Look at a map of London and you can trace the path of the author’s own life and experiences, from Charing Cross Station, which stands on the site of the old shoeblacking factory where Dickens was once employed, to the London street Cheapside, immortalized in Great Expectations. In fact, visitors to London and the surrounding area can base entire vacations around the author and his works. Want to uncover the back alleyways of the author’s main muse? Book a spot on one of London’s many Dickens-themed walking tours. Interested in his early life? Visit the memorabilia-filled Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth, Hampshire. And the U.K. is not alone in promoting his legacy. The Free Library in Philadelphia is home to one of the largest collections of Dickens’ works and personal items outside of Great Britain, and it even includes the stuffed carcass of Grip, his pet raven.
But perhaps the author’s biggest contribution to greater society is what he did for Christmas. Published in 1843, the Dickens novella A Christmas Carol — the tale of an old miser who rediscovers the spirit of giving with assistance from a trio of ghosts — helped revive the fledgling holiday, popularizing phrases like “Bah Humbug” and “Merry Christmas,” inspiring holiday carolers and festive meals, and returning the day’s main focus: family and love. Currently there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Dickens-themed holiday festivals held annually worldwide, including San Francisco’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair and the Netherlands’ Dickens Festival Deventer.
With all the hoopla his works have inspired, it may come as a surprise that the author remained humble throughout his life, even insisting that no public monument ever be erected in his honor (only two life-size Dickens statues exist — one in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood and the other in Sydney — with the first-ever Dickens statue in the U.K. planned for Portsmouth this year). Following years of declining health, including injuries from a train crash from which he never fully recovered, Charles Dickens died at age 58 from a cerebral hemorrhage at his home near Rochester, Kent, on June 9, 1870. Though the author requested a private and inexpensive burial, he is entombed in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner alongside such other illustrious Brits as “the father of English literature” Geoffrey Chaucer and actor Sir Laurence Olivier.
Lucky for us, his words and creations will keep his legacy alive forever.