Here’s a list of facts, events and dates in the life of Charles Dickens. The Charles Dickens timeline also includes information about the era in which he lived.
The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain begins in June of 1812.
John Dickens, the father of Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffman Dickens is born on February 7, 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens.
The War of 1812 ends in February of 1815. Also, The Corn Laws (trade restrictions on imported food and grain) were introduced in Great Britain.
Illustration by Fred Bernard of young Charles Dickens at work in a shoe-blacking factory. (from the 1892 edition of Forster’s Life of Dickens)
1824 was the darkest year in Dickens’s life. His father, John Dickens was arrested for debt and sent to the Marshalsea prison. The family needed money and sent Charles to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory.
In May of 1827 Charles Dickens takes a position as the clerk of an attorney.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened on September 15, 1830. It was the first railway to rely on locomotives driven by steam power, with no horse-drawn traffic.
Dickens meets Maria Beadnell, his first love interest.
The British Factory Act of 1833 made it illegal to employ children less than 9 years old in factories. It limited child workers aged 9 to 13 to a maximum of 9 hours work a day.
The British Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 stated that the able-bodied cannot receive assistance unless they enter a workhouse.
Catherine (Hogarth) Dickens
Dickens begins using the pseudonym “Boz“.
He meets his future wife, Catherine Hogarth.
Dickens becomes engaged to Catherine.
The first chapters of The Pickwick Papers are published.
June 20, 1837 marks the beginning of the Victorian era. It is on that date that Queen Victoria ascended the throne after the death of her uncle, William IV.
Queen Victoria in 1882
The first of his 10 children, Charles Culliford Boz Dickens, is born.
The publication of Oliver Twist begins.
The Faith Behind the Famous: Charles Dickens
CHARLES DICKENS has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.
Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and high-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education. “InOur Mutual Friend,” writes Neil Philip, citing one example, “[Dickens] depicts a [religious] leacher ‘drawling on to My Dearerr Childerrenerr . . . about the beautiful coming to the Sepulchre and repeating the word Sepulchre (commonly used among infants) five hundred times, and never once hinting what it meant.’ ”
Taste of Poverty
Dickens’s life follows a classic rags—to—riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level.
Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s. Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.
Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 A.M to 8 P.M., with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.
Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then theMorning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.
Disenchantment with Religion
The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine. . . . They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”
This attitude did not come by accident it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.
In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.
Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is As Sabbath Bills would make it As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.
Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.
Settling Down to Success
The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to ten children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.
Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.
“God Bless Us, Every One”
Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.
Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.
The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.
Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion for Dickens, they were the means.
A Secret Work Revealed
In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:
“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”
Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world. . . . ” The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.
While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.
One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour because I feel it and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”
In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.
Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.
In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”
Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.” CH
By Stephen Rost
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #27 in 1990]
Stephen Rost, a writer from Mesquite, Texas, is the editor of eight volumes in the Christian Classics Series (Nelson, 1988–9).
Charles Dickens Biography
Charles Dickens (Charles John Huffam Dickens) was born in Landport, Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812. Charles was the second of eight children to John Dickens (1786–1851), a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and his wife Elizabeth Dickens (1789–1863). The Dickens family moved to London in 1814 and two years later to Chatham, Kent, where Charles spent early years of his childhood. Due to the financial difficulties they moved back to London in 1822, where they settled in Camden Town, a poor neighborhood of London.
young Dickens The defining moment of Dickens's life occurred when he was 12 years old. His father, who had a difficult time managing money and was constantly in debt, was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor's prison in 1824. Because of this, Charles was withdrawn from school and forced to work in a warehouse that handled 'blacking' or shoe polish to help support the family. This experience left profound psychological and sociological effects on Charles. It gave him a firsthand acquaintance with poverty and made him the most vigorous and influential voice of the working classes in his age.
After a few months Dickens's father was released from prison and Charles was allowed to go back to school. At fifteen his formal education ended and he found employment as an office boy at an attorney's, while he studied shorthand at night. From 1830 he worked as a shorthand reporter in the courts and afterwards as a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.
In 1833 Dickens began to contribute short stories and essays to periodicals. A Dinner at Popular Walk was Dickens's first published story. It appeared in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833. In 1834, still a newspaper reporter, he adopted the soon to be famous pseudonym Boz. Dickens's first book, a collection of stories titled Sketches by Boz, was published in 1836. In the same year he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle. Together they had 10 children before they separated in 1858.
Although Dickens's main profession was as a novelist, he continued his journalistic work until the end of his life, editing The Daily News, Household Words, and All the Year Round. His connections to various magazines and newspapers gave him the opportunity to begin publishing his own fiction at the beginning of his career.
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was published in monthly parts from April 1836 to November 1837. Pickwick became one of the most popular works of the time, continuing to be so after it was published in book form in 1837. After the success of Pickwick Dickens embarked on a full-time career as a novelist, producing work of increasing complexity at an incredible rate: Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge as part of the Master Humphrey's Clock series (1840-41), all being published in monthly instalments before being made into books.
In 1842 he travelled with his wife to the United States and Canada, which led to his controversial American Notes (1842) and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens's series of five Christmas Books were soon to follow A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). After living briefly abroad in Italy (1844) and Switzerland (1846) Dickens continued his success with Dombey and Son (1848), the largely autobiographical David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-53), Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1857), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861).
In 1856 his popularity had allowed him to buy Gad's Hill Place, an estate he had admired since childhood. In 1858 Dickens began a series of paid readings, which became instantly popular. In all, Dickens performed more than 400 times. In that year, after a long period of difficulties, he separated from his wife. It was also around that time that Dickens became involved in an affair with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, but it was clearly central to Dickens's personal and professional life.
In the closing years of his life Dickens worsened his declining health by giving numerous readings. During his readings in 1869 he collapsed, showing symptoms of mild stroke. He retreated to Gad's Hill and began to work on Edwin Drood, which was never completed.
