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Charles Dickens at 200 Letters
Letter 20 | 13 June 1865 | to his sister Letitia [Mrs. Henry Austin], page 1
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My Dear Letitia

I am a little shaken; not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the work afterwards in taking out the dying and dead, which was most horrible. I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It tilted up, and was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge. Two ladies were my fellow-passengers. I said to them "Pray don't cry out. We can't help ourselves. Let us be quiet and composed." One of them, an elderly lady, replied: "Rely upon me. Upon my soul I won't call out, or stir." We were all down together in a corner of the carriage, and they remained perfectly still until I could get them out.

Ever affecy.

CD.

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
Autograph letter signed with initials, Higham, Kent, 13 June 1865, to his sister Letitia [Mrs. Henry Austin]
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1894; MA 112.61

Four days after the Staplehurst crash, Dickens provided his sister a vivid account of his experience. He wrote: "I am a little shaken; not by the beating and dragging of the carriage... but by the work afterwards in taking out the dying and dead, which was most horrible. I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It tilted up, and was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge. Two ladies were my fellow-passengers. I said to them 'Pray don't cry out. We can't help ourselves. Let us be quiet and composed.' . . . We were all down together in a corner of the carriage, and they remained perfectly still until I could get them out."

Story Weaver

The gestation period of Our Mutual Friend, Dickens's last completed novel, was protracted and frustrating. He decided upon the title in 1860 or 1861, invented the names of several characters, and devised some possible plot trajectories. During the summer of 1862, he told Wilkie Collins that, "sometimes, in a desperate state, I seize a pen, and resolve to precipitate myself upon a story. Then I get up again with a forehead as gnarled as the oak tree outside the window, and find all the lines in my face that ought to be on the blank paper." It was not until a further year and a half later that Dickens could report to Collins that he had completed the first two monthly parts of his next serialized novel, and admitted that he felt "quite dazed in getting back to the large canvas and the big brushes." Dickens had to work "like a dragon" to complete Our Mutual Friend by 2 September 1865. Commenting on the difficulties of the novel's complex, interconnected plot, Dickens characterized himself as "the story-weaver at his loom."


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