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Charles Dickens: My Life by Derwin Hope - Book Tour

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Charles Dickens: My Life
By Derwin Hope

When Charles Dickens died prematurely on the 9th June 1870 aged only 58,
he left behind a legacy unsurpassed in English fictional literature.
But he also wanted to write his true life story and this remained undone.
150 years on from his death, I have found that sufficient material has now been uncovered
to enable that narrative of his life story to be produced for the first time.
Research amongst 15,000 of his letters, journalistic articles,
documents and other relevant material connected to him have all combined
to make it possible for me to piece together that evidence and,
guided by the way he wrote his two travel books,
has resulted in the production of this personal story in his own words that he so desired to tell.
It shows exactly how, from difficult beginnings,
he descended into acute humiliation and abject poverty,
before then emerging due to his talent and incredible resolve,
into one of the most famous men and popular authors the world has ever known.
It chronicles his enormous public triumphs and his profound private turmoils,
as well as the secret life he led when, on his own admission,
he became “seized with lunacy”. It includes his two momentous visits to America,
and his withering and radical opinions of institutions and situations he found there,
as well as those he encountered at home – all expressed in his own inimitable style.
This is his compelling and personal narrative, put together for the first time in a way
that he wished his legacy to be told. It is the real and true story of his life.

Information about the Book
Title: Charles Dickens: My Life
Author: Derwin Hope
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publication Date: 5th May
Page Count: 536
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing


My Early Life

Friday the 7th of February 1812 and I was born at Portsmouth, an English seaport town, principally remarkable for mud, Jews, and sailors. Thereafter in my life a Friday has always been a special day for me; whatever projects I may have determined on otherwise, I have never begun a book or begun anything of importance to me, save it has been on a Friday. I arrived in this world in a small, first floor bedroom of a rented terraced house at Mile End, Landport, but a short distance from Portsmouth Dockyard. At the time this provided home for my father and mother and my sister, Fanny, who had been born some 18 months before. Three weeks after my birth, we all attended at the nearby church of St. Mary’s, Kingston, where I was christened Charles John Huffam Dickens – Charles from my mother’s father, John from my father and Huffam the surname of my godfather, Christopher Huffam, a good friend of my father.

If truth be told, I remember now very little about the home of my birth and indeed, when I returned to Portsmouth on a reading tour much later in life, I had difficulty in fixing its location. I had been told it was a little house with a small front garden and I know that we all lived there with a servant. I confess however that I did not feel any strong sentimental attachment to the place, but that was my beginning.
I also have very little recollection of my grandparents, save for my father’s mother who died when I was 12 years old. She was a housekeeper in the family of Lord Crewe, and I particularly remember she loved to have children around her and to beguile them with stories from the pages of history as well as fairy tales and reminiscences of her own. I can fully understand the joy this must have given her as it is reflected in the way my own life has unfolded. Before she died she gave me a large, old silver watch, a treasured possession that belonged to her husband, a grandfather I never knew.

My father, John Dickens, was brought up by my grandmother within the Crewe household, at Crewe Hall in Cheshire and at their London home, 18 Grosvenor Street. He had an elder brother, William, who, through hard work and sound business sense, came to be the keeper of a London coffee house in Oxford Street; but sadly, my father had a tendency not to exhibit these qualities and it is painful for me to recall that my grandmother was constantly inveighing against his idleness, general incapacity, and his apparent inability to live within his means. I know she proposed to leave him nothing in her Will, saying that he had already received from her many sums on differing occasions. It was a trait of his that I was to come to know only too well. His requirement that he be treated as a gentleman and the need to dress and entertain according to such fashion added only to his financial straits, but throughout his life he remained constantly of the belief that when penury struck, something would turn up – and it usually did, often in the form of my good self. I have heard him liken himself to a cork which, when submerged, bobs up to the surface again, none the worse for the dip; he regarded optimism as the finest of all arts.

Through the good auspices of Lord Crewe, he was fortunate to get a job at Somerset House in the Strand, London, as a clerk to the Navy Treasurer’s Office. This not only provided him with a job and income but, just as important as he saw it, status – a “responsible situation under Government” as he called it. It also brought him into contact with another newcomer to the office, Thomas Barrow, who introduced him to his sister, Elizabeth.

