The superstitious nature of Britain's greatest writer has come to light thanks to the sale of an inscribed first edition of Charles Dickens's favourite novel with its own intriguing backstory.
The auction of Dickens' personal copy of David Copperfield – his most autobiographical novel and his "favourite child" – has provided new insight into why he gifted the book to a Sheffield tool manufacturer to dispell a curse.
It was first published in book form in 1850 to great acclaim, but when it was read by the owner of a Sheffield company named William Brookes and Sons, he was shocked to find its eponymous main character being ridiculed with an insulting nickname – "Brooks of Sheffield" – similar to his firm. He contacted the author about the slur and correspondence ensued, with Dickens telling the owner that the name was "one of those remarkable coincidences".
The factory owner subsequently presented him with the gift of a cutlery case in 1851. But due to the superstition that if a knife is received as a present the relationship of giver and recipient will be severed, that led Dickens to send his treasured edition in return. The volume is believed to have been with the family ever since. While the letter from Dickens is in Yale University's archives, scholars had no idea that the actual volume, inscribed to "Brookes of Sheffield", had survived, or that it is accompanied by another letter from Dickens apologising for its delay.
As the author's well-thumbed volume is originally from his own shelves, inscribed and accompanied by a letter, it could be worth £50,000 when it is auctioned at Christie's London on 13 June.