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Feature: Charles Dickens: Pop Star


Dickens circa. 1960s

This Sunday marks the 152nd anniversary of Charles Dickens first visit to the United State, to read before a packed audience at Boston’s Tremont Temple. In a gushing story at the time, the New York Times reported that the hall was filled “by perhaps one of the most appreciative, fashionable, and brilliant audiences ever assembled in New England.” These days that kind of language is largely reserved for the peacock parade that is the annual Met Ball, or the Oscars red carpet. Try to imagine such a dandy crowd taking even a moment out of their self-absorption to listen, as they did in the Tremont Temple, to a recital of The Pickwick Papers (unless that person was Hugh Dancy, who chose the book for his bookshelf). Yet in 1867, such was the fervor for Dickens that police were drafted in to prevent, as the Times put it, “any confusion or disturbance attendant upon the grand rush into the hall.” Within three years the writer would be dead from a stroke, at the age of 58, brought on it was suggested, by an emotional reading he’d given of the death of Nancy in his novel, Oliver Twist. Even if apocryphal, it’s a fitting finale for one of the most enduring of all writers.

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