A walk to discover Higham, Charles Dickens' adoptive town
Oliver Twist representation,1875 (by Fondo Antiguo CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Our journey begins at the station where Charles Dickens used to arrive or leave for the busy schedule that often took him travelling. In those days, the horse-drawn carriage was certainly still a popular means of travel, but with industrialisation and the need to travel ever greater distances, the train was certainly a more comfortable and faster option.
Originally from Portsmouth, let us now take a step back and understand what led Charles Dickens to move here to the quiet town of Higham in Kent.
From a young age, Charles experienced poverty first-hand due to a deplorable family situation, further aggravated by his father’s imprisonment for family debts. In 1823, the impoverished Dickens family was again forced to move to Camden Town, then one of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods.
At the age of fifteen, he joined the law firm of Ellis & Blackmore as a trainee, with good prospects of becoming a lawyer, but he did not like the profession and therefore began to study shorthand. In the meantime, he started frequenting London theatres, a habit he would never give up, attending a wide variety of genres, from Shakespearean tragedies to farces and musical operettas.
After a shaky youth, he managed to earn himself a position as a columnist at the gaily published Monthly Magazine.
It was, however, on 1 December 1833 when the 21-year-old man anonymously published his first sketch, thus giving inspiration to his pen. Under the pseudonym “Boz”, he published the first of those sketches of urban life that would later become the “Sketches by Boz”.
On 2 April 1836, after a one-year engagement, and between episodes two and three of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens married Catherine Thomson Hogarth (1815-1879), the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of the Evening Chronicle.
He began a productive writing period, which led him to publish one of the best-known masterpieces in history in 1838: Oliver Twist.
One of Dickens’ most famous and influential works, it was the first novel in the English language to feature a boy as the protagonist and one of the earliest examples of the social novel. The novel analyses the ills of 19th-century English society: poverty, child labour, urban crime (often a rebellion against poverty and exploitation) and the inherent hypocrisy of Victorian culture. Dickens deals with uncomfortable themes of English poverty, also drawing on his personal experiences when he felt utterly abandoned and at the mercy of an unjust society when he was young.