Event: Dickens staying at Ship Inn 29 April – 2 May 1856.
‘It fell to my lot, this last bleak Spring, to find myself in a watering-place out of the Season. A vicious north-east squall blew me into it from foreign parts, and I tarried in it alone for three days, resolved to be exceedingly busy. On the first day, I began business by looking for two hours at the sea, and staring the Foreign Militia out of countenance. Having disposed of these important engagements, I sat down at one of the two windows of my room, intent on doing something desperate in the way of literary composition, and writing a chapter of unheard-of excellence…’ ‘Out of the Season’. Household Words (1856).
Dickens stayed in Dover on a number of occasions while travelling from London to the continent and he includes it in both David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. During one visit to the town even Dickens suffered from writer’s block – sometimes known as procrastination, as he makes clear in an article of 1856.
Having set part of David Copperfield in Dover, Dickens stayed at the Ship Hotel for three days in the spring of 1856, while working on Little Dorrit. But if he was hoping to make progress with the novel, as he had done while staying in Folkestone the year before, his account suggests that he was far from successful. In a classic depiction of writer’s block, Dickens observes that ‘it is a remarkable quality in a watering-place out of the season, that everything in it, will and must be looked at. I had no previous suspicion of this fatal truth; but, the moment I sat down to write, I began to perceive it’ (‘Out of the Season’).
Although he stayed in Dover on a number of occasions on his way to the continent, he was not the town’s biggest fan, writing to Mary Boyle in 1852 that ‘It is not quite a place to my taste, being too bandy (I mean musically, no reference to its legs), and infinitely too genteel.’ This same sensitivity to local ‘bands’ had proved a source of difficulty during his stay in Broadstairs in 1847. But notwithstanding the bands and the gentility, he found the Dover sea itself ‘very fine, and the walks are quite remarkable’.1 His early Victorian rival G. W. Reynolds set part of his novel Mary Price (1851-53) in the town, a fact Dickens chose to ignore.
In 1859 one writer saw nothing but ‘Bathing-machines – ugliest of objects, debauching the aspect of all sea-side places – taking slowly to the water like gouty hippopotami. Old rickety sailor with old rickety telescope trudging the beach, looking for Cockneys who pant to see the cliffs of France.’ But in the same year Dickens would begin A Tale of Two Cities by sending Jarvis Lorry down the Dover Road and through the town, on his way to revolutionary France, and he included it in his reading tour of November 1861.
Dickens, Charles. ‘Out of the Season’. 28 June 1856. Household Words.
Dickens, Charles. ‘Out of the Season’
Household Words, Volume XIII Magazine No. 327, 28 June 1856, Pages: 553-556., Magazine No. 327, 28 June 1856, Pages: 553-556. Accessed: 2 January 2019.
Fowler, Frank. The Dottings of a Lounger. London: Routledge Warne & Routledge, 1859.
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022. Storey, Graham, Kathleen Tillotson and Nina Burgis, eds. The Pilgrim Edition: The Letters of Charles Dickens. Volume 6: 1850-1852. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
To Mary Boyle, 22 July 1852. Pilgrim 6. 720-1. 721. ↩