|Reprinted from Uncle John's
Bathroom Reader: Fast-Acting
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was
the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..." wrote Charles
Dickens, whose life was a rich mixture of all of the above. Here are the
8 odd facts about the novelist:
WHAT THE DICKENS?
Dickens was the first literary superstar - his popular works reached a
wider audience than any writer before him. With classics like Oliver
Twist, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, A
Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield, Dickens dominated
the literary life of 19th-century England and the United States. But like
many remarkable people, Dickens was a complex, multi-layered individual,
full of peculiar quirks and odd habits.
• OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE. Dickens was preoccupied
with looking in the mirror and combing his hair - he did it hundreds of
times a day. He rearranged furniture in his home - if it wasn't in the
exact "correct" position, he couldn't concentrate. Obsessed
with magnetic fields, Dickens made sure that every bed he slept in was
aligned north-south. He had to touch certain objects three times for luck.
He was obsessed with the need for tidiness, often cleaning other homes
as well as his own.
• NICKNAME-IAC. Just as some of his most endearing
characters had odd nicknames (like Pip in Great Expectations),
Dickens gave every one of his ten children nicknames like "Skittles"
• EPILEPTIC. Dickens suffered from epilepsy and
made some of his characters - like Oliver Twist's brother - epileptics.
Modern doctors are amazed at the medical accuracy of his descriptions
of this malady.
• PRACTICAL JOKER. Dicken's study had a secret
door designed to look like a bookcase. The shelves were full of fake books
with witty titles, such as Noah's Arkitecture and a nine-volume
set titled Cat's Lives. One of his favorites was a multi-volume
series called The Wisdom of Our Ancestors, dealing with subjects
like ignorance, superstition, disease, and instruments of torture, and
a companion book titled The Virtues of Our Ancestors, which was
so narrow that the title had to be printed vertically.
• EGOMANIAC. Dickens often referred to himself
as "the Sparkler of Albion," favorably comparing himself to
Shakespeare's nickname, "the Bard of Avon." (Albion is an archaic
name for England.)
• FAIR-WEATHER FRIEND. Hans Christian Andersen
was Dicken's close friend and mutual influence. Andersen even dedicated
his book Poet's Day Dream to Dickens in 1853. But this didn't
stop Dickens from letting Andersen know when he'd overstayed his welcome
at Dickens's home. He printed a sign and left it on Andersen's mirror
in the guest room. It read: "Hans Andersen slept in this room for
five weeks, which seemed to the family like AGES."
• MESMERIST. Dickens was a devotee of mesmerism,
a system of healing through hypnotism. He practiced it on his hypochondriac
wife and his children, and claimed to have healed several friends and
• CLIFF-HANGER. When The Old Curiosity Shop
was published in serial form in 1841, readers all over Britain and the
United States followed the progress of the heroine, Little Nell, with
the same fervor that audiences today follow Harry Potter. When the ship
carrying the last installment approached the dock in New York, 6,000 impatient
fans onshore called out to the sailors, "Does Little Nell die?"
(They yelled back that ... uh-oh, we're out of room.)