Charles Dickens died at home on June 9, 1870 after suffering a stroke. Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, he was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads:
The Haunted House (story)
"The Haunted House" is a story published in 1859 for the weekly periodical All the Year Round. It was "Conducted by Charles Dickens", with contributions from others. It is a "portmanteau" story, with Dickens writing the opening and closing stories, framing stories by Dickens himself and five other authors. 
"The Mortals in the House" (Charles Dickens)
"The Ghost in the Clock Room" (Hesba Stretton)
"The Ghost in the Double Room" (George Augustus Sala)
"The Ghost in the Picture Room" (Adelaide Anne Procter)
"The Ghost in the Cupboard Room" (Wilkie Collins)
"The Ghost in Master B's Room" (Charles Dickens)
"The Ghost in the Garden Room" (Elizabeth Gaskell)
"The Ghost in the Corner Room" (Charles Dickens)
The story appeared in the Extra Christmas Number on 13 December 1859. Dickens began a tradition of Christmas publications with A Christmas Carol in 1843 and his Christmas stories soon became a national institution. The Haunted House was his 1859 offering.
In Dickens's opening story, The Mortals in the House, the narrator's ("John") health "required a temporary residence in the country." Knowing this, a friend of the narrator had chanced to drive by the house--situated close to a railroad stop mid-way between Northern England and London--and had written to the narrator suggesting he travel down from the North and look the place over. It was a large mid-eighteenth-century manor house on two square acres with a "sadly neglected garden," recently cheaply repaired, and "much too closely and heavily shadowed by trees." The house itself is "stiff . . . cold . . . [and] formal" and "in as bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of [King] Georges." It was "ill-placed, ill-built, ill-planned, and ill-fitted." It was "damp . . . not free from dry rot" and redolent with the "flavour of rats."
The house's reputation for being haunted has caused it to become "an avoided house," and although the narrator decides to rent it for six months (from October to March) and live there with his spinster sister (Patty), they cannot retain any servants due to a plethora of bizarre house noises. Therefore, by mid-November, Patty suggests that she and John "take the house wholly and solely into our own hands" and live without servants, with the exception of Bottles the stable-man who is deaf and therefore not bothered by the haunted noises. Patty further suggests that they invite a group of friends to come down and form a "Society" that would occupy the house for three months and "see what happens" as far as supernatural activity in the house is concerned. 
Seven friends arrive at the end of November and draw lots for different bedrooms. Patty retains her own bedroom and John draws the bedroom of the apparently very troublesome ghost of Master B whose servant bell was always ringing until John had the bright idea of de-belling it. John and Patty's first cousin John Herschel and his wife (newlyweds) draw the "Clock Room," Alfred Starling (a young fellow of twenty-eight who "pretends to be fast") draws John's room--the "Double Room." Patty's closest friend Belinda Bates, "a most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl" with a "fine genius for poetry, who combines "real business earnestness" with "Woman's mission, Woman's rights, Woman's wrongs" draws the "Picture-Room." Sailor Jack Governor who was once engaged to Patty "slings his hammock" in the "Corner Room," and his friend Nat Beaver (captain of a merchantman) gets the "Cupboard Room." Finally, friend and family solicitor Mr. Undery (an ace at whist) draws his lot for the "Garden Room." The friends agree to keep silent about any ghostly experiences until they gather on Twelfth Night unless "on some remarkable provocation" they have to break their silence on the subject of any haunted goings-on.
The ghosts the characters see have no connection with the house, and are not even really ghosts the stories are of injustice, terror, or regret. 
The tales are all very different, but each has an element of the strange and scary. Some of the house guests have heard stories from ghosts while others have had out-of-body experiences. Wilkie Collins tells a seafaring story of Spanish pirates and the torment of a candle that, as it burns, takes the narrator ever closer to explosion and death. Dickens himself contributes The Ghost in Master B's Room, a very peculiar tale of the ghost of innocence that hints at the author’s own feelings of melancholy. Elizabeth Gaskell contributes a strong story of working people in the north of England. The closing story, The Ghost in the Corner Room, is again by Dickens.  
"The Haunted House of 1859" was one of the attractions at Dickens World in Chatham, Kent, England.  
Who were Mr Dick and Miss Havisham?
I have been researching (with the help of many collaborators) and the help of the Dickens society, the connections of past Bonchurch residents that inspired two of Charles Dickens Characters, and conclude that both “Mr Dick” from David Copperfield and “Miss Havisham” from Great Expectations are based on Bonchurch folk!
Dickens left a lifetime of letters that he wrote (more than 14,000 and counting ), which have helped researchers to pinpoint the exact location and date of his movements, from these letters we have been able to build connections with the Island and Bonchurch in particular. On 3rd September 1860 , shortly before writing Great Expectations he made a bonfire at Gad's Hill near Rochester , Kent ( the house that he lived in for the last thirteen years of his life) of all the letters he had received from people. It's a shame he didn't keep them as they would have contained a lot of useful information. More important are the letters he wrote to other people, most people who received letters from him kept them.
1838 Charles Dickens’s first visit to the Isle of Wight
Charles Dickens first visited the island with his wife Kate in September 1838  staying at the Groves Needles Hotel Alum Bay, between 3 rd & 8 th September – writing a humorous letter to the proprietor Mr Groves (1) , before moving on to Ventnor and staying at The Ventnor Hotel ( the predecessor name for the Royal Hotel ) from 8 th -10 th September. The Royal was built in 1831 and run by John Fisher. In 1844 the hotel was kept by a Mr Keatly and her Majesty Queen Victoria took refreshment here before visiting Steephill Castle.
The Groves Needles Hotel Alum Bay, where Charles Dickens stayed between 3 rd & 8 th September 1838 , writing a humorous prose to the proprietor Mr Groves:
" Oh Mr. Groves, If so be you approves
Of writings in rhyme Knocked off in a quick time. "
(see reference 1 below)
The Ventnor Family Hotel & Boarding House, Isle of Wight RCIN 701466
There was also a Groves Hotel in Ventnor, but it is not clear there is a link between the two hotels.
