Even the prolific Dickens struggled with writer’s block.
Ever struggled to write? It’s a problem that most authors face, even those as great as Charles Dickens. Given the length of so many of Dickens’s novels, it is difficult to believe that he ever had a moment’s hesitation when he sat down to write. But Dickens was not immune to writer’s block, or the anxiety induced by the sight of a blank page and an impending deadline. And, by Dickens’s own admission, he wasn’t much fun to be around when the words just wouldn’t flow.
This letter, in which he describes his anguish at being unable to write, was written to Angela Burdett-Coutts on 19 February 1856, as he struggled with Little Dorrit. Unable to write part six (chapters 19 to 22), he found himself “Prowling about the rooms, sitting down, getting up, stirring the fire, looking out of [the] window, tearing my hair, sitting down to write, writing nothing, writing something and tearing it up, going out, coming in, a Monster to my family, a dread Phenomonon to myself.” Nevertheless, Dickens surmounted his difficulties and met his deadline a few weeks later, on March 8. This letter shows that even when Dickens couldn’t produce fiction, he could always write an amusing, self-dramatizing letter to a friend.
To Miss Burdett-Coutts, 19 February 1856
49 Champs Elysées, Tuesday Nineteenth February 1856
My Dear Miss Coutts.
Walter was born on 8th. of February 1841. His name (a mild one) is Walter Landor. Birthday, eighth of February eighteen hundred and forty one. Name, Walter Landor. No vegetable designation, no flower, no beast, no terrors of any description.
I don't know Dr. Sandwith.
Your note finds me settling myself to Little Dorrit again, and in the usual wretchedness of such settlement — which is unsettlement. Prowling about the rooms, sitting down, getting up, stirring the fire, looking out of window, tearing my hair, sitting down to write, writing nothing, writing something and tearing it up, going out, coming in, a Monster to my family, a dread Phenomonon to myself, &c &c &c
With love to Mrs. Brown
Ever Dear Miss Coutts | Most Faithfully & affec Yours