In 1853 Charles Dickens began giving public readings of his works. He did so, first, for charity; then, in 1858, he began giving readings for profit. And my what a profit they made–certainly more than the writings themselves, and that’s even with Dickens insisting some of the seats be made affordable for the working class.
Given the success in Britain, it only natural he would turn his sights on America. We, of course, had a Civil War to get through. But once the dust settled, dates were set, halls booked, and tickets were purchased. So it was, on December 2, 1867, Charles Dickens stood reading from A Christmas Carol and Pickwick Papers at the Tremont Temple in Boston.
Now, lest you associate readings with boring, morose affairs, let me assure you, Dickens worked hard to ensure they were nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, in the words of Edgar Johnson, each reading “was more than a reading; it was an extraordinary exhibition of acting . . . without a single prop or bit of costume, by changes of voice, by gesture, by vocal expression, Dickens peopled his stage with a throng of characters.”
This flare for the dramatic came from an early love of theater. He was even a part of an amateur acting troupe where he did a little of everything, from acting to stage management, set to costume design.
So, while the stage may have been diminutive, and his a one-man show, he provided a rousing performance all the same.
Despite ill health, he went on to perform seventy-six readings in a five-month period, followed by a dramatic farewell tour in Britain.
Some claim the myriad of performances hastened his untimely death (June 9, 1870). Perhaps they’re right. Yet he went out doing what he loved. I dare say, we can hardly hope for more than that.
Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens : His Tragedy and Triumph. London: Gollancz, 1953. Print.