The small cottage (Hillside) can be seen in front of ‘Groves Hotel’ in the engraving here by T. Higham from 1824. From Ventnor & District Local History Society
John Leech, The man who illustrated Christmas
In nearby Bonchurch, a similar named property, Hill Cottage(now Hillside Cottage) was later used by Dickens close friend & illustrator John Leech, who was with Dickens in the summer of 1849.
John Leech came to fame in 1840, when Dickens commissioned him to illustrate “A Christmas Carol”. With Dickens story and Leech's illustration it changed the way the public viewed Christmas. Indeed the 2017 Film “The man who invented Christmas” starring Simon Callow as John Leech was based on this story.
John Leech became very ill whilst at Hillside Cottage with Charles Dickens caring for him (2).
1849 Charles Dickens’s summer of research at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight
Charles Dickens’s second visit to the Isle of Wight was a deep immersion to village life when in 1849 when spent a long summer in Bonchurch village .
The Rev James White
The Author, Property Developer & close friend of Dickens the Rev James White, rented his substantial property “Winterbourne Villa”to the Dickens family for their entire stay in 1849.
During his time at Winterbourne , Dickens spent lots of time with Rev James White and his wife Rosa at Woodlynch, which according to his biographer John Forster were some of Dickens's happiest hours writing "With Dickens, White was popular supremely for his eager good fellowship and few men brought him more of what he always like to receive . But he brought nothing so good as his wife."He is excellent, but she is better" is the pithy remark of his first Bonchurch letter and the true affection and respect that followed is happily still bourne by his daughters" (11)
Dickens also wrote of Rev James White " White very jovial and emulous of the inimitable in respect of "gin -punch"
Samuel Dick the real-life Mr Dick
Mr Dick first appears in David Copperfield in chapter 13, the first chapter Dickens wrote when he moved into Winterbourne. We know from local sources  that he dined with Samuel Dick and Family at “Uppermount” and fitting that Dickens used Captain Samuel Dick’s name for Mr Dick, fondly written as a lovely character as Betsy Trotwood's relative and lodger in “Blunderstone Cottage."
Before he moved to Winterbourne, Dickens had spent a week in Broadstairs (see also Fort House now Bleak House), finishing up to Chapter 12 of David Copperfield. Mr Dick appeared in the next chapter. The timings work wonderfully.
Whilst at Winterbourne, Dickens regularly walked up Saint Boniface Down (the highest point on the Isle of Wight). He entertained many of his wide circle of literary friends including William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Tennyson.
The Dickens family tea at the Swinburne’s
Opposite the entrance to “Winterbourne “is “East Dene” where the 12-year-old Algernon Swinburne lived with his parents. The Dickens family regularly had “High Tea” with the Swinburne’s (4).
The young Queen Victoria had also bought Osborne House (in East Cowes) a few years earlier and moved in during 1848 because of Revolutionary scares that had recently deposed King Louis Philippe 1 of France.
Miss Haviland & Miss Blennerhassett move to Ashleigh and build Haviland Cottage
Miss Catherine Fane Haviland and her cousin Miss Margaret Blennerhasett moved together to "Ashleigh" in 1852, and had three female servants living in the house . During her ownership she had constructed a Coach House and stables in the grounds now known as “Haviland Cottage.”
Miss Haviland and Miss Blennerhasett who termed their occupation as “Gentle-women” appeared regularly on the social scene including "The Fashionable List" [9 > They sold Ashleigh with the accompanying coach house in 1862.
Queen Victoria often visited Ashleigh, and the stunning entrance porch standing today is rumoured to have been built for her visits. In one visit in January 1869 , she arrived in the Royal Open Carriage with an entourage and a substantial crowd of well wishers gathered outside heartily cheering her on leaving.
Coach House built for Miss Haviland – Madeira Vale 1860 (Drawing from Haviland Cottage) then in the Grounds of "Ashleigh" next door.
The Dick family home “Uppermount” was renamed firstly “Coombe Wood” and later “Peacock Vane” when the much-loved Joan Wolfenden along with her husband ‘Woolfie’ established the very first Country House Hotel. She was also an author and illustrator. Although the property is now known as Peacock Vane, the carved name Coombe Wood remains on the gate post.
Margaret Catherine Dick the real-life Miss Havisham
Samuel Dick passed away at Uppermount in 1856 (aged 72) but was buried at his family’s vault in Ashford Kent.
Jilted at the altar
After his death in 1860, his daughter Margaret Catherine Dick was jilted on the morning of her wedding at Holy Trinity Church and left the family home to live a reclusive life in Madeira Hall.
1860 Dickens's return to the Isle of Wight
According to the delightful book “Dickens on an Island”  Charles Dickens visited the Island in November/December 1860, perhaps to see his friend Rev. James White, whose daughter died earlier that year – indeed Dicken’s two daughters had visited Bonchurch to give comfort earlier in the year to his dying daughter . Dickens, either directly, or through his two daughters or Rev James White, would have learned about Margaret Dick’s unfortunate aborted wedding, and the arrival of Miss Catherine Haviland into one of the grand houses in the village. It is probable that Rev James White's letters to Dickens would have been burnt in the great "letter bonfire" of that year , particularly if the Rev White was due to marry Margaret Dick.
It is generally considered that Margaret Dick’s failed marriage was the inspiration for Miss Havisham who was also jilted at the altar in Great Expectations. Opposite Madeira Hall there are also former stables and a coach house built in 1860 for a "Miss Haviland" and now called Haviland Cottage. Similar building(s) are mentioned as the coach house to Statis House in Great Expectations.
I am now convinced that Charles Dickens based the idea of Miss Havisham on Margaret Dick but named the character after her neighbour Catherine Haviland. The dates, location, and similarities to real life match to a tee!
Margaret Dick (Miss Havisham) died in 1878 aged 52, leaving Madeira Hall to her brother in the will. She is buried in Ventnor Cemetery in Upper Ventnor. Miss Catherine Haviland also died aged 52 in Lausanne , Switzerland.
During this research I have reflected on what a wonderful summer of 1849 would have been in Bonchurch with this amazing collection of young talent bouncing ideas and creativity off each other. If ever there was a time machine to travel you would set it to July 1849!
