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The Star XVII Gad's Hill

Roman à Clef:

Mamie Dickens; Charles Dickens;

Kate Dickens.

         Charles Dickens spent the happiest days of his childhood in Chatham, just outside Rochester. When he was 9 years old, he and his father passed Gad's Hill Place in Higham near Chatham where John Dickens told his son if he worked hard enough, he could one day own just such a house - perhaps even Gad's Hill itself. Greatly impressed by this, Charles would often walk to Gad's Hill to gaze again and again at the emblem of his promise, in a kind of physical act of creative visualization. Later in life, Dickens wrote: “I used to look at it as a wonderful Mansion (which God knows it is not) when I was a very odd little child with the first faint shadows of all my books in my head”. Thirty-five years later, in the spring of 1856, Gad's Hill Place was put up for sale by fellow writer Eliza Lynn Linton, and bought by Charles Dickens – now one of the most respected men in England and the most famous author in the world.


 The house itself was built in the 18th Century, but its location is famous for featuring in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One. There, Falstaff, Prince Hal, and others ambush the king's men and themselves before retiring to the pub – an incident drawn from the author's own life when he and some mates ambushed a representative of Queen Elizabeth's Treasurer, Lord Burghley, on May 20th, 1573, on the highway between Rochester and Gravesend. On the spot commemorating the incident stands the Sir John Falstaff Public House, across the road from Gad's Hill Place, built in the 2nd half of the 17th Century and often frequented by Dickens.


 Dickens initially bought Gad's Hill as an investment, but when he separated from his wife, he moved Georgina and his children there and made it his permanent residence. An old house, Dickens was forever making improvements to Gad's Hill – an occupation he seemed to enjoy, having added a spiral staircase and planned a conservatory just before his death. He also had bookshelves installed which – reflecting Dickens' impish sense of humour - contained spurious books: History of a Short Chancery Suit (in 21 volumes), Kant’s Ancient Humbugs (4 Volumes), On the Use of Mercury by the Ancient Poets, Drowsy’s Recollections of Nothing, Heavyside’s Conversations with Nobody, Commonplace Book of the Oldest Inhabitant, Socrates on Wedlock, Five Minutes in China (3 Volumes), Growler’s Gruffology (with Appendix), King Henry the Eighth's Evidences of Christianity, Mr. Green’s Overland Mail, Captain Cook’s Life of Savage, A Carpenter’s Bench of Bishops, Toot’s Universal Letter-Writer, Orson’s Art of Etiquette, Downeaster’s Complete Calculator, History of the Middling Ages (6 vols.), Jonah’s Account of the Whale, Captain Parry’s Virtues of Cold Tar, Bowwowdom - A Poem, The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: I Ignorance, II Superstition, III The Block, IV The Stake, V The Rack, VI Dirt, VII Disease, and Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep (as many volumes as possible).


 Always gregarious, Dickens entertained many guests at Gad's Hill, including Hans Christian Anderson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Wilkie Collins, Percy Fitzgerald, John Leech, and Charles Fechter. Fechter was a gifted, temperamental, bohemian actor, famous for his inventive portrayal of Hamlet. In 1864, Fechter sent Dickens a box full of all the lumber and parts needed to build a 2 story Swiss chalet. Dickens erected it at once. He set it at a distance from the house, in a small copse of trees accessible through a brick-lined tunnel built under the road. In the spring and summer, the chalet became Dickens' atelier – a light, airy escape, set to birdsong. There he wrote many of his later works, including A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend. Seen amid the trees here on the left of The Star card, this retreat was for Dickens as a star within a star.


 Dickens died at Gad's Hill in 1870, but the official story which has the collapse which precipitated his death also happening there is false – another small part of Dickens' secret life. In actuality, Dickens collapsed at Ellen Ternan's home in Peckham, Windsor Lodge. From the King's Arms on Peckham Rye, having dispatched a telegram to Georgina, she hired a cover coach to transport the paralytic Dickens to Gad's Hill. With her lover safely in Chatham, Nelly returned to Peckham and Dickens died a few hours later, his dignity intact. In a somewhat farcical and macabre re-enactment of this fixation with appearances, Dickens' body was not discreetly buried in Rochester as the author explicitly requested, but was instead conveyed by special train to Charing Cross and interred in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. A stone's throw from Shakespeare's empty monument, Dickens' grave is overlooked by a bust of Handel. In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the novel he was writing in his Swiss chalet on the days before his death, Dickens wrote a curious passage about the contents of a closet surmounted by a portrait of Handel “in a flowing wig" which "beamed down at the spectator, with a knowing air of being up to the contents of the closet, and a musical air of intending to combine all its harmonies in one delicious fugue.” This is the closet of Reverend Crisparkle of Cloisterham Cathedral, based on the real-life Rochester Cathedral, where a grave for the Sparkler of Albion, then as to this day, goes unfilled.


