Literature

Five Fascinating Facts about Charles Dickens

Curious Dickens trivia relating to his life and work

1. Dickens’s house had a secret door in the form of a fake bookcase. The fake books included titles such as ‘The Life of a Cat’ in 9 volumes. This was at his home at Gad’s Hill, in Kent. He also reputedly had a series of fake titles called ‘The History of a Short Chancery Suit’ in 47 volumes (a reference to the very long Chancery case which inspired his novel, Bleak House).

Dickens22. In his courtship letters to her, Dickens addressed his future wife as ‘dearest Mouse’ and ‘dearest darling Pig’. These were almost certainly meant as terms of endearment, but it’s tempting to respond to them differently from our retrospective position: Dickens’s affection for his wife soon dwindled after they were married, and he seemed to harbour more romantic and sentimental interest in her sisters than in poor Catherine herself. When his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died suddenly, aged 17, in 1837 (in Dickens’s arms), he was devastated. But his grief appears to have been disproportionate: he kept her clothes in the house and wore her ring for the rest of his life.

3. On days when he gave public readings, Dickens had two tablespoons of rum with fresh cream for breakfast, and a pint of champagne for tea. Half an hour before the start of the reading itself, he would also drink a raw egg beaten into a tumbler of sherry. Dickens’s public readings (of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, among others) were hugely popular, both in Britain and America; when he gave his first public reading in America, the line of people in New York City queuing for tickets was almost a mile long.

4. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with the first use of butter-fingers, crossfire, dustbin, fairy story, slow-coach, and whoosh. He also gets the credit for ‘boredom’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, coined in his novel Bleak House (1852-3), but this has since been traced back even earlier, to 1830.

5. In 2009, an ivory toothpick once used by Charles Dickens was sold at auction for $9,000. Made of ivory and gold, the implement is engraved with Dickens’s initials. It was originally expected to fetch $3,000-$5,000, but the final sale was for a whopping $9,150 (£5,625). An authentication letter written by Dickens’s sister-in-law indicates that Dickens used the toothpick up to his death in 1870.

We have more great Dickensian trivia in our book of literary facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History. Continue your Dickensian odyssey with our discussion of his forgotten children’s book, our pick of the best Dickens novels, and our selection of the best biographical and critical studies of Dickens’s life and work. You might also enjoy our favourite Robert Louis Stevenson facts.

If you’re looking for an authoritative and engaging biography of Dickens, we’d recommend Peter Ackroyd’s Dickens: Abridged.

Image: Young Charles Dickens, c. 1830s, 1905 (republication) after Robert Seymour, public domain.

70 Comments

  1. If I drank and ate what he did before a reading I’d turn up, puke, then fall asleep.

  2. Oh how I love reading these :)!

  3. It’s not a good idea to have all that cream for breakfast, is it?

  4. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing.

  5. I live near Portsmouth where Dickens came from. They are going to put up a statue soon I think. Does that count as an interesting fact? :-)

  6. Such an interesting post!

  7. “But his grief appears to have been disproportionate: he kept her clothes in the house and wore her ring for the rest of his life.” — Could have been worse; he could have worn her clothes for the rest of his life! :P.

  8. This makes me want to read more about him. Any suggestions for books?

  9. And to think that now people are more likely to form a mile-long queue for an iPhone. These are very interesting facts about Dickens, a truly great writer.

  10. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Some interesting facts about Charles Dickens. I don’t think his liquid fortifications for public speaking would have served me very well ;)

  11. In the words of Spock, “fascinating”

  12. Has anyone seen the film “Invisible Woman?” An interesting book (fiction) about his affair with a much younger woman is Wanting by Richard Flanagan.

  13. Good to read this, especially after just reviewing A Tale of Two Cities at some length (hope you enjoyed it!).

  14. Reblogged this on Wordz on a Page and commented:
    Very interesting

  15. Reblogged this on Wordz on a Page and commented:
    Very interesting

  16. I doubt if anyone would use a single interdens brush for years and authenticate it for auction in the same way as the ivory and gold one. I can’t help but wonder………….does the buyer USE IT!!!

  17. Fun and interesting facts, thank you.

  18. Very interesting! I love the fake bookcase and books … very fascinating to know where his “Chancery” inspiration for Bleak House came from! I’ve always wondered. Thanks so much for yet another intriguing post :)

  19. 6. He shares a birthday with student/blogger extraordinaire the Curious Alouette :P (today!)
    7. Dang, he was attractive when he was young.

  20. Today is his b’day; Happy Birthday!

  21. The little seaside resort of Broadstairs in Kent, England, celebrates Dickens once a year when half the population dress up in Victorian clothes and roam the streets and top of the white cliffs. Hi favourite holiday haunt, also called “Bleak House”, still stands today and is, I think, still open to the general public as a Dickens museum. I went off Dickens a bit, when I learned how catty he and his family were to fellow writer Hans Christian Andersen, when the poor socially inept drip outstayed his welcome at the Dickens’ family home.

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  24. That toothpick…I feel like it can be a source of comedy or something because of how expensive it is for something so…mundane. Ah, freaking nuts!

  25. A pint of champagne for tea aye… that’s an idea with merit.

  26. As always, fascinating facts which shed new light for me on a writer whose work I love :)

  27. Another great post, i love learning these little facts

  28. Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Charles Dickens | roslionel

  29. “‘The Life of a Cat’ in 9 volumes.”

    I doubt if both of our cats would warrant a paragraph… Eat, sleep, wage war on string. That’s about it.

  30. Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Charles Dickens | The Book Babe

  31. Honestly, I thought I knew quite a bit about Dickens, but a few of these surprised me. Thanks for the great post.

  32. I’m just a beginner on learning more about Literature, and I believe that this blog would serve as a great instrument of my learning. Thanks for the follow and stay awesome!

  33. Excellent post. I was very struck by the comments on how Dickens prepared for his public readings. I came across a report of his last reading when I was researching in some old newspapers from 1870. Apparently he ended as follows: “from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with one heartfelt, grateful, respectful and affectionate farewell”.

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  35. One of my favorite of the authors we studied in English Lit and Humanities. So much of the human condition in his works.

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  37. I just love these facts. Thank you so much for sharing and please keep them comming :)

  38. Truly one of my all-time favorite writers. Dickens also had a strange compulsion regarding his sleeping position: his head had to be pointed north. Whenever he’d stay at a hotel, the management had to rearrange the bed to accommodate their acclaimed guest’s (non)sense of direction.

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  40. Huge Dickens fan, here. Love words. Love how in his books he even tells the reader what the horses are thinking! oh to be credited with being a creator of new words! Wow.

  41. Reblogged this on misplaced smiles and commented:
    Every single day we learn something new…

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  43. Dearest pig. Wow. I’m impressed she married him. He must have been amazing…

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