The Charles Dickens Literary Walks around Bonchurch and Ventnor:
I have curated two walks, one short and one much longer mapping out the key locations on a suggested literary walking tour. See how many Blue Plaques you can find, en route and we hope to see a couple more plaques in future!
The Charles Dickens Short Literary Walk
The short walk is just over an hour, and concentrates on the Victorian Celebrity hotspot of Bonchurch, however please be warned that it is fairly hilly. If you enjoyed the walk, please consider making a voluntary donation of £3 or more to the Bonchurch Community Association - which provides for the upkeep of the beautiful village, and for community events.
Please make a transfer to the BCA , Sort Code 54-10-34 , Account # 18483488 Ref Haviland
The Charles Dickens Long Literary Walk
The long walk is over two hours walk and challenging, which includes the beautiful coastal path from Bonchurch Shore to Ventnor Esplanade, up the steep hill to The Royal Hotel, and further up the hill to Ventnor Cemetery which overlooks both Ventnor and Bonchurch and where Margaret Dick (Miss Havisham) is buried. It also takes in the excellent Ventnor Heritage Museum and I highly recommend a visit to see the exhibits.
Thanks to all the people who contributed and supported the research
I’d particularly like to thank Les Matravers (Trustee, Ventnor Heritage Centre), Sue Lowday (Bonchurch Community Association), Geoffrey Christopher (Member of the Dickens Fellowship) & Sean Ridgeway – The Dickens Society, who have enthusiastically helped me with several “gems” of information. Also, to Wayne Giddes: for prompting me to investigate the history of Haviland Cottage, Lin Arnold– Local Playwright and long-time advocate that Margaret Dick was the basis for Miss Havisham, Rev Hugh Wright – Vicar of Saint Boniface Parish Church, whose drawings are reproduced with their permissions, Vic King – Historian, Lesley Telford: Trustee, Ventnor Heritage Centre & Pamela Parker – Island Photographer.
Dickens worked himself to death
If all the writing and publishing wasn't enough, Dickens also kept up an incredible schedule on the speaking circuit, reciting his work and lecturing on social reforms that focused on children's rights and education. In the spring of 1869, as his health was becoming an impediment to travel, Dickens set out on his "farewell readings" tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland. During it, he suffered a mild stroke and was forced to return home. Although his health had improved significantly, he ignored his doctor's wishes and scheduled 12 performances of "A Christmas Carol" as well as a trial scene from "The Pickwick Papers" at St. James' Hall in London beginning in January 1870. Appearing frail, per the British Library, Dickens made it through the 12 events and moved full steam ahead on his unfinished novel, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." However, on June 8, 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke and died the following day.
According to John Forster, Dickens' friend and executor, the author's wish was to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," with "no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial," per Robert Garnett's book, Charles Dickens in Love. Instead, he was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey along with Geoffrey Chaucer and William Camden. "He was a sympathizer with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world," a printed epitaph read, per Historic UK.
Charles Dickens Biography
Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870), probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society.
Dickens's novels criticize the injustices of his time, especially the brutal treatment of the poor in a society sharply divided by differences of wealth. But he presents this criticism through the lives of characters that seem to live and breathe. Paradoxically, they often do so by being flamboyantly larger than life: The 20th-century poet and critic T. S. Eliot wrote, "Dickens's characters are real because there is no one like them." Yet though these characters range through the sentimental, grotesque, and humorous, few authors match Dickens's psychological realism and depth. Dickens's novels rank among the funniest and most gripping ever written, among the most passionate and persuasive on the topic of social justice, and among the most psychologically telling and insightful works of fiction. They are also some of the most masterful works in terms of artistic form, including narrative structure, repeated motifs, consistent imagery, juxtaposition of symbols, stylization of characters and settings, and command of language.
Dickens established (and made profitable) the method of first publishing novels in serial instalments in monthly magazines. He thereby reached a larger audience including those who could only afford their reading on such an instalment plan. This form of publication soon became popular with other writers in Britain and the United States.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, on England's southern coast. His father was a clerk in the British Navy pay office a respectable position, but with little social status. His paternal grandparents, a steward (property manager) and a housekeeper, possessed even less status, having been servants, and Dickens later concealed their background. Dickens's mother supposedly came from a more respectable family. Yet two years before Dickens's birth, his mother's father was caught embezzling and fled to Europe, never to return.
The family's increasing poverty forced Dickens out of school at age 12 to work in Warren's Blacking Warehouse, a shoe-polish factory, where the other working boys mocked him as "the young gentleman." His father was then imprisoned for debt. The humiliations of his father's imprisonment and his labor in the blacking factory formed Dickens's greatest wound and became his deepest secret. He could not confide them even to his wife, although they provide the unacknowledged foundation of his fiction.
Soon after his father's release from prison, Dickens got a better job as errand boy in law offices. He taught himself shorthand to get an even better job later as a court stenographer and as a reporter in Parliament. At the same time, Dickens, who had a reporter's eye for transcribing the life around him, especially anything comic or odd, submitted short sketches to obscure magazines. The first published sketch, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" (later retitled "Mr. Minns and His Cousin") brought tears to Dickens's eyes when he discovered it in the pages of The Monthly Magazine in 1833. From then on his sketches, which appeared under the pen name "Boz" (rhymes with "rose") in The Evening Chronicle, earned him a modest reputation. Boz originated as a childhood nickname for Dickens's younger brother Augustus.
Dickens became a regular visitor at the home of George Hogarth, editor of The Evening Chronicle, and in 1835 became engaged to Hogarth's daughter Catherine. Publication of the collected Sketches by Boz in 1836 gave Dickens sufficient income to marry Catherine Hogarth that year. The marriage proved unhappy.
