The Plot to Bury Dickens: Capitalising on the Demise of a Victorian Celebrity

Litvack, L. (Keynote speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited or keynote talk at national or international conference


Dickens's sudden, unexpected death provoked an outpouring of public grief. Theodore Watts-Dunton recalls that a coster barrow girl who sold fruits and vegetables in Covent Garden Market lamented, 'Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?' The leader writer in the Times on 13 June 1870 remarked: 'Common as death may seem, there is nothing so full of melancholy or wonder as the disappearance of such a man from our world'. The piece concluded with an appeal to the authorities to overturn the wishes the author himself expressed in his last will and testament, and inter him in Poets' Corner: 'DICKENS spoke from his own modest estimate of himself; he did not reflect how dear his memory would be to the English nation; and could he know the pleasure it would give them to honour him and to have his tomb always among them, he would have been the last to disappoint the people whom he loved so well. . . let him lie in the Abbey'.

This address, delivered on the sesquicentenary of Dickens's death, builds on research carried out into the 'untold story' of Dickens's death and burial, and emphasises how, virtually from the moment he collapsed at Gad's Hill on 8 June, plans were formulated for giving him the kind of interment befitting a man of his celebrity status. The plot was hatched by those who wished to take credit for the procurement of this giant of Victorian letters for the national pantheon. In achieving this aim, and turning Dickens's grave into a site of pilgrimage, the plotters not only secured for the public a media-facilitated proximity to his totemic relics, but also underscored a potency and depth of public feeling, that penetrated to the heart of the para-social relationship existing between Dickens and his fans.
Period09 Jun 2020
Held atDickens150, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Dickens, Charles
  • death
  • Burial
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Celebrity