You Don’t Know Dickens

7 lesser-known facts that may make you see the beloved author and philanthropist of the Victorian era in a new light…

by Michelle Ossa

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1. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time at Warren’s Shoeblacking Factory and Warehouse

At the age of 12 Charles Dickens suffers a life-changing event that forever marks his life. His father, John Dickens, was arrested for debt, and sent to Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison in London. The able-bodied, older male Charles was considered old enough to work and earn some wages. For this reason he is forced out of school and sent to Warren’s Shoeblacking;  a place fully-described in the semi-biographical novel Oliver Twist. Similarly, Charles works under grueling and cruel conditions that predate any workers’ rights movement.

Moved by these sad events Dickens used his talent to publish in mass and expose these realities. Through literature, he gave a voice to orphans, destitute children and mistreated workers using them as motifs that recur in his body of work.  According to Dickens’s most reliable biographer, John Forster, the author had “an attraction of repulsion” that rendered him more effective when dealing with topics that directly describe images of his sad childhood.  Therefore, this repetition of misery and pain during childhood as a central theme denote a need to continuously cope with the traumas of childhood.

Illustration Depicting Oliver Twist Asking for More Food by J. Mahoney

2. He was likely manic depressive

According to his own letters, Dickens suffered consistent bouts of “depression” that would start when beginning to write a new work, and would then developing into a “mania” that powered him to complete them.  It was a “balance” between deep, debilitating sadness followed by periods of acute impulsivity.  According to Hershman and Lieb in the book Manic Depression and Creativity  (1998), Dickens’s explosive creativity was a result of the maniac state that makes sufferers of bipolar disorder feel indestructible (p. 106).  An example of Dickens’s mania is what is known as the “Dickens Summers”. According to Manic Depression and Creativity Dickens would rent a spacious summer home and have sumptuous parties for large quantities of people on a daily basis. Dedicated to the very last detail both at home and work, Dickens would also spend hours insisting on completing massive amounts of work until the last word was written.

The book explains how bipolar disorder renders those who suffer from it extremely oblivious of the wants and needs of others. The need to be the center of all attention, and the extreme shift in mood certainly profile Dickens as bipolar.

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Charles Dickens: Ghost Hunter

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Victorians were big on clubs.  Gentlemen’s Clubs.  No, the Brontes were not wearing pasties and stripping to “Oh, Mother Take the Wheel Away!” These were exclusive gatherings of writers and artists who came together to chill, drink, and probably scratch-and-spit.  No “damned scribbling women allowed.”  (Such a fun guy, that Hawthorne…) .

ANYWAY, Charles Dickens was one of those writers who was a high-profile member of a hoity-toity club called “The Garrick Club” until he got into a fight with William Makepeace Thackery.  Apparently a journalist was talking smack about Thackery, and what he knew could have only been found out through club connections.  (First Rule of Garrick Club:  Don’t Talk About Garrick Club.)

SO, Dickens says, basically, “Screw you, Thackery. I’m the biggest star you’ve got and I’m taking my fame elsewhere.” Plus, the journalist, Edward Yates, was a very close friend and the godfather of Dickens’ children.

Dickens would eventually join the still-in-existence “Arts Club” (actress Gwyneth Paltrow is now its Creative Director). But before that, in 1862, Dickens became one of the founding members of “The Ghost Club. ”  Until he joined and brought some legitimacy to the off-beat club, the press was not very complimentary, but his presence gave the organization a modicum of credibility.

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ZZZZzzzz: Ten Books We Couldn’t Finish

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My home is filled with books. Books on shelves, books overflowing shelves, books on my nightstand, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, on the floor. Most I manage to get through, if not always enjoy. I am a big believer in seeing it through.  Most of my friends feel the same way. AND YET… there are always a few that we just cannot seem to finish.  Some are classics that we know we should complete before the inevitable Rise of the Librarians comes to quiz us with tasers. Others are books friends raved about….or best sellers that have evoked a lot of fuss…for no reason YOU can discern.

Whatever the reason, here are confessions of my well-read friends and colleagues, many of them English professors, so I will have to give them Code Names so their students never find out their dark, dark, secrets.

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1.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Dense passage about the physiognomy of whales: the poor man’s Ambien.  We all know that this should be read. And many of us keep trying. It’s our own…. yeah, you guessed it… Moby Dick (Insert groaning here.)

lotr

2.  The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

More Viggo Mortensen would have made this seemingly-endless series more interesting for me. Skipping the endless “songs” moves things right along though. Save yourself some time and listen to some Zep to catch up on everything you need to know about what you glossed over.