Soon after Sketches by Boz appeared, the fledgling publishing firm of Chapman and Hall approached Dickens to write a story in monthly instalments. The publisher intended the story as a backdrop for a series of woodcuts by the then-famous artist Robert Seymour, who had originated the idea for the story. With characteristic confidence, Dickens, although younger and relatively unknown, successfully insisted that Seymour's pictures illustrate his own story instead. After the first instalment, Dickens wrote to the artist he had displaced to correct a drawing he felt was not faithful enough to his prose. Seymour made the change, went into his backyard, and expressed his displeasure by blowing his brains out. Dickens and his publishers simply pressed on with a new artist. The comic novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, appeared serially in 1836 and 1837 and was first published in book form The Pickwick Papers in 1837.
The runaway success of The Pickwick Papers, as it is generally known today, clinched Dickens's fame. There were Pickwick coats and Pickwick cigars, and the plump, spectacled hero, Samuel Pickwick, became a national figure. Four years later, Dickens's readers found Dolly Varden, the heroine of Barnaby Rudge (1841), so irresistible that they named a waltz, a rose, and even a trout for her. The widespread familiarity today with Ebenezer Scrooge and his proverbial hard-heartedness from A Christmas Carol (1843) demonstrate that Dickens's characters live on in the popular imagination.
Dickens published 15 novels, one of which was left unfinished at his death. These novels are, in order of publication with serialization dates given first: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837 1837) The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-1839 1838) The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839 1839) The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841 1841) Barnaby Rudge (1841) Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844 1844) Dombey and Son (1846-1848 1848) The Personal History of David Copperfield (1849-1850 1850) Bleak House (1852-1853 1853) Hard Times (1854) Little Dorrit (1855-1857 1857) A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Great Expectations (1860-1861 1861) Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865 1865) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished 1870).
Through his fiction Dickens did much to highlight the worst abuses of 19th-century society and to prick the public conscience. But running through the main plot of the novels are a host of subplots concerning fascinating and sometime ludicrous minor characters. Much of the humor of the novels derives from Dickens's descriptions of these characters and from his ability to capture their speech mannerisms and idiosyncratic traits.
Dickens was influenced by the reading of his youth and even by the stories his nursemaid created, such as the continuing saga of Captain Murderer. These childhood stories, as well as the melodramas and pantomimes he saw in the theater as a boy, fired Dickens's imagination throughout his life. His favorite boyhood readings included picaresque novels such as Don Quixote by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and Tom Jones by English novelist Henry Fielding, as well as the Arabian Nights. In these long comic works, a roguish hero's exploits and adventures loosely link a series of stories.
The Pickwick Papers, for example, is a wandering comic epic in which Samuel Pickwick acts as a plump and cheerful Don Quixote, and Sam Weller as a cockney version of Quixote's knowing servant, Sancho Panza. The novel's preposterous characters, high spirits, and absurd adventures delighted readers.
After Pickwick, Dickens plunged into a bleaker world. In Oliver Twist, he traces an orphan's progress from the workhouse to the criminal slums of London. Nicholas Nickleby, his next novel, combines the darkness of Oliver Twist with the sunlight of Pickwick. Rascality and crime are part of its jubilant mirth.
The Old Curiosity Shop broke hearts across Britain and North America when it first appeared. Later readers, however, have found it excessively sentimental, especially the pathos surrounding the death of its child-heroine Little Nell. Dickens's next two works proved less popular with the public.
Barnaby Rudge, Dickens's first historical novel, revolves around anti-Catholic riots that broke out in London in 1780. The events in Martin Chuzzlewit become a vehicle for the novel's theme: selfishness and its evils. The characters, especially the Chuzzlewit family, present a multitude of perspectives on greed and unscrupulous self-interest. Dickens wrote it after a trip to the United States in 1842.
Many critics have cited Dombey and Son as the work in which Dickens's style matures and he succeeds in bringing multiple episodes together in a tight narrative. Set in the world of railroad-building during the 1840s, Dombey and Son looks at the social effects of the profit-driven approach to business. The novel was immediately successful.
Dickens always considered David Copperfield to be his best novel and the one he most liked. The beginning seems to be autobiographical, with David's childhood experiences recalling Dickens's own in the blacking factory. The unifying theme of the book is the "undisciplined heart" of the young David, which leads to all his mistakes, including the greatest of them, his mistaken first marriage.
Bleak House ushers in Dickens's final period as a satirist and social critic. A court case involving an inheritance forms the mainspring of the plot, and ultimately connects all of the characters in the novel. The dominant image in the book is fog, which envelops, entangles, veils, and obscures. The fog stands for the law, the courts, vested interests, and corrupt institutions. Dickens had a long-standing dislike of the legal system and protracted lawsuits from his days as a reporter in the courts.
A novel about industry, Hard Times, followed Bleak House in 1854. In Hard Times, Dickens satirizes the theories of political economists through exaggerated characters such as Mr. Bounderby, the self-made man motivated by greed, and Mr. Gradgrind, the schoolmaster who emphasizes facts and figures over all else. In Bounderby's mines, lives are ground down in Gradgrind's classroom, imagination and feelings are strangled.
The pervading image of Little Dorrit is the jail. Dickens's memory of his own father's time in debtors' prison adds an autobiographical touch to the novel. Little Dorrit also contains Dickens's invention of the Circumlocution Office, the archetype of all bureaucracies, where nothing ever gets done. Through this critique and others, such as the circular legal system in Bleak House, Dickens also investigated the ways in which art makes meaning and the workings of his own narrative style.
A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris during the French Revolution (1789-1799). It stands out among the novels as a work driven by incident and event rather than by character and is critical both of the violence of the mob and of the abuses of the aristocracy, which prompted the revolution. The successful Tale of Two Cities was soon followed by Great Expectations, which marked a return to the more familiar Dickensian style of character-driven narrative. Its main character, Pip, tells his own story. Pip's "great expectations" are to lead an idle life of luxury. Through Pip, Dickens exposes that ideal as false.
Dickens's last complete novel is the dark and powerful Our Mutual Friend. A tale of greed and obsession, it takes place in an ill-lit and dirty London, with images of darkness and decay throughout. Only 6 of the 12 intended parts of Edwin Drood had been completed by the time Dickens died. He intended it as a mystery story concerning the disappearance of the title character.
