Charles Dickens, His 200th Birthday, Trains and Death

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Today it is 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens. While it might be a little morbid, then, to mention events leading up to his death. This story is quite a vivid one:

Five years before his death (to the day) Charles Dickens was on a train home when it approached a place work was being carried out. The workers did not prepare for the train’s arrival properly. It crashed. Ten people died.

There were seven carriages to the train from Folkstone to London, six of which fell from the bridge the train was travelling on at Staplehurst, some into the water below. Dickens was in the seventh carriage – the only one which remained upright.

He helped some of the passengers by bringing them brandy, but discovered on returning to them, that two had died.

‘I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head. I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy, and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else. The next time I passed her, she was dead.’

Dickens had left his manuscript of Our Mutual Friend in his carriage. He went back among the chaos to retrieve it:

‘I instantly remembered that I had the MS of a Novel with me, and clambered back into the carriage for it. But in writing these scanty words of recollection, I feel the shake and am obliged to stop.’ 

In the five years following the incident, before he himself died, he describes suffering from a ‘railway shaking’ and it has been suggested that he may have been suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those final years.


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