By Viola van de Sandt
Charles Dickens has of course become famous for his intricately woven tales of social injustice and rampant poverty. Yet the author also provided his readership with an enormous host of intriguing, elusive, bizarre and sometimes even grotesque characters, most of whom he gave especially fitting and equally fantastic names. For your special delight, therefore, we serve you just a dram from the full range of Dickensian characters and their names. Which are your favourites?
Lord Lancaster Stiltstalking
This wonderfully illustrious character in Little Dorrit is introduced as having been ‘maintained by the Circumlocution Office for many years as a representative of the Britannic Majesty abroad. This noble Refrigerator had iced several European courts in his time, and had done it with such complete success that the very name of Englishman yet struck cold to the stomachs of foreigners who had the distinguished honour of remembering him at a distance of a quarter of a century.’
Unusually hypocritical even by Dickens’s standards, Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit is described in the famous sentence: ‘Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there.’
Mr Fledgeby is the corrupt owner of Pubsey and Co. in Our Mutual Friend. Dickens writes of him: ‘In facetious homage to the smallness of his talk, and the jerky nature of his manners, Fledgeby’s familiars had agreed to confer upon him (behind his back) the honorary title of Fascination Fledgeby.’
As the agent who sells swamp land to Martin in Martin Chuzzlewit, Zepheniah Scadder ‘was a gaunt man in a huge straw hat, and a coat of green stuff. The weather being hot, he had no cravat, and wore his shirt collar wide open; so that every time he spoke something was seen to twitch and jerk up in his throat, like the little hammers in a harpsichord when the notes are struck. Perhaps it was the Truth feebly endeavouring to leap to his lips. If so, it never reached them.’
John Baptist Cavalletto
In Little Dorrit, the Italian Mr Cavalletto is a veritable showcase of those attributes at the time thought of as belonging to the typical Italian.
After she moves in with him, David from David Copperfield describes Miss Murdstone as ‘a gloomy-looking lady . . . dark, like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face and voice; and with very heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her large nose. She kept the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time, seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was.’
The stout shopkeeper in The Chimes, whose name is just too fabulous to admit omission.
More great Charles Dickens facts here.
Viola van de Sandt is a postgraduate student in English literature at King’s College, London. She loves writing about women in English and American novels, and does exactly that on her own blog, Broken Glass.
Image: Dickens Receiving His Characters, William Holbrook Beard, public domain.