Early in 1842 , on the eve of his 30th birthday, Charles Dickens made his first trip to America. The author at that time of “Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” and “The Old Curiosity Shop, ” the young novelist was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Writing of his trip in “American Notes,” Dickens mentioned the “fine town” of New Haven and described Yale College, as “an establishment of considerable eminence and reputation.” (In the same book Dickens misidentified an older establishment in Boston as “The University of Cambridge.”)
Between the Yale Center for British Art and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale has a vast collection of material related to Dickens, including unique art objects, editions, and memorabilia that provide telling perspectives on his life and fiction.
Writing in the February, 1842 issue The Yale Literary Magazine, a Yale College student known only by the initials MYT, wrote an essay comparing Dickens to the equally popular Edward Bulwer-Lytton (whose opening sentence, “It was a dark and stormy night,” has in modern times inspired a contest for worst openings to hypothetical novels.)
In every way finding Dickens superior not only to the latter, but to every English novelist who preceded him, MYT concluded:
“Class not his books with our ephemeral productions — they will live while there is an eye to read and a heart to feel. And had the world its Westminster, we would not hesitate to predict a conspicuous niche to commemorate the genius of Charles Dickens.”
In addition to the above, the Yale University Press and its London counterpart, Yale Books, have published numerous works offering insight to Dickens' life, work, and surroundings. Click here to learn more.
Photos: In celebration of Charles Dickens' 200th
Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens, author of "Oliver Twist," "Great Expectations," "A Christmas Carol," "The Old Curiosity Shop," and much more.
Portrait of Dickens as a young man. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript has both well-known and unique images of Dickens at various times in his life. Dickens’ contemporaries would have recognized this and the following portrait.
Photographs of Dickens near the end of his life. (Beinecke Library)
Portrait of Dickens as a parliamentary reporter, painting by Daniel Maclise, This and the next portrait — the only copies of which are at the Beinecke Library — were created by friends of Dickens and illustrators of his books, and were less iconic likenesses. (Beinecke Library, Gimbel Collection)
Sketch portrait of Dickens by John Leech, Dickens, ca. 1855 to1860. (Beinecke, Gimbel Collection )
Wood engraving by John Leech, “Scrooge is shown Ignorance and Want by the Spirit of Christmas Present,” from “A Christmas Carol.” (Beinecke Library)
John Everett Millais, “L’Enfant du Regiment” (1854-55). Dickens is credited with creating the Victorian cult of the child through such popular characters as little Nell, the heroine of “The Old Curiosity Shop.” This picture, inspired by an opera, illustrates Dickens’ influence in its sentimental portrayal of an injured child. (Yale Center for British Art)
Dickens, “Reflections on the death of Nell” (manuscript). (Beinecke Library)
Engraving after John Leech, frontispiece and title page of “A Christmas Carol.” Vivid visual descriptions are a hallmark of Dickens' fiction. Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter of 1883, “There is no writer, in my opinion, who is so much a painter and a black-and-white artist as Dickens.” (Beinecke Library)
Engraving after John Leech, “Last of the Spirit” (with facing page), “A Christmas Carol.” (Beinecke Library)
Augustus Egg, “The Life of the Duke of Buckingham.” Dickens’ friend Augustus Egg adopted a Dickensian way of telling a story when he depicted the infamous Restoration rake, the Duke of Buckingham. (Yale Center for British Art)
Serial cover, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Dickens invited artist Luke Fildes, to illustrate Dickens' last, unfinished novel, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Yale owns both sketches and numerous copies of their printed versions. (Beinecke Library)
Drawing by Luke Fildes. This image of the London opium den called “In the Court,” an illustration in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," inspired one of the most famous engravings in Gustave Doré and Blanchard Jerrold's “London: A Pilgrimage.” (Beinecke Library)
Also among the Beinecke Library's holdings are many of the contents of this bas relief of his study, including ...
... his writing slope, ...
... a desk calendar, ...
... a quill pen, ...
... his pipe, ...
... and his chair. The artist Luke Fildes visited Dickens' Kent home, Gad’s Hill, shortly after the writer died in 1870. While there Fildes created the first of many depictions of Dickens’ study, titled "The Empty Chair."