Sunday, March 8, 2015

The eleven year-old who critiqued Charles Dickens

British author Charles Dickens adapted many of his works for public readings. In an age before television or radio, Dickens’ dramatic performances attracted huge crowds.

Dickens gave readings not only in his native England, but also in America. During once such American reading tour in 1867, Dickens fell into conversation with a young girl while aboard a train near Portland, Maine.

The eleven-year-old girl was extremely precocious. Not only was she familiar with Dickens’ books—she had no qualms about giving Dickens (by this time an internationally famous literary figure) frank feedback as a reader. While giving novels like David Copperfield and Great Expectations overall positive assessments, the young girl also informed Dickens of a few passages that were “boring”.

Far from being insulted or threatened, Dickens was delighted. He made notes of the girl’s comments. At the end of the train ride, Dickens took the young girl by the hand and escorted her to her parents—who were surprised to find their daughter on such familiar terms with the famous author.

The young girl was Kate Douglas Wiggin. In later life, she would become the author of a number of books, including the classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903).

Wiggin also wrote a memoir of her long conversation with the British author who was known as “the Inimitable”. Published in 1912, Wiggin’s memoir was entitled A Child's Journey with Dickens.