The creation of a statute in memory of writer and social critic Charles Dickens means he has had his final wishes ignored. There are a few statues of the author overseas in cities such as Sydney and Philadelphia, the first British-based statute of the author of the Oliver Twist writer was unveiled on February 7, on what would have been his 202nd birthday. The bronze feature of Dickens, surrounded by books, sits in Guildhall square in the English naval city of Portsmouth, the city of his birth.
Over 100 guests, including ones from America, Dickens enthusiasts and members of his family, attended the unveiling of the £140,000 statute. Yet while lovers of Dickens and his proud family members took the opportunity to pay homage to one of the greatest and most influential novelists to have ever lived, they engaged in something Dickens said he really did not want. His final wishes were patently ignored. He requested that no “monument, memorial, or testimonial” be erected in his name. His stated wish was that his literary works be his legacy rather than an erected structure. This request came when he made arrangements for his funeral in 1870. For 144 years his wish was granted – until now.
However, the writer’s great-great grandson Ian Dickens argued that his dead relative’s stipulation may have been taken out of context. The former said the it was merely a personal note to people ahead of the future and that there is no way the author could imagine that his popularity would be of the level we witness today. In the words of Ian Dickens, Charles Dickens has not had his dying wish gone ignored.
“He could not look into the future. He could not possibly imagine that his popularity would have been what it is today,” said Ian Dickens. “If anything, it would have been arrogant if back then he believed that in 200 years he would still be celebrated. For all he knew the fame might have faded 20 years after his death.”
Dickens, whose other great works, include Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities The Pickwick Papers, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House and The Old Curiosity Shop still had over 40 living relatives at the unveiling of the statute. The aptly-named Oliver, 9, was the youngest.
The statue’s creator was Oxfordshire sculptor Martin Jennings, the man behind similar creations in honor of poets Sir John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Dickens has also been brought back to life in cinematic form in The Invisible Woman, which is directed by and stars Schindler’s List actor, Ralph Fiennes. The film is based on the biography The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens and takes a look at author’s love life.
There has been previous plans to erect a statue of Dickens in the southern county of Kent, where the writer lived and penned a number of his most successful novels. Indeed, there were plans afoot to have one unveiled ahead of his bicentenary birth in 2012. Yet there was fierce opposition from Dickens enthusiasts and plans for the statue were dropped three years before. While many Dickens aficionados believe he has had his final wishes ignored, there are others who want to continue his memory in the best way they can.
By Robert Shepherd