14 February 2014

Statue of Charles Dickens Unveiled Despite Author's Prohibition

If you have ever wondered why there are no statues of Charles Dickens in the UK, the simple fact of the matter is that the country’s ,most celebrated novelist expressly forbade it in his will.  His very words were "I conjure to my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatsoever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works."  However, the good citizens of his birthplace, Portsmouth, have risked a Jacob Marley-type visitation by unveiling a bronze statue of the author on what would have been his 202nd birthday.

However, the statue has the approval of many of Dickens’ descendants including one of the youngest, Oliver Dickens (one can only wonder how often he asks for more) who you can see in two of these pictures, an obvious talent when it comes to a photo opportunity!  In fact, two of the novelist's great-great grandchildren, Ian and Gerald Dickens, helped to raise the £150,000 (US$250,000) cost of the statue. 

Created by Oxfordshire based sculptor Martin Jennings the (admittedly very fine) statue has Dickens reclining thoughtfully on a stack of his own works.  Jennings has something of a literary reputation, having already previously rendered John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. As someone who studied Dickens as an undergraduate I can’t help but admire it, despite the author’s own wishes against such a type of monument.  For me it captures both his capacity to care profoundly about social issues, translate his thoughts in to highly readable, wonderful stories and – not least - the prodigiously prolific nature of his talent.

At least the people of Portsmouth have waited a couple of centuries to break Dickens’ stipulations.  Immediately after his death in the June of 1870, his express wishes were disregarded.  Dickens wished to be buried in a quiet English churchyard – he got a prime location for Westminster Abbey.  Not only that, instead of the strictly private send-off he wanted, Dickens’ open grave was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people within the abbey.

Yet if you ever visit Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square to admire the statue, reminisce about your favorite work by Mr Dickens and you feel a ghostly tap on your shoulder, do not be too surprised.  The spectral author may well be about to chastise you for disobeying his final bidding!

Kuriositas would like to thank Flickr user Sue Lowry (aka MagellanPR) for her very kind permission to share the first four photographs in this article with you.  Please respect her copyright and visit her wonderful Flickr Photostream.