Thanet Writers Spotlight Charles Dickens

Lannah Marshall highlights the life, works and legacy of writer Charles Dickens, and spotlights his connection to Thanet.

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Charles Dickens has long been admired as a great writer. In fact, he is often cited as the greatest writer of the Victorian era. His work is taught in schools, and he has museums dedicated to his name and fame. As an aspiring writer myself, I often wondered what it took to get as many places named after myself as he did, especially in Thanet.

Charles Dickens, born in 1812, wrote many stories describing the bleak lives of those in the lower classes, including but not limited to David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Not many know this, but that’s because Dickens wasn’t always bestowed with the wealth that found him later in life. In fact, in order to pay off his father’s bad debt, Charles was sent to work in Warren’s blacking factory at age nine and remained there, isolated from family and friends, for three years. This was in a time when child labour laws did not exist and the conditions of the factories of the time are something we do not often consider today in the UK.

Public Domain

Public Domain

With this lack of formal education, Charles Dickens managed no mean feat by teaching himself. His perseverance was something of pure passion and that is what enabled him to achieve envious levels of fame by his mid-twenties. This dedication and work ethic is something that he carried for the rest of his life, and blessed the world with his work.

Dickens, like many writers of the time, started out as a journalist, and later a parliamentary journalist. From his position, Charles then used his contacts with the press to publish his sketches under the pseudonym ‘Boz,’ and a month later Charles’ debut novel The Posthumous Papers of the Paperwick Club (or The Pickwick Papers for short) was published.

If one heads to the Broadstairs seafront in Thanet, one can find Dickens House Museum, a cottage where Dickens himself spent time with his son and Miss Mary Pearson Strong—the inspiration behind the donkey incident in David Copperfield; a woman who claimed she had the right to stop donkeys from walking in front of her cottage (now the museum), who inspired Betsey Trotwood. Broadstairs was not used in David Copperfield, however, with Dover used instead with many believing this to be due to respect to Miss Strong.

Charles’ first visit to Thanet was when he was twenty-five years old, and had just published his debut novel. It quickly became a lifelong love that Charles shared with his son in his later years. Between the years 1839 and 1851, Charles stayed at Fort House in Broadstairs, which has been widely credited as where Charles wrote David Copperfield, along with parts of a few other novels. After his death, the house was renamed in his honour to Bleak House, after his novel of the same name. The book was serialised at the time, something I feel we miss now in our modern era. It was this form of publication that also worked extremely well in Dickens’ favour, and I imagine helped publishers gather an idea of how popular work was before the complete novel was published and sold.

As J.M.W Turner enveloped himself in the beautiful light of Margate for his art, Charles Dickens took to Broadstairs for his. Not that I am saying that Broadstairs is the reason behind such titles as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations, but I personally find it quite fun that such a renowned author enjoyed our wonderful bit of coast.

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Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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