Before modern alternatives for amusement, people in need of entertainment had the theater. In the era of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, people loved to attend plays throughout England. They also staged amateur theatricals at home, a pastime these famous authors enjoyed greatly with their families.
In a big city like London, a devoted fan could find entertainment in the theaters every night of the week. In his youth, Dickens claimed to have attended nightly for three years. The classics, such as Shakespeare, were revered then as they are now. There were different classes of theaters that were allowed to perform specific material, although the rules changed through the period.
One major event in the theatrical year was the annual pantomime, a sort of over-the-top holiday variety show. This was when children were likely to have the opportunity to see a performance. The topics drew from Italian commedia dell’arte, children’s stories, history, dancing, and slapstick comedy. Because not all English theaters were allowed to use spoken dialogue until 1843, many of the productions were silent.
Though acting was not a high-class profession, people did still dream of treading the boards. Dickens considered becoming an actor when he was twenty, and after rehearsing for up to six hours a day, set up an audition. However, he had a terrible cold that day and had to miss it.
Luckily for us, he became too absorbed in his newspaper career to set up another audition. He also attempted to write for the theater and penned his first comic operetta the same year as his first novel. The serialized novel, The Pickwick Papers, became a huge success, while the operetta, The Village Coquettes, did not. How different English literature might have been if the reverse had been true!
Ironically, stage productions of The Pickwick Papers were being produced before the monthly installments of the novel were even completed or published. Dickens may not have been a great playwright, but in the right hands, his characters and plots were box-office magic during his lifetime, as they are today.
Perhaps revisiting his earlier ambitions to take the stage, in his later years, Dickens became a one-man show and made a great deal of money performing impassioned readings from his books.
About A Tale of Two Murders
On the eve of the Victorian era, London has a new sleuth . . .
In the winter of 1835, young Charles Dickens is a journalist on the rise at the Evening Chronicle. Invited to dinner at the estate of the newspaper’s co-editor, Charles is smitten with his boss’s daughter, vivacious nineteen-year-old Kate Hogarth. They are having the best of times when a scream shatters the pleasant evening. Charles, Kate, and her father rush to the neighbors’ home, where Miss Christiana Lugoson lies unconscious on the floor. By morning, the poor young woman will be dead.
When Charles hears from a colleague of a very similar mysterious death a year ago to the date—also a young woman—he begins to suspect poisoning and feels compelled to investigate. The lovely Kate offers to help, using her social position to gain access to the members of the upper crust, now suspects in a murder. If Charles can find justice for the victims, it will be a far, far better thing than he has ever done. But with a twist or two in this most peculiar case, he and Kate may be in for the worst of times.
Grave Expectations, the second installment in Heather Redmond’s Dickens of a Crime series, releases July 30, 2019.
About the Author
Though her last known British ancestor departed London in the 1920s, Heather Redmond is a committed Anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century. She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. Visit her at HeatherRedmond.com and on Facebook.