal A. Proxmire, orig. Nov. 7, 2016)
Holly, MI – Did you know that in all his life, Charles Dickens never missed a deadline except once? That he had an unusual fondness for prostitutes? Or that his family pet helped launch the career of a gloomy poet?
These and other lesser-known facts about the iconic author were revealed at a special presentation Saturday at Past Tense Books in Holly. Joy Carr, who is a volunteer with the annual Dicken’s Festival, donned her Victorian Era costume and enchanted the audience with her trivia.
Dickens was born in 1812 and died in 1870. He started off life poor. His father went to debtors’ prison when Dickens was only 12 and his mother sent him to work in a factory polishing shoes. He walked five miles to do a ten hour shift. At the age of 21 he got a job as a shorthand reporter for a newspaper and at 24 it was the serial publication The Pickwick Papers that launched him into literary fame. He was a novelist, a reporter and an editor through his life, only missing a deadline once. In 1837 his sister-in-law, who lived with he and his wife Catherine, died in his arms after illness at the age of 17. The shock made him unable to write for several days.
Dickens and his wife Catherine had ten children. Catherine suffered from depression. They eventually separated though Dickens cared for her financially the remainder of her life.
His success allowed Dickens to travel the world giving readings, and seeing the cruelties of the world which often made it into his writing – and into his charity. He was an advocate for the poor and a critic of American greed and slavery. He also founded The Urania Cottage, a home for women who were trying to better themselves after a life of prostitution. Women lived in the home for one year while they learned life skills and a trade. Many moved to Australia and had better lives.
Another little-known fact is that the Dickens family had a pet raven named Grip who they’d trained to talk. Grip appeared in family portraits, and in the novel Barnaby Rudge. Edgar Allen Poe thought the story was foolish, and that a raven should not be a cheerful, smart creature. So he wrote his famous poem in an attempt to show Dickens how to portray such a bird right.
He was an advocate for international copyright law as well. At the time his works were protected in Europe, but easily copied overseas.
Carr’s presentation also shed light on a train derailment in 1865 that caused the author to lose his voice for two weeks due to shock. He’d been riding the train with his presumed mistress and her mother when it became derailed and several cars sunk into the River Beult. Dickens climbed through the window and pulled others out. Ten people died and 40 were injured, a horror that affected the author long after his voice returned. He avoided trains whenever possible. He died five years to the day later, passing away due to stroke.
Dickens published more than a dozen major novels including The Adventures of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. He continued to write short stories and work as a journalist and an editor through his life.
Carr’s presentation helped get folks warmed up for the Dickens Festival, which takes place for three weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
2016 Holly Dickens Festival Dates:
November 25* (beginning at 7:30pm) , 26, 27
December 3, 4 & 10, 11
Saturdays: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sundays: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
For more information see: http://hollydickensfestival.org/.