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 thoughts on “Five Fascinating Facts about Charles Dickens”

  1. “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.

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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 :)

  4. 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.

  5. 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”.

  6. 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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