The end of Dickens's life was emotionally scarred by his separation from his dutiful wife, Catherine, as the result of his involvement with a young actress, Ellen Ternan. Catherine bore him ten children during their 22-year marriage, but he found her increasingly dull and unsympathetic. Against the advice of editors, Dickens published a letter vehemently justifying his actions to his readers, who would otherwise have known nothing about them.
Following the separation, Dickens continued his hectic schedule of novel, story, essay, and letter writing (his collected letters alone stretch thousands of pages) reform activities amateur theatricals and readings in addition to nightly social engagements and long midnight walks through London. His energy had always seemed to his friends inhuman, but he maintained this activity in his later years in disregard of failing health. Dickens died of a stroke shortly after his farewell reading tour, while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens's social critique in his novels was sharp and pointed. As his biographer Edgar Johnson observed in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952), Dickens's criticism was aimed not just at "the cruelty of the workhouse and the foundling asylum, the enslavement of human beings in mines and factories, the hideous evil of slums where crime simmered and proliferated, the injustices of the law, and the cynical corruption of the lawmakers" but also at "the great evil permeating every field of human endeavour: the entire structure of exploitation on which the social order was founded."
British writer George Orwell felt that Dickens was not a revolutionary, however, despite his criticism of society's ills. Orwell points out that Dickens "has no constructive suggestions, not even a clear grasp of the nature of the society he is attacking, only an emotional perception that something is wrong." That instinctive feeling becomes so moving in the novels because Dickens made the injustices he hated concrete and specific, not abstract and general. His readers feel the abuses of 19th-century society as real through the life of his characters. Underlying and reinforcing that illusion of reality, however, is a rich and complicated system of symbolic imagery resulting from superb artistry.
Through his characters, Dickens also touched a range of readers, which was perhaps his greatest talent. As his friend John Forster wrote, his stories enthralled "judges on the bench and boys in the street" alike. The illiterate, often too poor to buy instalments themselves, pooled their pennies and got someone to read aloud to them.
Near the end of the serialization of The Old Curiosity Shop, crowds thronged to a New York pier to await the ship from London carrying the latest instalment. As it came to the dock people roared, "Is Little Nell dead?" The pathetic death of the novel's child-heroine, Nell Trent, became one of the most celebrated scenes in 19th-century fiction. Such public concern over Little Nell's end guaranteed that Dickens's social message would be heard, not only by his avid readers, but also by those in power.
Dickens was a careful craftsman, with a strong sense of design his books were strictly outlined. Any current notions that Dickens's novels are long because he was paid by the word, or sloppy because he wrote them under pressure of monthly deadlines, are simply untrue. What organizes Dickens's stories is sometimes not apparent at first glance, although it makes sense in novels that emphasize character. It is the logic of psychology, the tensions and contradictions of our drives and emotions, which Dickens plumbed, laying side by side the best and the worst of the human heart. This is a very different logic from the order of realism that rests on common sense. Dickens detested common sense, seeing in its seeming obviousness a form of tyranny.
The theater was a crucial influence on Dickens's work. As a young man Dickens tried to go on stage, but he missed his audition because of a cold. Not only did Dickens later write comic plays, melodramas, and libretti (words for musical dramas), he was also often involved in amateur theatricals for good causes, and spent his last two decades reading his own stories to packed audiences. Dickens's readings were as much a sensation in England and America as was his writing, and they proved as profitable. The readings revealed the part of the man that made him a practiced magician and hypnotist as well.
Dickens's love of the theatrical makes his works lend themselves readily to media adaptations. Motion-picture or television versions exist for almost every one of them. A Christmas Carol was one of the earliest to be adapted, first appearing as the silent film Scrooge (1901), directed by Walter R. Booth. The most notable adaptations include A Christmas Carol (1938), directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring Reginald Owen, and, probably the most famous of all, A Christmas Carol (1951), directed by Brian Desmond Hart and starring Alastair Sim. A later production titled Scrooged (1988) was directed by Richard Donner and starred Bill Murray. David Lean directed the most famous of the many versions of Great Expectations (1946). The film Oliver! (1968), a musical based on Oliver Twist and directed by Carol Reed, won six Academy Awards. Nowadays people are probably more familiar with the many BBC television miniseries productions of Dickens's works.
The Magic of Charles Dickens
Throughout the years, there have been a number of people who while famous for their different endeavours, developed a keen interest in magic. Ex-world champion boxer Muhammed Ali, movie star Orson Welles, and before his Night Court television fame, Harry Anderson were all accomplished magicians. Even his Royal Highness Prince Charles became fascinated with the art of magic that he became a member of the London Magic Circle. And then there was the literary genius, the novelist Charles Dickens. Many may not know that he is actually a part of the history of magic, but Charles Dickens was actually a conjuror.
Charles John Huffman Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on February 7 th 1812, the second of eight children. His family had a fairly humble lifestyle. Dickens became famous mostly for his literary works, which include Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Barnaby Rudge, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and The Old Curiosity Shop.
Due to difficult family circumstances (his father was imprisoned), Dickens at age 12 was forced to find work in a dreary factory where he stuck labels onto cans of boot blacking. Even at an early age, he loved the theatre and even briefly considered a stage career, but due to a slight illness, he missed the audition. Throughout his life, he maintained a keen interest in theatre. He had a fascination for circuses, wax works, pantomimes, and ghosts. His father was released from prison in 1824 and Dickens enrolled at Wellington House Academy in North London to finish his education. He left school at age 16.
Dickens began work as a law clerk then became a freelance reporter for a number of London newspapers. His writings on everyday London brought together by sketches by ‘Boz’ were published in 1836 for the Pickwick Papers. The Pickwick Papers was a specific project inspired by the adventures of gentlemen who were part of a sporting club. These were serialised from March 1836 to October 1837. Dickens also wrote a few amateur plays from 1836, but he made his real foray into acting and producing plays in the 1850s.
In April 1836, Dickens married Catherine Dickens who bore him 10 children. However, his marriage failed later on when he met the actress Ellen Ternan who became his mistress.
