February 5, 2023

Two letters described as written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s have been withdrawn from an upcoming auction after a leading academic dismissed them as forgeries.

Dr. Leon Litvack, an expert analyst of Dickens’s letters and manuscripts, told the Guardian: “The handwriting is wrong. It’s the signature that is always the giveaway. I have letters from the same period that will confirm that these are forgeries.”

The letters are dated March 29, 1855 and November 13, 1858 – after Dickens had written Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. The respective recipients were Dickens’ young love, Maria Beadnell, with whom he reconnected, and her husband, Henry Louis Winter.

To Maria, the letter writer offers a ticket to a box at the Adelphi theater, saying that he himself may not be there, “since I shall be beset by household words”, which includes working on his magazine.

The writer writes to her husband, offering words of friendship for his “trouble”, an indirect reference to his bankruptcy, which had come to court. The letter quotes Dickens saying, “I am writing to assure you of my sympathy with you in your troubles. Pray don’t let it get you down too much. What has happened to you has happened to many thousands of good and honorable men… Be strong for yourself and look forward to a better time.

Litvack said: “In both cases, the forgeries accurately replicate the texts of published letters. So the forger must have seen them at some point.

As editor-in-chief of the Charles Dickens Letters Project, an online source for his correspondence, he contacted Fonsie Mealy’s, an Irish auction house, who planned to sell them on Wednesday, saying, “In my professional opinion, they are forgeries. The handwriting is not that of Charles Dickens.”

Litvack, a reader in Victorian Studies at Queen’s University Belfast, has curated Dickens exhibitions at major institutions and is consulted by auction houses on the authenticity of manuscripts sent to them.

He said that forgeries “turn up from time to time” and expressed surprise that the two letters were estimated to fetch only about £800. “A letter to Dickens’ youthful lover should compel much more than this.”

He said he considered another Dickens letter from the 1860s in the same sale to be genuine. He said: “But the handwriting and signature are sufficiently different from these forgeries, and the auction house should have realized that these letters are not from the same hand.”

Fonsie Mealy’s has been contacted for comment.

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