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  • Charles Dickens train crash letter sold at Sotheby’s
  • Post author
    Will Davison

Charles Dickens train crash letter sold at Sotheby’s

Charles Dickens’ letter to a friend, written in the aftermath of a train crash, was a curiously affecting lot.

It sold at Sotheby’s earlier this week, where it made £5,250 ($7,057).

Dickens letter train

The letter is written on Gad's Hill headed paper, Dickens' home in Kent 

Dickens was travelling with his mistress Ellie Ternan and her mother on June 8, 1865 when their train derailed on the outskirts of Staplehurst, Kent.

All three were uninjured, but 10 other passengers were killed while 40 were seriously injured.

Dickens writes in the letter to Pauline Viardot, a well known opera singer: "The scene was so affecting when I helped in getting out the wounded and dead, that for a little while afterwards I felt shaken by the remembrance of it.

"My watch (which is curious) was more sensitive, physically, than I; for it was some few minutes 'slow' for some few weeks afterwards.

"Except that I cannot yet travel on a railway, at great speed, without having a disagreeable impression - against all reason - that the carriage is turning on one side, I have not the least inconvenience left.”

While he puts a brave face on it, accounts of the time indicate Dickens suffered from post-traumatic stress after the incident.

He lost his voice for several days and had regular panic attacks when travelling by train or cab.

The following year Dickens published The Signal-Man, a ghost story that features a terrible train crash as a central part of its narrative.

Own a genuine strand of Charles Dickens’ hair this Christmas.

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  • Post author
    Will Davison