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3.  Paradisio by Dante Alighieri 

Another popular snooze-fest, this comment sums up our feelings in general:

 “I can’t finish Paradisio. The torments of The Inferno and even Purgatorio appeal to my sense of schadenfreude, but people in heaven and Beatrice? BO-RING.”

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4.  Anything by Stephen King 

I must say, in King’s defense, that his text On Writing  is one of my favorites. However, King, to me, and many others, is like the Costco of literature. Do you really need that giant box of paper towels? Or that giant stack of largely interchangeable plots and characters?

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The Daily Rituals of Ten of the World’s Most Creative People

Do you have a daily ritual when you write? I don’t know of a single writer who does not.  Maybe it’s summoning the Muse…everything must be just so if there is any hope of words appearing on paper.  Most of us are NOT like the writer, Muriel Spark who, Ann Lamott notes, “is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning — sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.”stephen_king_desk

No, most writers have certain things they are committed to doing every day: common milestones are a starting time, and ending time, and a number of words that must be met. Oh, and a reward at the end (or perhaps that’s just me…. but I doubt it). Here are ten creative people who know that while the result may appear effortless, the process is paramount.

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New-Old Scribbles from Old, Old Authors

A curious trend seems to be spreading across the literary world whereby deceased authors’ previously unseen scribblings are being brought into the light. First we had Hemingway’s 47 alternate endings to A Farewell to Arms in print, then an uncovered and previously rejected short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald was published by The New Yorker. And this week brings with it the new-old scribblings of not one, but two famous authors, one thanks to science, the other to a private journal.

One of those whose work will be newly uncovered is none other than Charles Dickens. In this case, there is no freshly discovered, unpublished manuscript to be sent to the printers. Rather, the hidden treasure has been in scholars hands all along; Dickens’ manuscripts were written out by hand, marked by scribbles and crossings-out throughout. Now, thanks to a newly invented lighting device, scientists will be able to literally illuminate Dickens thoughts on the page.

Reports The Independent, “The technology, separating layers of text, involves combining two or more digital images – a frontlit and backlit image of a page. By digitally subtracting one from the other, differences are revealed.”

The technology has already been worked on Dickens’ Christmas-themed short story “The Chimes,” which has wielded some interesting results. One sentence that was published as “Years … are like Christians in that respect” was actually originally written by the author as “Years… are like men in one respect.” Seem like a small change? It is, but scholars of Dickens’ are more interested in figuring out why such changes were made. One senior curator describes the technology as allowing scholars to almost see Dickens “thinking aloud on paper.” It certainly has Florian Schweizer, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, excited, now that this science will be applied to longer manuscripts like Bleak House: “We’re talking of tens of thousands of manuscript pages that could potentially be unlocked.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the second infamous writer with a new work on the publishing circuit. The Sherlock Holmes author’s career seems undeterred by the afterlife. Perhaps it’s been spurred on by the recent movie and television adaptations. Either way, his newest adventure yarn tells the exciting story of a young medical student who runs away to become the ship doctor aboard an Arctic whaler for  one thrilling year. The difference between this and Doyle’s other stories? It’s actually his own. Yes, one of the earliest proponents of the mystery novel was actually studying to be a physician, until he put aside his education for a ride on the high seas. Luckily for us, he kept a journal on his travels, which has only now been compiled into a published work to be titled Dangerous Work. The Guardian had a sample:

I fell into the Arctic Ocean three times today, but luckily someone was always near to pull me out. The danger in falling in is that with a heavy swell on as there is now, you may be cut in two pretty well by two pieces of ice coming together and nipping you. I got several drags, but was laid up in the evening as all my clothes were in the engine room drying… after skinning a seal today I walked away with the two hind flippers in my hand, leaving my mittens on the ice.

Doyle was just twenty when that account was written. Over the course of his year-long adventure he would grow immensely, dealing with such sobering moments as the death of a fellow crew member in his very arms. The first Sherlock Holmes story would not be published for another seven years, but the Doyle biographer who co-edited the diary has said that he found a “direct link to the first tale” at the end of Doyle’s voyage.

What do you think of these authors’ secret works and edits coming to light? Is it fair to the legacy they intended to leave? Should we even be allowed to see them, or should they remain tucked away from the public’s eyes? Tell us your thoughts below!

 


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