Charles Dickens’s desk, writing slope, lamp, desk calendar, and chair
Anna Deavere Smith: Charles Dickens is regarded today as a giant of 19th-century British literature. He’s known for such monumental works as A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. In fact, we believe Dickens may have written several chapters of Great Expectations while seated at this very desk. Declan Kiely is Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions here at the Library.
Declan Kiely: Many of us know what it is to sit at a desk and work, but being able to see where the author sat and wrote his work brings us into a more intimate connection with him.
Anna Deavere Smith: We don’t know exactly where this desk was situated in Dickens’ Gads Hill home…
Declan Kiely: …but it does have other day-to-day things that suggest that it was something Dickens used regularly. For example, the calendar that sits on top of the desk, which you can see here, is dated June 9. That was the last day of Dickens’s life and the calendar was never changed from that point onwards.
Anna Deavere Smith: The only thing that’s not original in this display is the caning on the seat of the chair.
Declan Kiely: In the fall of 1940, the mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia, was invited—or took it upon himself; we don’t know which—to sit in Dickens’s chair and see how it would have felt to have been the great author. Whereupon he broke right through the caning in the seat, and nobody has ever been allowed to sit in Dickens’s chair since that date.
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Dr. Declan Kiely is Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. We gratefully acknowledge the editorial guidance of Dr. Jenny Hartley of Roehampton University.
The New York Public Library holds or manages the copyright(s)