C is for Charles Dickens

Picture of Charles Dickens

Books and Tea Go Together…

Like Chip and Dale, Hansel and Gretel and Tarzan and Jane. C.S. Lewis once said, “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me”. And believe me there are a lot of books out there with tea references, enough to satisfy all of us book and tea lovers.

Tea scenes are abundant in Regency through late Victorian literature. For example, in Regency era England, tea figures prominently in Jane Austen’s personal life and writing.  The popularity and social importance of tea-drinking is shown by Jane Austen’s characters no less than fifty-eight times in her six major novels! At the center of almost every social situation in her novels one finds tea. (I think for J- I’ll  look at Jane)

Some other authors of these time periods who wrote tea scenes into their works include; Oscar Wilde, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Bronte Sisters, T.S. Eliot and of course Charles Dickens.

So, Charles Dickens… A Bit of Background

When Charles was twelve years old, his father was sentenced to debtor’s prison, and he was forced to leave school and work to help his family. Working in a boot blackening factory, pasting labels on pots of boot blackening, he earned six shillings a week. Conditions in the factory were harsh and the work demanding for a boy of such a young age. This grim experience helped shape his personality and laid the groundwork, for his future writing. In his writing, he often championed the overworked and underpaid. Charles equated food and drink with wealth and lavishness, a feeling that was present in almost every story he ever wrote. He paid remarkable attention to detail when describing food and drink in his stories.  (This is obvious if you have ever read the Christmas Carol (1843) “Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam”…). Dickens was a true Victorian foodie – a man who took serious pleasure in eating and drinking and his culinary interests likely stemmed from surviving meager times during his youth.  

Tea and Charles… Some Examples

Picture of the David Copperfield Book


Tea frequently featured in his works. His books make it clear that tea-drinking was ubiquitous among the working classes and at times, also those of the wealthy. Tea often appears in Dickens’ work as a calming force like in David Copperfield (1849-1850) when the main character talks about “Miss Murdstone took Dora’s arm in her’s and marched us into breakfast as if it were a soldiers’ funeral. How many cups of tea I drank, because Dora made it, I don’t know. But, I perfectly remember that I sat swilling tea until my whole nervous system, if I had had any in those days, must have gone by the board.”

Picture of the Book Pickwick Papers

In The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), Dickens illustrates the wealth of a family and how this is even reflected in their tea service.  “There was a very snug little party, consisting of Maria Lobbs and her cousin Kate, and three or four romping, good-humoured, rosy-cheeked girls. Nathaniel Pipkin had ocular demonstration of the fact, that the rumours of old Lobbs’s treasures were not exaggerated. There were the real solid silver teapot, cream-ewer, and sugar-basin, on the table, and real silver spoons to stir the tea with, and real china cups to drink it out of, and plates of the same, to hold the cakes and toast in.”

Picture of the Book Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy

In Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy (1864) (one of his Christmas stories, first published in his All the Year -Round Magazine’s Extra Christmas Number 12 December 1864) – he simply states, “My dear if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs.”

Next…More with Mr. Dickens

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