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Charles Dickens Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

A team of British researchers (who apparently had some time on their hands) examined Dickens's description of the gruel served in Oliver Twist's workhouse and found that the meals provided only 400 calories a day – enough to cause severe malnutrition and stunting of growth in a nine-year-old boy.10

Fortunately, the real-life workhouse residents upon whom Dickens based the story of Oliver Twist lived better than their fictional counterparts. The same British team looked at historical records from the mid-nineteenth century and determined that most workhouse residents received a diet of gruel that, while not particularly tasty, contained a nutritious balance of carbohydrates and proteins and weighed in at an adequate 1,600 to 1,700 calories. (No word on whether headmasters actually smacked boys for asking for more.)11

On 10 June 1865, the train in which Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan were riding careened off the rails on a bridge in France. Seven of the train's eight cars plunged into the river, killing many passengers, while Dickens's car dangled off the bridge. The writer remained calm, offering brandy to shaken passengers and working to free those trapped in the cars below.12

Even as an adult, Dickens broke down in tears every time he passed the former site of the bootblacking factory where he was forced to work as a child.13

Charles Dickens had a thing for naming his kids after literary figures. Among his ten children were Alfred Tennyson Dickens (born 1845), Henry Fielding Dickens (born 1849), and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens (born 1852).14

Should you find yourself in Chatham, England, be sure to stop by Dickens World, which has to be the only Charles Dickens-themed amusement park on the planet. Attractions include the Great Expectations Boat Ride, a replica Victorian schoolhouse (complete with snarling teacher) and a haunted house. No word on whether they offer smallpox face-painting, or sell gruel at the concession stand.15

There's still quite a market out there for Dickens's stuff. In 2008, the mahogany desk and chair in which Dickens wrote many of his best-known novels sold at auction for a combined 433,250 British pounds – or about $848,000.16 His dog's collar sold for $11,590 in New York in 2010. And even an old toothpick Boz once cleaned his teeth with fetched $9,150 in 2009.17

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