Charles Dickens

While Dickens is most fundamentally associated with London, there are several interesting West Country connections.  In 1839, as Dickens’s profligate father continued to dun his publishers for small “loans,” Dickens decided that only removal from London would take him out of temptation’s way.  Searching for a suitably secluded spot, he came down to Devon and rented his parents “Mile End Cottage” in Alphington—then a quiet village on the outskirts of Exeter now a busy working-class suburb on the route to Plymouth.  But the arrangement didn’t last, and Dickens soon allowed the family to return to London from their exile (Hibbert 228-229).  Dickens himself apparently found Exeter more congenial.  Legend has it he frequented the Turk’s Head pub on High Street (now, unfortunately, transformed into a branch of Prezzo’s, although the head of the Turk himself can still be seen above the door).  It was here Dickens is supposed to have discovered the inspiration for Joe, the sleepy fat boy of Pickwick Papers fame, although there are several claimants to the title (Oxford 87). 


In Bath, Dickens met Moses Pickwick, manager of the White Hart Hotel, from whom he borrowed the famous name (Hibbert 288).  Dickens returns his own Mr. Pickwick to Bath (first to the White Hart itself and then to the Royal Crescent) where he encounters a bewildering variety of the spa town’s fops, social climbers, “matchmaking mamas,” and hypochondriacs whom Dickens wickedly parodies:  “‘This is a ball night,’ said the M.C., again taking Mr Pickwick’s hand. . . ‘The ball-nights in Ba-ath are moments snatched from Paradise; rendered bewitching by music, beauty, elegance, fashion, etiquette, and—and—above all, by the absence of trades-people, who are quite inconsistent with Paradise. . .” (543).


Dickens, Charles.  The Pickwick Papers.  Ed. By James Kinsley.  Oxford:  The Clarendon P, 1986.

Hibbert, Christopher.  The Making of Charles Dickens.  London:  Longman’s, 1967.

Eagle, Dorothy and Hilary Carnell.  The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to Great Britain and Ireland.       Oxford:  Oxford University P, 1992.







© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007


Mile End Cottage, Church Rd., Alphington
Plaque, Mile End Cottage, Alphington
Turks Head, High St., Exeter
Turks Head Rear Facade, Waterbeer St., Exeter