Charles Dickens is a titan of English-language literature, having penned numerous works which are now considered essential. From Oliver Twist to A Christmas Carol or Great Expectations, his appeal continues in modern times as his works have often been adapted for television and cinema.
Moreover, the stories Dickens wrote have led to multiple popular culture references and are now part of common speech, known around the world.
Although many of us have studied at least one of Dickens’ works in school, how much do you really know about this amazing author himself?
Read on to find out 12 little known facts about Charles Dickens!
Charles Dickens Facts
1. Dickens supported the rehabilitation of prostitutes
In the 1800s, prostitution was often a resort for women who couldn’t support themselves and their families. However, it was also a grave crime. Dickens tried to help such women after an appeal from heiress Angela Coutts, by creating “Urania House” where they could try and learn skills to get them away from a criminal life, an important fact about Charles Dickens. There are records of some 100 women who learned to read, write, and keep house at Urania House. Dickens had gone searching for them in prisons and workhouses himself.
2. Charles Dickens also saved lots of people from a train crash
While travelling in first class in a train that derailed over a bridge, Dickens’ carriage was the only one that didn’t fall into the river. However, he found the key to open up and free friends of his in other carriages, and then made his way to other carriages to pass on water and brandy to the trapped people awaiting rescue.
Moreover, Dickens apparently climbing back up into his carriage to retrieve a manuscript he had just finished writing. Interestingly, this was never big news during his lifetime as he was travelling with his mistress and didn’t want any public recognition as a result.
3. He might have had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
We hear a lot about people suffering with OCD nowadays, but in the 19th century, this wasn’t really a recognized illness. One of the biographies of Charles Dickens indicates that he would re-arrange the furniture in hotel rooms he would stay in, and he would check his children’s bedrooms and leave them notes with anything he didn’t deem to be tidy enough, an interesting fact about Charles Dickens. This might be a sign of OCD.
4. “Dickens” – the Shakespearean insult
In William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, we encounter the word “dickens” used instead of the “devil” in the phrase “What the dickens?”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this was the first use of the word. Fast forward a few hundred years, and Dickens’ name becomes famous, possibly still meaning an insult really.
5. He had 10 children and gave them all funny nicknames
Charles Dickens married Catherine Hogarth in 1836 and they went on to have no fewer than 10 children! The nicknames recorded for his children are all quite strange, ranging from “Lucifer Box” to “Skittles” and “Chickenstalker”.
6. Dickens was a member of “The Ghost Club”
“The Ghost Club” was a London-based club which has continued to this day, with its aim to hunt for ghosts. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also part of it. Dickens was among the first to join when the club was founded, an interesting fact about Charles Dickens.
7. He kept a pet raven
Not only did Dickens give his children unusual nicknames, but he also had an unusual pet. His raven was called Grip and stayed with the family even after his death, as Dickens had him stuffed! He also purchased another raven and an eagle to replace Grip.
8. He left behind The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Charles Dickens’ last piece of work was a novel entitled The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Unfortunately, ne ever published it or came to the end of it before he died. No one knows how it should end and the novel is itself a mystery story.
9. Dickens always slept facing north
For some reason, he thought that this would make him a better writer, an interesting fact about Charles Dickens. It did seem to help as he was such a prolific high-quality writer after all!
10. Writers’ rivalry
Even though he was appreciated widely during his lifetime, Dickens also had an interesting writers’ rivalry with the poet William Wordsworth. The latter would brag about not giving Charles Dickens’ writing a chance, and considering him too talkative and “vulgar.” As for Dickens, he publicly called Wordsworth “a dreadful Old Ass” in retaliation.
11. Dickens was a Francophile
Dickens often went to France on holiday and he was a known Francophile. He once called the French “the first people in the universe” in a speech in 1846.
12. Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey – but didn’t want this!
During his lifetime, Dickens was very clear on what he wanted to be done with his body once he passed away. Originally, he wanted to be buried next to his wife Catherine’s sister, Mary Hogarth, reportedly his muse. She had died in 1837 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. Later on, he asked to be buried in a simple grave in Kent, at the Rochester Cathedral cemetery.
However, he ended up in the famous Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey because the Dean of Westminster saw it as a good way for the abbey to add to its significance (as Dickens was such a famous writer when he died), a fun fact about Charles Dickens.
Dickens had also asked for no public announcement to be made of his burial but, instead, hundreds of thousands of people came to Westminster Abbey to see him off.
Charles Dickens was a celebrated author during his lifetime and an iconic figure of Victorian Britain. With his numerous quirks, his private life makes for interesting reading alongside his many successful novels. Having found success relatively early on as well, his private life was more visible than most writers’. There you have the top 12 interesting facts about Charles Dickens, the legendary writer who influenced many!
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