Dickens' London: Further Twists

Gillian Tindall reflects on a recent discovery by a Dickens scholar, which offers new insights into the great writer’s early years.

In all the Dickensiana delivered to us in this bicentenary year facts that we think we know jostle for space with new-found or little remembered ones. One of the lesser-known anecdotes, though it first found its way into print in 1939, is a vignette of Dickens, middle aged and famous, sitting incognito at the back of a junk shop in Seven Dials. A customer buying a watercolour that he guessed might be by Turner was startled to hear a request to look at the picture and to recognise it came from Dickens.

Today, after a further 70 years of assiduous Dickens’ scholarship, to come upon a hitherto unrecognised fact concerning his life must be a moment of comparable excitement. It was like that for Ruth Richardson, the author of Dickens and the Workhouse, published by Oxford University Press earlier this year. ‘I feel rather like that lucky stroller in Seven Dials,’ she writes. ‘Entering the street to seek the history of the [Strand Union] Workhouse, something caused me to turn and find … Charles Dickens … there all the while, nine doors from the Workhouse gates.’

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