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Charles Dickens

Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Mary Tillotson (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 3: 1842–1843

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pg 520To JOHN FORSTER, [6 or 7 JULY 1843]

Extracts in F, IV, i, 294. Date: "July 1843", and "from Yorkshire", according to Forster; dated by reference in To Lady Blessington, 5 July.

Tell me what you think of Mrs. Gamp?1 You'll not find it easy to get through the hundreds of misprints in her conversation, but I want your opinion at once. I think you know already something of mine. I mean to make a mark with her.

I have heard, as you have, from Lady Blessington, for whose behoof I have this morning penned the lines I send you herewith. But I have only done so to excuse myself, for I have not the least idea of their suiting her;2 and I hope she will send them back to you for the Ex.

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Editor’s Note
1 First introduced in Ch. 19 in the Aug No., now evidently in proof. According to F, iv, i, 294, she was based on a nurse (not named) "hired by a most distinguished friend of his own, a lady, to take charge of an invalid very dear to her"—clearly Miss Coutts and Miss Meredith during the latter's illness of 1842–3. Forster says this nurse's "common habit" was "to rub her nose along the top of the tall fender" (see also To Miss Coutts, 5 Oct 46). Charles C. Osborne ("The Genesis of Mrs. Gamp", D, xxiii [1927], 27–30) mentions various other details, including the sniffs, the cucumber, and some of her sayings.
Editor’s Note
2 Lady Blessington did accept the verses, which appeared under the title "A Word in Season" in The Keepsake; reproduced in F, iv, i, 294n, and in National edn, xxxvi, 476. The third verse, with its reference to a land of "brutal ignorance, and toil, and dearth" where those who should have "oped the door of charity and light" instead "Squabbled for words upon the altar-floor, | And rent The Book, in struggles for the binding", reflects CD's views on the arguments following the Second Report of the Children's Employment Commission (see To Napier, 16 Sep 43 and fn). The whole poem was quoted in several reviews, including the Athenæum' s, 18 Nov 43, and the Examiner's, 25 Nov 43.
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