A creepy interlude

Dear Charlie,

I know I owe you a proper letter about Our Mutual Friend, and I’ve made good progress into volume two (and I’ve finally figured out who I’m supposed to be rooting for), but this evening I have a bone to pick with you.


This is the stuff of nightmares, my friend. And it’s your fault.

It’s about clowns.

Now, I’m not alone in finding clowns more creepy and deeply suspicious than they are fun and entertaining. I would cheerfully watch any number of horror movies rather than be in the same room with one. But it wasn’t until I read this article on Smithsonian.com today that I found out that you, my dear, played a part in the creepification of the clown. This saddens me deeply.

Just when you think you know a guy…

Granted, I’m pretty sure you didn’t set out to unsettle unsuspecting circus-goers when you set out to write about the most famous clown of your day, Joseph Grimaldi, but it just goes to show you how the most benign things can take on a life of their own. A damned disturbing life, as it happens.

Which reminds me of something I saw for sale on Etsy a few months ago.

I love The Pickwick Papers even more than I dislike clowns. So you can imagine my distress when a search for “Charles Dickens” on that venerable online store brought me face to face with quite possibly the ugliest piece of pottery that ever claimed kinship with your popular book. Just look what Beswick did with the wonderful Sam Weller:


Look into his dead, dead eyes and then tell me you’ll sleep absolutely soundly tonight…

The scariest part of all? The damned thing was produced from 1935 to 1973! Do you know how many of those things must be lurking about in china cabinets around the world?? It gives me the willies just thinking about it. Please, someone, buy the damn thing already and stop it looking at me.

But it goes to show the remarkable popularity of the character, that just sticking his name on something so disquieting would make it sell for frickin’ decades. I can’t think of a comparable twentieth century literary character (who hasn’t had a movie tie-in) who has such a wide appeal or such a presence in popular culture. But seeing how frightening this is, maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

All of this makes reading about bodies being pulled out of the Thames positively cheerful in comparison, Charlie. So I’ll bid you a good night and return to the stories of Lizzie and Bella and Rokesmith and Riderhood and Boffin.

But I just might leave a light on tonight…

Affectionately, except for the whole clown business,


One comment on “A creepy interlude

  1. Dear Melissa

    Some time ago, I came across your blog, and I made a note of its address, knowing that one day I would get back to you, and leave a comment here. In general, I am trying to establish personal contact with as many people as I can who have expressed a love of The Pickwick Papers, but yours is a very special case because you have highlighted scary clowns. You see, I have written a novel about the events surrounding the creation of The Pickwick Papers, which will be published in May by Random House (in the UK) and in June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). Perhaps you have heard about my novel already. Anyway, the dying clown in Pickwick assumes great importance in my book. The novel is called Death and Mr Pickwick and I do hope you will take a look at it. You can find out more at: http://www.deathandmrpickwick.com Also, I have set up a facebook page for the novel where I post Pickwickiana every day:


    Incidentally, I loved looking at the pieces of Pickwick memorabilia you have found. Some of these depictions of Pickwickian characters really are hideous, and I thought your description of Mr Pickwick as looking like he had had ”some terrible plastic surgery which turned him into a Joker look-alike” was brilliant!

    If you feel like exchanging messages, do get in touch.

    All the best

    Stephen Jarvis

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