Letters about Newgate from Charles Dickens to his wife Catherine, 1835


These letters, written on 5 and 25 November 1835, are two of the 136 letters written by Charles Dickens to his wife Catherine and given to the British (Museum) Library by their younger daughter in 1899.

In November 1835 they had been engaged six months and the 23-year-old Dickens was eagerly putting the finishing touches to his first book, a collection of his newspaper articles to be called Sketches by Boz. He was anxious to visit Newgate, London’s historic and infamous prison, which he felt sure would make an excellent subject for an additional essay. ‘I have been to-day over Newgate, and The House of Correction [Coldbath Fields prison],’ he writes to Catherine on 5 November, ‘and have lots of anecdotes to tell you ...’. Three weeks later he confesses that he has made considerable progress with his Newgate sketch, ‘but the subject is such a very difficult one to do justice to ... that I really have no alternative but to remain at home to-night, and “get on” in earnest.’

What do we learn about Dickens’s writing methods?

Dickens reminds Catherine that, even at this early stage in his career, he can only write at his best when he has got his ‘steam up’ and ‘become so excited with my subject that I cannot leave off’. In 1838, when he came to write the final chapters of Oliver Twist which include the intensely dramatic scene of Fagin in the condemned cell at Newgate, he again threw himself into his work until the characters ‘took hold of him’ (J Forster, Life of Dickens, Book 2, ch. 3). Many years later his eldest son remarked: ‘When [my father] ... had become deeply interested in the working-out of his plot and the evolution of his characters, he lived, I am sure, two lives, one with us and one with his fictitious people, and I am equally certain that the children of his brain were much more real to him at times than we were.’



Furnival's Inn

Thursday afternoon.

My dearest love,

I have been to-day over Newgate, and the House of Correction, and have lots of anecdotes to tell you of both places when I see you tomorrow some of them rather amusing : at least to me, for I was intensely interested in everything I saw.

Beard is here, and Robert (who called just before dinner) will be the bearer of this note. I have not yet heard from the office ; whether I

shall hear tomorrow or not , I cannot say - if I do I will send Fred out in the morning , but at all events I will see you tomorrow : for if I am very hard pressed for time , I will throw the [Bell's] Life over , altogether.

I hope your cold is better my dearest girl, and that you have no new complaints either bodily or mental: indeed I feel full confidence after last night that you will

not have a renewal of the latter.

Love to all ; and believe me my own darling

Ever yours most truly & [affecy affectionately?]

Charles Dickens

Miss Hogarth

Miss Hogarth

[illegible] by Robert Hogarth [illegible]

Furnivals Inn

Wednesday Evening

My dearest Kate

Macrone has urged me most imperatively and pressingly to “get on”. I have made considerable progress in my “Newgate” sketch, but the subject is such a very difficult one to do justice to, and I have so much difficulty in remembering the place, and arranging my materials, that I really have no alternative but to remain at home to-night, and “get on” in good earnest. You know 

I have frequently told you that my composition is peculiar ; I never can write with effect - especially in the serious way - until I have got my steam up , or in other words until I have become so excited with my subject that I cannot leave off ; and hoping to arrive at this state to - night , I have , after a great deal of combating with my wish to see you , arrived at the determination I have just announced - I hope to do a good deal

I will not do you

the injustice to suppose that knowing my reason and my motive for exertion, you of all people will blame me one instant for my self-denial. You may be dis=
appointed : - I would rather you would - at not seeing me; but you cannot feel vexed at my doing my best with the stake I have to play for - you and a home for both of us.

Write me by Fred and Believe me, my own love

Ever Yours most sincerely & affy

Charles Dickens

Full title:
Letters about Newgate from Charles Dickens to his wife Catherine
1835, Furnivall's Inn, London
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Charles Dickens
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 43689

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