While the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens is being celebrated worldwide this month, few tributes will have focused on the author's connection to Liverpool.
Renowned for his evergreen works, such as ‘The Christmas Carol’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, revered writer Dickens - whose bicentennial was celebrated on 7th February - had a particular fondness for Liverpool.
The first of his 15 visits during his lifetime was a private engagement in 1838, followed by a brief stay in 1842 while en route to America on a book tour.
But the visit that really demonstrated his interest in the city came in 1844, when he held a party to collect money for the Liverpool Mechanics Institution that he helped set up, and he urged the city’s richer citizens to aid the poor.
Local historian, Steve Binns MBE, told JMU Journalism:
“Liverpool appealed to him. It had the richest and the
poorest in the same place. Every time he came to read
in Chester or Manchester on his tours, he would also
come by to Liverpool because he felt comfortable here.
“He’d always stay at the Adelphi - the old one - and he
came back in particular for their turtle soup.”
During that period of the 19th Century, Liverpool was
considered a conservative town whose richer citizens
had few ideas about how to help the very poor. The
city’s population was also rising rapidly.
Binns, who works at St George’s Hall, explained:
“Dickens wasn’t left-wing but he wanted them to do
more for the people of Liverpool than they had done.
During his last visit, they got involved with the
people and built museums and libraries, and he
congratulated them on what they’d done.”
While London was the main setting for many of Dickens’ works, a closer examination reveals how
elements of Liverpool’s culture made it into his writing, according to Binns.
“There were these characters like one called Mercantile Jack, a poor sailor who’d just come off a
ship,” Binns said with a laugh. “And these policemen called Sharp Eye or Quick Ear, and things like that.
There’s a particular pub scene with a guitarist surrounded by girls which is something that is very likely to have been drawn from Liverpool.”
Dickens was also a little eccentric, according to Binns: “He once shot a dog for biting a child and wrote that he’d ‘sentenced it to death’.
“When he travelled, he could never start writing unless he had all the things he kept on his desk arranged in a particular way, sort of like his home away from home. It was like a compulsive disorder.”
Dickens’ collected works are known to have challenged society, with ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ being a commentary on the school systems, and ‘Oliver Twist’ a reflection of the cruel conditions in the workhouses of the era.
His 200th birthday has been marked in a series of international events which reflect his influence on a 21st-century audience, as he remains alongside William Shakespeare one of the greatest English writers of all time.
By Priyanka Zaveri, International Editor
More JMU Journalism stories
St George's Hall, where Dickens once read; the Mechanics' Institution he helped set up (Flickr/Wikipedia)
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