Dickens and Little Nell – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Atlas Obscura

Dickens and Little Nell

The oldest of only three existing statues of the great novelist stands in a city he did not care for. 


Charles Dickens, in his will, stated that he did not want any statues or other representations of himself to be made memorializing him. Nevertheless, there are currently three statues of Dickens in existence, one recently discovered in Sydney, Australia, one recently erected by his hometown of Portsmouth, England, and this one in West Philadelphia.

This last statue, located in Philly’s leafy Clark Park, has an interesting history. Created in 1890, it is the oldest of the three Dickens statues and the only one to depict the writer with one of his characters, the beloved Little Nell from his novel The Old Curiosity Shop. Before moving to its present location, the statue won two gold medals at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and crossed the Atlantic twice. The sculptor, Francis Edwin Ewell, eventually sent it to Philadelphia, and it remains there to this day.

The Dickens and Little Nell statue has since become a symbol of the neighborhood. The pair, especially Nell, are featured in many of the area’s ventures and Nell and Dickens are frequently crowned with flower wreaths, including on Dickens’s birthday each year, when a party is held with readings and dancing.

The most interesting thing about the statue, however, may be the fact that nobody wanted it. Its original sponsor, Stilson Hutchins, the founder of the Washington Post, could not raise sufficient funds. So the sculptor took it to Britain, where it was sourly treated after Dickens had explicitly mentioned in his will that he did not want any memorials.

After all the wasted effort, it was taken back to the United States, and up until 2011 it was the only known statue of the novelist in existence as well as the only public statue of a Dickens character. In fact, Philadelphia has an unusually large amount of Dickens memorabilia—amusing for a city that Dickens hated, cheerfully calling it “dull and out of spirits.” Well, the joke is now, perhaps, on him.

Know Before You Go

Clark Park is officially open 24 hours, 7 days a week, and is free to the public. There should be no trouble getting around, and the park is accessible by the 34, 13, 36, and 11 Trolleys. The statue itself is located on the corner of 43rd and Chester, however, the rest of the park is worth visiting as well, especially the Farmers Market (only on Saturdays) and the Gettysburg Stone.

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April 19, 2019

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