Event Arrival of Swiss Chalet at Gad’s Hill in 1864.
‘Belonging to the house, but unfortunately placed on the other side of the high road, was a shrubbery, well wooded though in desolate condition, in which stood two magnificent cedars; and having obtained, in 1859, the consent of the local authorities for the necessary underground work, Dickens constructed a passage beneath the road from his front lawn; and in the shrubbery thus rendered accessible, and which he then laid out very prettily, he placed afterwards a Swiss chalet presented to him by Mr Fechter, which arrived from Paris in ninety-four pieces fitting like the joints of a puzzle, but which proved to be somewhat costly in setting on its legs by means of a foundation of brickwork.’1
Given to Dickens by his actor friend Charles Fechter for Christmas 1864, the two-storey wooden chalet was originally positioned at one end of an underground tunnel leading from Gad’s Hill to a small field on the other side of the road outside the house. Dickens wrote the last words of Edwin Drood here.
Summer houses of various kinds featured prominently in the Victorian imagination in much the same way as they do today. In David Copperfield the young David and Dora have their first conversation alone (but for Dora’s dog Jip) in a greenhouse, and David comments that ‘The scent of a geranium leaf, at this day, strikes me with a half comical half serious wonder as to what change has come over me in a moment; and then I see a straw hat and blue ribbons, and a quantity of curls, and a little black dog being held up, in two slender arms, against a bank of blossoms and bright leaves.’2 In Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White takes Walter Hartright to a summer house for his first sight of Laura Fairlie, with whom he instantly falls in love.
Constructed in a piece of land opposite Gad’s Hill, Dickens used it as a summer study, even having an underground passage built to avoid the necessity of crossing the road every morning. Five mirrors were added that served to ‘reflect and refract in all kinds of ways the leaves that are quivering at the windows, and the great fields of waving corn, and the sail dotted river. My room is up among the branches of the trees; and the birds and the butterflies fly in and out, and the green branches shoot in, at the open windows, and the lights and shadows of the clouds come and go with the rest of the company.’3 Like others who work from home – and not surprisingly with all this to look at - Dickens complained that on occasion ‘I sit in the chalet, like Mariana in the Moated Grange – and to as much purpose’.4
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1997.
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. 3 vols. Vol 3. 1852-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge Library Collection: Literary Studies, 2011.
Graham Storey, ed. The Pilgrim Edition: The Letters of Charles Dickens. Volume 12: 1868-1870. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.