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10 Awesome Facts about Charles Dickens

by Tyler on May 25, 2011

10 Awesome Facts about Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, the most popular English novelist of the Victorian era, was an interesting, if rather odd character. Facts about Charles Dickens include many personality quirks which are bound to fascinate fans of this literary legend.

“What the…!?”

The phrase “What the Dickens” has nothing to do with Charles Dickens.

This phrase, which is used to mean “a lot” - as in ‘that hurt like the dickens’ - is a euphemism for the word devil. It might have come from the word ‘devilkins.’ Shakespeare used it in The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1600: “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of.”

Dickens named many of his children after his favorite authors. Among his 10 children were Alfred Tennyson Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens, and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens. He then gave them all nicknames:


  • Charles Jr., “Charley”
  • Mary, “Mamie”
  • Kate, “Lucifer Box”
  • Walter, “Young Skull”
  • Francis, “Chickenstalker”
  • Alfred, “Sampson Brass,” or “Skittles”
  • Sydney, “The Ocean Spectre,” or “The Admiral”
  • Henry, “Mr. H”
  • Dora, (Died in infancy)
  • Edward, “Plorn”

Charles Dickens’s own nickname was “Boz”

Mad Genius

Dickens had a “mild” case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). He rearranged furniture in the house, including all the beds which had to face North - South, supposedly due to “magnetic fields.” He was also obsessed with the tidiness of the house, leaving notes to his children scorning them for not picking up well enough. He also touched objects three times for “luck,” and combed his hair hundreds of times a day.

Dickens suffered, at least in childhood, from epilepsy. He described three of his characters as having epileptic seizures, or ‘The Falling Sickness’ : Edward Leeford, Oliver Twist’s half-brother; a headmaster in Our Mutual Friend; and Guster, a maid in Bleak House. Modern doctors find Dickens’s descriptions of the disease remarkably accurate for a period when little was known about it.

Dickens was fascinated with mesmerism, aka hypnotism. He practiced it and had restorative results on his wife, a hypochondriac, as well as his children, friends and associates.

Dickens believed that a human could die from spontaneous human combustion (SHC). In his novel Bleak House, one of his characters, Krook, dies from SHC.

Super Hype

When The Old Curiosity Shop was published in serial form in 1841, the worldwide hype was unprecedented. Thousands of fans lined the piers in New York City to shout at approaching British Sailors: “Is Little Nell alive?” Such mania over a novel’s end hasn’t been seen again until the release of the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Dickens is perhaps the only author to have a theme park devoted to his legacy (we hope). Dickens World in Chatham, England , contains Europe‚Äôs longest indoor dark ride, the “Great Expectations” log flume, and the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Near Death

In June 1865 Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan were involved in the Staplehurst rail crash. They had been traveling in the first-class car, which was the only one of the 8 cars not to crash into the river below. After helping the other passengers to safety, he went in to save the manuscript of his novel Our Mutual Friend.

Know any other awesome facts about Charles Dickens? Post ‘em here!

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