Happy slightly belated 202nd birthday, my friend! I didn’t get you a gift, but in case you missed it, Portsmouth got you a statue!
And before you start protesting that you didn’t want a statue, that it’s expressly in your will that you didn’t want to be memorialized, and that bronze really isn’t your colour, I would like to remind you gently of three things.
- You’ve already been buried in Westminster Abbey, also expressly against your dying wishes, so it’s not like this is the first time items in your will have been ignored in favour of a bit of public recognition. (The up side of your grave’s location is that, unlike being buried in some quiet churchyard, you have some illustrious company to discuss things with. I imagine you and Kipling and Sheridan strolling around the Abbey in the dark. Actually, check that. You’d probably be walking in brisk laps around the interior while they looked on in amazement from some cozy alcove.)
- This isn’t even your first life-sized statue (although it’s the first in the UK). Those upstart Americans and badass Australians both said to heck with your will and made statues of you in the 19th century. Frankly, I’m amazed at the restraint shown in the UK that it’s taken this long for them to join the Charles Dickens Statue Club.
- It’s quite a nice statue. Unlike its 19th century counterparts, you are not looking deep in thought here. I imagine you’d quite like the successful, relaxed, slightly theatrical depiction. It looks like you’re about to give a reading to a small group of friends. And it’s at eye level, not on a huge plinth like the other two, which makes you part of the crowd and not some inaccessible icon towering above the throng.I also think you would find the pictures of the work in progress very funny, with your lack of face and impossibly spindly legs.It looks so alien I think it’s only a matter of time until the Ancient Aliens guys get a hold of you.
Statues aside, I don’t think I need remind you of the many smaller than life representations of you. I’ve already frightened you with those. Seriously, you should have been worried less about statues and added a clause in your will expressly forbidding “tiny, nightmare-inducing toys, dolls and medallions.” Your new statue is so not frightening that if I went to Portsmouth I could literally go and sit on your knee (which I won’t do, because that would then be a bit creepy on my part).
I know you wanted your “claims to the remembrance of [your] Country upon [your] published works,” but honestly, Charlie, I don’t think you need fear that your statue will somehow usurp the place of your books. Sure, maybe Dombey & Son isn’t as well known today as it was when you wrote it (although it deserves to be), but I could walk into any Calgary bookstore right now and find Bleak House and The Pickwick Papers taking up more than what you would think would be their fair share of precious shelf space. And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing A Christmas Carol on TV or in a theatre.
Trust me, my friend, the thirty-six volumes I read last year that are sitting in my library are infinitely more precious to me than any hunk of bronze with your face on it. Statues or no statues, your literary legacy is as strong as ever.
So try not to fret about this generation’s lack of regard for your dying wishes and do what everyone who has ever received a birthday present they weren’t quite enamoured with does: smile graciously and accept the damn thing.
I suspect that smile will be genuine as you walk around the Abbey tonight.