 Here on The Star card, Dickens is flanked by his two closest children, Mamie and Kate. Kate, nicknamed Lucifer Box by Dickens, was arguably the child most like him – headstrong and defiant; Mamie, or Mild Gl'oster as her father called her, was moody but nevertheless had her own quiet strength. A writer herself, she remained unmarried, refusing the proposal of Dicken's friend Percy Fitzgerald - a brave act of independence in the Victorian age. During her father's life she was the official hostess at Gad's Hill Place. After his death, she edited her father's letters with her Aunt Georgina, published a biographical remembrance entitled My Father As I Recall Him, and wrote a novel: Cross Currents. In a strange echo of her father's secret life with Ellen Ternan, Mamie – who had been living with her Aunt Georgina – moved in with a clergyman and his wife, Mr. And Mrs. Hargreaves. This was a scandal which her family kept secret, and for which Mamie was ostracized by her aunt and siblings. When she eventually died alone somewhere in the country, she was buried beside her sister Kate, on the same day her brother, Charles Dickens, Jr., was also buried.


 Henry Fielding Dickens, the author's most successful and last surviving child, started The Gad's Hill Gazette as a boy – a family newspaper printed by Mr. Wills, the sub-editor of All The Year Round. Nicknamed The Jolly Postboy and The Comic Countryman by his father, Henry became in later years a barrister, member of King's Counsel, Common Serjeant of London, and Life President of the Dickens Fellowship. He was grandfather to the writer Monica Dickens, MBE, and Cedric Charles Dickens, steward of Charles Dickens' literary legacy. He is also great-great-grandfather to actor Gerald Dickens, writer Lucinda Hawksley, and actor Harry Lloyd.


 Gad's Hill was owned for some years by Charles Dickens, Jr., but he was forced to sell it when his health failed. Today it is a school, on whose Board of Governors sits Marion Dickens, a former pupil and Dickens' great-great-granddaughter.



Notes for General Circulation : 


  • Represents inspiration, creative release, redemption, grace, nourishment, and the soul at ease. 

  • The pitchers of the traditional Star card are replaced by a picture of Gad's Hill and a picture of filial devotion in Dickens and his daughters' portrait. His two daughters at his side may suggest an association between creative energies and sexual energies. 

  • The lush countryside behind emphasizes the idea of growth. The small patch of water indicates the easy flow of creative juices and iterates the idea of sustenance. 

  • As Dickens' dream home, Gad's Hill represents the fulfillment of a wish or a hard-won accomplishment. As the Dickens home, Gad's Hill represents the inspiration and comfort Dickens drew from time spent with family and entertaining friends. As the location of a key incident in Shakespeare's life and work, Gad's Hill represents a well-deserved inheritance, a fertile heritage, and an inspired line of transmission. With its Swiss chalet aerie, Gad's Hill represents a haven, a windfall, a sanctum sanctorum.

  • Dickens' writing made him a star. His stardom allowed him to purchase the house he visualized owning as a boy. Here, he wrote some of his greatest works. The suggestion may be then that inspirational forces are heaven-born, and the twinkling stars which quicken the inert matter in man ask in recompense only that man in emulation inject into inert matter a similarly shared life-force through the making of works of art.  

  • In Tarot tradition, the specific star alluded to is Sirius, which marks the Dog Days of summer.  Dickens lived at Gad's Hill in the twilight of his life; the exuberant, boyish author had become remarkably serious in middle age. Dickens' daughters on either side of him - one headstrong, the other melancholy - may allude to the two women on the up-coming Moon card, aspects represented on standard Tarot decks by dogs.

  • Dickens' time at Gad's Hill corresponds to his separation from his wife and the 13-year affair he maintained in secret with Ellen Ternan. It underscores the author's ability to balance his business and literary life with his domestic family life and the demands of a mistress who lived for some time in France. In this way, The Star card represents harmony and an even distribution of various conflicting elements. 

  • Dickens' children both symbolize the fictional children he created, representing man's ethereal legacy, and his flesh and blood progeny, representing man's earthly legacy. Both indicate a fecundity and kind of rebirth.

  • Dickens' conscious life began in Chatham and it ended there. Having begun his literary career as The Magician, he ends it in the Star of the Magi, the Christmas Star, with his children around him in a reverse nativity.  


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