In due course, my father was moved to the Naval Pay Office and then transferred to Portsmouth, a town renowned for its hard-living sailor folk who would oft times resort to fighting, even during the course of being paid. Despite these circumstances that befell him, all reports I have heard from his workplace describe him as the jolliest of men, a fellow of infinite humour, chatty, lively and agreeable – a true bobbing cork. He was also still drawn to Elizabeth Barrow in London and in June 1809, they married at the Church of St. Mary-le-Strand opposite Somerset House before travelling back to Portsmouth and their new home in the terrace at Landport.
My mother was 23 years of age when I was born. It is said that I inherited from her bright hazel eyes and a curiosity that knows no bounds. I am aware that on entering a room, she would, almost unconsciously, take an inventory of all its contents and if anything happened to strike her as out of place or ridiculous, she would later describe it in the quaintest manner. She had an uncanny power of imitating others and highlighting the ludicrous, but was also able to bring tears to the eyes of her listeners if narrating some sad event. I discovered later, however, that her father Charles Barrow had systematically falsified the accounts and thereby embezzled almost £6,000 from the Naval Pay Office whilst he worked as Chief Conductor of Moneys (a position superior to my father), and had absconded out of the jurisdiction and eventually to the Isle of Man when his disreputable activities had been uncovered. Her mother, Mary Barrow, took to living in Liverpool with another daughter and this worthy grandmother never cared twopence about us – until that is I grew famous, and then sent me “an affectionate request for five pounds or so”. I cannot but say that, long before, I had become utterly indifferent to the fact of her existence.

I only lived for five months in the Landport terrace before we moved to 16 Hawke Street in Portsea, closer to the Dockyard. We stayed there for some 18 months before moving to accommodation at 39 Wish Street (now Kings Road) in the new area of Southsea. There we were joined by Mary Allen, my mother’s sister whose husband, Thomas Allen, had drowned at sea off Rio de Janeiro shortly before her arrival with us. For reasons that I cannot now remember, she came to be known as ‘Aunt Fanny’ in our family.

My youngest childhood recollections surround Christmas time, with a richly decorated Christmas tree in the centre of the room and looking upward into the dreamy brightness of its branches and top. I can also clearly remember the celebrations that brought in the New Year of 1814. I still have a vivid remembrance of the sensation of being carried downstairs in a woman’s arms and holding tight to her in the terror of seeing the steep perspective below. Once down, I remember timidly peeping into a room and seeing a very long row of ladies and gentlemen sitting against a wall, all drinking at once out of little glass cups with handles, like custard cups. It was very like my first idea of the good people in Heaven, as derived from a picture in a prayer book I had, with their heads a little thrown back and all drinking at once. Toys came to play a large part in my life. One was a tumbler with his hands in his pockets, who wouldn’t lie down, but whenever he was put upon the floor, persisted in rolling his fat body about, until he rolled himself still, and brought those lobster eyes of his to bear upon me – when I affected to laugh very much, but in my heart of hearts was extremely doubtful of him. Close beside him was an infernal snuff-box, out of which there sprang a demoniacal counsellor in a black gown, with an obnoxious head of hair, and a red cloth mouth, wide open, who was not to be endured on any terms, but could not be put away either; for he used suddenly, in a highly magnified state, to fly out of mammoth snuff-boxes in dreams, when least expected. A mask, too, that gave me nightmares – but happier times were had with a great black horse with rounded red spots all over him that I could even climb upon by myself.

Author Information
Derwin Hope was born in Somerset in 1944 and attended local schools until the age of 12.
He then went to the Quaker boarding school, Leighton Park in Reading, where he became Head Boy,
as well as captaining the school at cricket and rugby and becoming athletics champion. 
He then attended the College of Estate Management, London University,
where he obtained a Degree in Estate Management and played rugby for the College 1st XV
before deciding to become a lawyer. He joined Middle Temple as his Inn of Court and qualified as a Barrister.
Following pupillage, he became a member of Western Circuit Chambers at 3, Paper Buildings,
Temple, London and their annex in Winchester and practiced in the Criminal Courts in both London
(including the Old Bailey) and throughout the West Country, dealing with every type of case from shoplifting to murder.
He also appeared in Courts Martial Cases in Germany,
as well as acting as a specialist lawyer in Town and Country Planning inquiries and legal appeals.
He wrote the book “The 1990-91 Planning Acts” as the official book on the subject for the
Royal Institute of British Architects.
 In 1993 he became a Recorder - a part-time judge alongside his work as a Barrister -
and in 2002 became a full-time Circuit Judge. For 2 years he sat in Bolton, Greater Manchester,
before being transferred to Portsmouth, the birthplace of Charles Dickens. After 2 years he transferred
to Southampton, where he sat as the Resident Judge (the most senior) for 8 years and was appointed
the Honorary Recorder of Southampton by the City.
He retired from the law in 2014 and from the Honorary Recordership in 2020.
He is married to Heidi, and they have one son, Matthew, and one daughter, Zoe.

Tour Schedule

Monday 4th May

Tuesday 5th May

Wednesday 6th May

Thursday 7th May

Friday 8th May

Sunday 10th May

Monday 11th May

Tuesday 12th May

Wednesday 13th May

Thursday 14th May

Friday 15th May

Saturday 16th May

Sunday 17th May

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