Sunday, February 07, 2010
CHARLES DICKENS ONE HUNDRED NINETY-EIGHTH BIRTHDAY
Today would have been the 198th birthday of one of the most prolific writers in all of English literature. Who can forget Oliver, Ebenezer Scrooge or David Copperfield. He was no friend of dear old Virginia Woolf, a fellow writer from his era who thought all of his many characters were "unabashed sentimental balderdash." and his plots purely impossible. Oh who cares about Virginia Woolf?-- or even who the hell is afraid of her! Not me! There is an incident in Dickens' life that very few people know about. It was an event that pretty much cut the famous author's writing proficiency in half , and he died five years to the day of the event. That event was a train crash. An illustration of this crash scene is rendered in the drawing of the aftermath of this event on this page. It was quite a horrific event. This train crash occurred on June 8th, 1865 while returning from Paris with a woman named Ellen Ternan to whom he was deeply devoted (even though he was married at the same time.) No one knew of the extent of his devotion to her. It should be known that divorce with an impending affair at the same time during this time period in England would have ended Dickens Career. Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash in which the first seven carriages of the train plunged off a cast iron bridge that was being repaired. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was travelling. Dickens spent some time trying to help the wounded and the dying before rescuers arrived. Before leaving, he remembered the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend, and he returned to his carriage to retrieve it. Typically, Dickens later used this experience as material for his short ghost story The Signal-Man in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash. He based the story around several previous rail accidents, such as the Clayton Tunnel rail crash of 1861. Dickens managed to avoid an appearance at the inquest into the crash, as it would have become known that he was travelling that day with Ternan and her mother, which could have caused a scandal. Although physically unharmed, Dickens never really recovered from the trauma of the Staplehurst crash, and his normally prolific writing shrank to completing Our Mutual Friend and starting the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood after a long interval. Much of his time was taken up with public readings from his best-loved novels. Dickens was fascinated by the theatre as an escape from the world, and theatres and theatrical people appear in Nicholas Nickleby. The travelling shows were extremely popular. In 1866, a series of public readings were undertaken in England and Scotland. The following year saw more readings in England and Ireland. I had never heard this story before. Well, it's a beautiful sunny day today after a lot of rain. I am going to church. Financial worries again.