February 10, 2014
Statue dedicated to Charles Dickens proves controversial
by Nick Davies
This past Friday, February 7, marked what would have been Charles Dickens’s 202nd birthday, and his birth city of Portsmouth in England celebrated the occasion with a statue of the renowned author. As Eleanor Williams reports for BBC News, though, the tribute has been the cause of considerable controversy, because of the stipulations that Dickens made when describing his wishes for his funeral in 1870:
I direct that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb without the addition or Mr or Esq.
I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatever.
I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works.
Until now, no sculptures of Dickens have been erected anywhere in England — although Philadelphia and Sydney each have statues of him. Dickens’s great-great-granddaughter Jane Monk says she’s visited both of them and supports the Portsmouth statue, arguing, “Why should Philadelphia and Sydney have statues and not England?” Other descendants agree and say that the author’s wishes have been misinterpreted, that he was only referring to his funeral itself.
“It was simply a personal note to his friends ahead of his funeral,” great-great-grandson Ian Dickens tells the BBC, “He could not look into the future. He could not possibly imagine that his popularity would have been what it is today.” He also points out that the British haven’t exactly been conscientious about respecting his ancestor’s wishes in the past; despite Dickens’s request “that no public announcement be made of the time or place of [his] burial,” it was held at Westminster Abbey with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance.
Voicing the opposing viewpoint, Christine Fuminger, secretary of the City of Rochester Society, explained her vehement opposition to the Portsmouth statue:
He had seen far too many vainglorious and ridiculously elaborate monuments erected in London and elsewhere and I daresay he felt money could be better spent.
Portsmouth should not go against his express wishes. Why make a will? The fact that a long period of time has elapsed since his will was made does not alter anything.
Actor/author Simon Callow, who’s played Dickens on several occasions and written a biography of him, welcomes the tribute while acknowledging that the author would probably have hated it. “Dickens, of course, never wanted a statue, just as he never wanted to be buried in Westminster Abbey,” he told the BBC, “but such was the overwhelming force of his personality that we need him with us, among us. And with this statue, he is.”
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.