Backstage Blog

What the Dickens?

charlesdickensThis holiday season, Cygnet Theatre is excited to bring back our live radio version of A Christmas Carol. We’ve been doing a bit of research on famed British writer Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities and of course, A Christmas Carol and what we found was pretty interesting.

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Tom Stephenson as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Photo by Daren Scott.

Despite being one of the very first-ever literary superstars, most people don’t know many details of  his life.  For example, you may be aware that Dickens grew up poor, but did you know that he was mostly self taught?  After his father was jailed for having “bad debts,” Dickens was forced to leave school and start work in a blacking factory (a boot polish factory).  What about the fact that he knew shorthand?  Indeed, his first business card, which he got made at some point between 17 & 19, had his occupation listed as “Short Hand Writer.”

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The cast of A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.
Photo by Daren Scott

Dickens also suffered, at least in childhood, from epilepsy.  Having described three of his characters as having epileptic seizures, or ‘The Falling Sickness’ (Edward Leeford in Oliver Twist, a headmaster in Our Mutual Friend, and Guster in Bleak House), modern doctors find his descriptions of the disease remarkably accurate for a period when little was known about it.  He probably had OCD as well, and reportedly had a habit of rearranging furniture whenever he stayed in a hotel room having to sleep with his head pointing north, and would inspect his children’s bedrooms every morning, leaving behind notes when he was not satisfied with their tidiness.  And those notes were more often than not addressed to “Chickenstalker,” “Skittles,” “Plorn,” or one of the other many nicknames he had for each of his 10 children.

To learn more about this intriguing author, join us on December 8th after the 7:00pm performance of A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play for a talkback with Dickensian expert Dr. Edith Frampton, professor of Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.  Hope to see you there!