Charles Dickens and George Eliot Passing Notes: Stunning Rare Book Documents the Great Writers’ Correspondence
Rare book dealer Peter Harrington has acquired the best Dickens presentation copy to have come to market in a generation: the author’s most famous work, A Tale of Two Cities, inscribed to George Eliot.
This piece of history – on show at the Dover Street bookshop in its original presentation binding and priced at 275,000GBP – is part of a wider correspondence between the two authors, one that saw Dickens intrigued enough to ask if he was in fact a she in a heartfelt letter.
The inscription inside the first-edition copy reads “Charles Dickens, To George Eliot, with high admiration and regard. December, 1859.”
Paths crossed more than once
Unbeknownst to Dickens, he and Eliot originally met in 1852, before Mary Ann Evans alighted upon the pseudonym. At the time, Eliot found Dickens “disappointing [and with] no benevolence in the face and I think little in the heart.”.
This initial meeting was not to prevent her from sending a copy of her first novel “The Sad Fortunes of Reverend Amos Barton”, the first instalment of Scenes in a Clerical Life, to Dickens among others in the first week of 1858. The story was published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857, and was then in book form by the successive year.
Dickens was so taken with the novel, that he wrote to the author courtesy of ‘his’ publishers. Having the read the novel, Dickens’s suspicions were raised as to the true identity of the author.
He wrote in the letter “I have observed what seem to be to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began.”
A successful deceit
At the time, most people presumed George Eliot to be a clergyman, so astute was her insight into the life of a reverend of a small parish. Dickens was one of the first to think otherwise.
When Dickens inscribed his Tale of Two Cities the following year, Eliot had published her second complete novel, Adam Bede, which would go on to sell
100,000 copies, at the time outselling the very book Dickens had sent her (Tale of Two Cities would ultimately go on to be the best-selling novel of all time, with over 200,000,000 copies sold.
At the same time, Dickens was also trying to persuade Eliot to write a serial for the periodical All Year Round. Eliot, however, later declined, for fear of finding the serialised form too restrictive for her writing.