Charles Dickens has been gathering some attention this week, in part because it is nearly the bicentenary of his birth. Well, actually that isn’t until early 2012, but Dickens remains such a colossus that the run-up has begun.
Which is just as well, as the British Council intends events in 50 countries next year.
People who have heard of Dickens but haven’t read or learnt much about him might imagine him to have been a reclusive, stuffy and outdated character, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Forced out of school at 12 due to poverty and working as office boy at 15, Dickens started writing. Though initially that was as a journalist, by the time he was 24 he was the most famous novelist in the world.
Whether writing under his own name or his sometime pen name of ‘Boz’ (a corruption of his younger brother’s nickname of ‘Moses’), his works sold at speed.
Dickens suddenly found money easy to come by and the public fascinated by him. Indeed some have claimed that his 1867 trip to America represented the start of celebrity as we know it.
Far from shunning attention, Dickens was quite happy to draw attention to himself, for example: by taking his dog with him everywhere he went. In a new biography, Claire Tomalin jokingly compares his behaviour to Paris Hilton.
Whilst few people remember Dickens as a celebrity, it’s clear that a fascination with the man remains with collectors in particular, and his works can be very valuable.
For example, a first edition of his most famous work, A Christmas Carol, sold for £181,250 ($289,200 at the time) at a Sotheby’s auction in London in October 2010, and his signature has increased in value by 396.9% since 2000 according to the PFC40.
Dickens’s works have kept their longevity because of his sense of humour and because of his pageturning style – perhaps reflecting the fact that his works were often published in instalments and frequent cliff-hangers were needed to make readers seek the next one.
But it’s not just his writings which are sought out by collectors. Dickens would no doubt be pleased to know that even the collar for his beloved dog sold at Bonhams for $11,590 in March 2010.