In 1842, Charles Dickens became fascinated with magic after attending a performance of the Viennese stage magician Ludwig Dobler at St. James Theatre in London. Dobler was then regarded as a leading performer. He greatly impressed Dickens so much so that soon afterwards, Dickens wrote to his American friend Cornelius Felton stating that he had purchased a conjuror’s ‘entire stock in trade’ and thought he might try his hand at becoming an amateur conjuror. Dickens gave his first magic show on his son’s birthday in January 1843. He continued to give magic performances for the next seven years and was known to have practiced assiduously.
At about this time, Dickens had become quite the theatre buff and no doubt his stage experience would hold him in good stead as a conjuror. However before this, his real efforts were in writing novels. Upon completion of his novels, he began to give book readings in England that became hugely popular. He visited America in 1867 where he began to give more book readings to eager audiences and these stage readings were elegant in presentation.
Perhaps his most famous magic show was in the small coastal resort of Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight in 1842. He was billed quite flamboyantly as “The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia Rhana Rhoos,” and he performed in an eastern style costume. His self-printed handbill even suggests that he used some literary license when describing his show. Salamanca is in Spain, while the Caves of Alum Bay probably refer to Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight. His rather bold statements could be seen to suggest that Dickens had a natural flair for showmanship. Look at one of his self-penned handbills here:
The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia, Rhama Rhoos
Educated cabalistically in the Orange Groves of
Salamanca and the Ocean Caves of Alum Bay.
Two cards being drawn and lent to the necromancer
by one of the company, and placed within the pack
in the necromancer’s box, will leap forth at the command
of any lady of not less than eighty years of age. *This
Wonder is the result of nine years seclusion in the mines of Russia.
A shilling being lent to the necromancer by any gentleman
of not less than 12 months and one hundred years of age
and carefully marked by the said gentleman, will disappear
from within a brazen box, at the word of command, and pass
through the hearts of an infinity of boxes, which afterwards
build themselves into pyramids and sink into a small mahogany
box at the command of the necromancers bidding.
The pyramid boxes were probably a version of the Nest of Boxes, which is still a favourite trick of many magicians.
Another effect that appealed to his audiences of the day was his vanish of a ladies watch locked in a strong box that would “fly into a half quanten loaf of bread.” His Travelling Doll that was prettily dressed was also made to vanish, leaving only the doll’s dress behind.
Perhaps his most featured magic trick was ‘The Pudding Wonder.’ In this trick, a gentleman’s hat became the receptacle for raw eggs and raw flour and minutes later, Dickens would produce a hot, cooked plum pudding that was then cut up and given to the audience. This trick was described by a friend who witnessed his performance (where Dickens was assisted by his good friend John Forster) this way:
Dickens and Forster above all exerted themselves till the perspiration was pouring down and they seemed drunk with their efforts! Only think of that excellent Dickens playing the conjuror for one whole hour—the best conjuror I ever saw (and I have paid money to see several)—and Forster acting as his servant! This part of the entertainment concluded with a plum pudding made out of raw eggs, raw flour—all the usual raw ingredients—boiled in a gentleman’s hat and tumbled out reeking all in one minute before the eyes of the astonished children and astonished grown people! That trick and his others of changing ladies pocket handkerchiefs into comfits (confectionery) and a box full of bran into a box full of live guinea pigs would enable him to make a handsome subsistence lest the bookseller trade go as it please.
Although his period of performing as a conjuror was relatively short, Dickens made a point of seeing Robert Houdin perform while visiting Paris in 1854. He was also fascinated by the French mind reader Alfred de Caston and acknowledged he lacked the real talent of these two gentlemen.
Once while on holiday on the Isle of Wight, a close friend John Leech got into difficulties while swimming, hitting his head on the rocks that left him dazed and unable to control his movements. Dickens was able to make use of his knowledge of hypnosis to place his friend into a long sleep. Upon waking, Leech found he had all his natural faculties once again.
It is not often a person can achieve such a list of achievements as Charles Dickens did. He became a renowned novelist, playwright, editor, actor, hypnotist, story reader, and poet. He is mostly remembered as one of England’s greatest novelists, but it is pleasing to know that at least for a short while, he was also one of us—a conjuror and a brother in the history of magic. Dickens gave his last magic performance in Rockingham Castle in 1849 and he passed away in Higham, UK on June 9 th 1870. He lies buried in the poets’ corner in Westminster Abbey.
I am grateful to English award-winning magician and Gold Star member of the Magic Circle Ian Keable for his kind assistance in creating this article. If you would like to read more about Charles Dickens the Conjuror, go to Ian’s website www.iankeable.co.uk/books. His book is titled Charles Dickens Magician: Conjuring in Life, Letters and Literature. Ian also performs a magic show called “The Secret World of Charles Dickens.”
11 Historical Geniuses and Their Possible Mental Disorders
Studies have shown that there are much higher instances of mental disorder in political leaders and creative geniuses than in the general population. And while it's impossible to be completely sure of a correct diagnosis of a historical figure, that hasn't stopped researchers from making educated guesses. Here's a speculative look at the mental health of 11 of history's big thinkers.
1. ABRAHAM LINCOLN // DEPRESSION
The Great Emancipator managed to lead the country through one of its more trying times, despite suffering from severe depression most of his life. According to one Lincoln biographer, letters left by the president's friends referred to him as "the most depressed person they've ever seen." On at least one occasion, he was so overcome with "melancholy" that he collapsed. Both his mother and numerous members of his father's family exhibited similar symptoms of severe depression, indicating he was probably biologically susceptible to the illness. Lincoln is even assumed to be the author of a poem published in 1838, "The Suicide's Soliloquy," which contains the lines:
Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?
2. LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN // BIPOLAR DISORDER
When the composer died of liver failure in 1827, he had been self-medicating his many health problems with alcohol for decades. Sadly, much of what he may have suffered from probably could have been managed with today's medications, including a serious case of bipolar disorder. Beethoven's fits of mania were well known in his circle of friends, and when he was on a high he could compose numerous works at once. It was during his down periods that many of his most celebrated works were written. Sadly, that was also when he contemplated suicide, as he told his brothers in letters throughout his life. During the early part of 1813 he went through such a depressive period that he stopped caring about his appearance, and would fly into rages during dinner parties. He also stopped composing almost completely during that time.
