What the...? Dickens to get unwanted statue


Ian Burrell
Friday 19 August 2011 00:00

The design has been chosen for the United Kingdom's first-ever statue of its greatest novelist, Charles Dickens, in spite of his request, made at his funeral, that there should be no monuments in his honour.

The larger-than-life bronze statue of Dickens reading in a chair will be unveiled in Portsmouth, the writer's birthplace, in August next year as part of the celebrations of the bicentenary of his birth. Martin Jennings, who produced the winning design, is best known for his bronzes of the poets John Betjeman, at London's St Pancras railway station, and of Philip Larkin in Hull.

The decision to commission the statue was not made without controversy. In his will Dickens wrote: "I conjure to my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatsoever." Partly as a result, there has never been a statue of the author in this country, although such monuments exist in Sydney and Philadelphia as a tribute to his international popularity.

The final testimony is now interpreted by many, including the writer's descendants, as a request that he should not have the kind of grand mausoleum popular in Victorian times. Such was the public grief at Dickens's death that Queen Victoria decreed, against his wishes, that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Ian Dickens, great great grandson of the author, said the comments in the will must be taken in context. "He was talking to his friends about his funeral and burial, he talks about the number of mourners and what they should be wearing and the lack of pomp," he said. "He goes on to talk about not wanting some ghastly memorial and we absolutely believe that is in relation to the mausoleums so prevalent in Victorian times. He absolutely didn't want that."

Mr Dickens said the maquette produced by Mr Jennings would show the personality of the great writer. "One of the things [the sculptor] wants to communicate, which I was very passionate about, was that the statue conveys Dickens's sense of creativity, his sparkle, wit and energy," he said.

The winning maquette was based on a photograph of Dickens reading to his daughters Mary and Catherine at his home in Gad's Hill in Kent. His great great grandson said a seated figure would make the statue more approachable. Children will not be discouraged from climbing onto the statue's knee or its pile of books. "Dickens was a man of the people and we wanted people to be able to interact easily with him. We didn't want a huge, imposing stand-offish figure."

Professor Tony Pointon, chair of the Charles Dickens Statue committee, said £100,000 was needed to pay for the statue in Portsmouth's Guildhall Square. "It was an enormous responsibility to have something worthy of Dickens," he said.

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