May 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Dickens Urania Cottage Letter at Auction

A Charles Dickens letter coming up for auction May 21st at Chrisitie's offers a unique insight into the philanthropic side of the author.

In 1847, Dickens and his wealthy friend Baroness Burdett-Coutts established a home for "fallen women" called Urania Cottage in Shepherd's Bush, London. Dickens - fascinated by the possibility for reform - approached the management of the cottage with verve and gusto, fully involving himself with the minutiae of running the home.  Providing opinions on everything from flowers suitable for the garden to piano music suitable for the parlor, Dickens attempted to create an environment that was "steady and firm... cheerful and hopeful." (And well ahead of its time).

In a letter written in 1852, Dickens called upon the matron of Urania Cottage to admit Eliza Witken, a reformed prostitute, and to first send her new underwear and enough money for a bath or two.

"Will you send under-clothing to Eliza Wilkin ... with money for her to get a warm bath - or two would be better - and instructions when to do so, that she may be perfectly clean and wholesome; and make an appointment to call for her."

Dickens's letter will be offered at auction on May 21st at Christie's in London (Sale 1550, Lot 27) with an estimate of $6,700 - $9,900.