3. EDVARD MUNCH // PANIC ATTACKS
The world's most famous panic attack occurred in Olso during January 1892. Munch recorded the episode in his diary:
"One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature."
This experience affected the artist so deeply he returned to the moment again and again, eventually making two paintings, two pastels, and a lithograph based on his experience, as well as penning a poem derived from the diary entry. While it isn't known if Munch had any more panic attacks, mental illness did run in his family at the time of his episode, his bipolar sister was in an asylum.
4. MICHELANGELO // AUTISM
You might have wondered in the past just how someone could paint something as huge as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. According to a paper published in the Journal of Medical Biography in 2004, Michelangelo's single-minded routine may have been due to the disorder. According to descriptions by his contemporaries, the painter was "preoccupied with his own reality." Most of the male members of his family are recorded to have exhibited similar symptoms. Michelangelo also seems to have had difficulty forming relationships with people he had few friends and didn't even attend his brother's funeral. All of this, combined with his obvious genius in math and art, led the researchers to believe that today Michelangelo would be considered high functioning on the autism spectrum.
5. CHARLES DICKENS // DEPRESSION
By his early 30s, Dickens was the most famous author in the world. He was wealthy and seemed to have it all. But after an unbelievably difficult childhood, which saw the author working in a boot factory and living on his own when his father was thrown in prison, Dickens would start falling into depressions with the start of each new novel. The first one to cause him problems was one of his lesser-known works, The Chimes, in 1844. After that, Dickens' friends wrote that he became down every time he set to work on a new project, but that his mood would gradually lift until he was in a kind of mania by the time he finished. His depression worsened with age, and he eventually separated from his wife—the mother of his 10 children—to live with an 18-year-old actress. After he was involved in a train crash four years before his death, in which he was uninjured but was forced to assist dying passengers before help came, his depression seems to have finally staunched his creativity, and his previously prolific output virtually ceased.
6. CHARLES DARWIN // AGORAPHOBIA
Scholars still debate just exactly what problems Darwin suffered from, but whatever they were, they were serious. Despite his famed five year voyage on the Beagle (and the publication it led to) making his career, Darwin was virtually incapacitated the entire time. While he concentrated on his physical symptoms as the cause of all his suffering, the constant trembling, nausea, hysterical crying, and visual hallucinations (among other things) seem to have been mostly caused by a severe case of agoraphobia that kept him virtually bedridden from the time he turned 30. Darwin's fear of people meant he would even avoid conversations with his own children, writing, "I am forced to live… very quietly and am able to see scarcely anybody and cannot even talk long with my nearest relations." In at least one letter he mentions feeling like committing suicide due to the publication of On the Origin of Species, the controversy over which caused him much distress. He may have also suffered from OCD and hypochondria, as he kept meticulous records of every new or recurring symptom.
7. WINSTON CHURCHILL // BIPOLAR DISORDER
Like Lincoln, Churchill was a great leader dealing not only with international strife but his own mental struggles at the same time. In his 30s, he complained to his friends that he was hounded by the "black dog of depression." He sat in the Houses of Parliament and contemplated suicide. Churchill told his doctor that he had to be careful where he stood in a train station:
"I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through," he told his doctor. "I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation."
The black dog would follow him the rest of his life. When in his mild manic phases he was personable, but his moods could change quickly. During periods of high mania he would stay up all night writing, eventually producing 43 books on top of attending to his political duties.
8. VASLAV NIJINSKY // SCHIZOPHRENIA
While not well-known today, in the early 1900s, Nijinsky was a household name. Considered the greatest male dancer of his era, he was famous for his intense performances, gigantic leaps, and ability to dance on his toes (en pointe), something uncommon among male dancers at the time. When he took to choreographing ballets, his modern take on the dance led to a riot. By the time Nijinsky was 26, the symptoms of his disease were affecting his work. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals, often going weeks at a time without saying a word.
9. KURT GÖDEL // PERSECUTORY DELUSIONS
Gödel was a brilliant logician and mathematician, as well as a contemporary and great friend of Albert Einstein. Einstein's super-intelligence might have made him seem a little odd to the average person, but he doesn't seem to have suffered from any actual mental illnesses. Gödel, on the other hand, thought that someone was out to poison him. He was so sure of this delusion, especially later in life, that he would only eat food that his wife had cooked, and usually made her taste it first, just to be sure. When his wife was hospitalized for six months, Gödel stopped eating and starved to death.
10. LEO TOLSTOY // DEPRESSION
Tolstoy did not suffer from obvious signs of depression until middle age, but when it hit him, it hit hard. He went through serious personality changes, questioning virtually everything in his life. At times he debated giving away all of his possessions, becoming celibate, and the nature of his religious beliefs (or lack thereof). At one point he was determined to give up writing altogether, saying, "art is not only useless but even harmful." Tolstoy is a perfect example of someone who seemingly has everything brought low by this disease: despite coming from a wealthy family, being celebrated as an author, and being father to 13 children, eventually his demons drove him to seriously consider suicide. He wrote in one letter, "The possibility of killing himself has been given to man, and therefore he may kill himself." Eventually Tolstoy pulled himself out of this hole by becoming what we would now consider a born-again Christian.
11. ISSAC NEWTON // BIPOLAR, AUTISM, SCHIZOPHRENIA
One of the greatest scientists of all time is also the hardest genius to diagnose, but historians agree he had a lot going on. Newton suffered from huge ups and downs in his moods, indicating bipolar disorder, combined with psychotic tendencies. His inability to connect with people could place him on the autism spectrum. He also had a tendency to write letters filled with mad delusions, which some medical historians feel strongly indicates schizophrenia. Whether he suffered from one or a combination of these serious illnesses, they did not stop him from inventing calculus, explaining gravity, and building telescopes, among his other great scientific achievements.