Page 176. " 'it's a mad world. Mad as Bedlam, boy!' "

Bedlam refers to St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital,  a “madhouse” in London. The hospital, and others like it, were notoriously inhumane in their treatment of patients.

The hospital still exists today as the Royal Bethlem Hospital in London: it is now a respected psychiatric hospital.

Page 177. " he didn't like to have him visible about his house, and sent him away to some private asylum-place "

Mental illness was often considered to represent a weakness of character or a judgment from God, and families commonly hid away insane family members.

Perhaps the most famous literary example of this is the locking up of Mrs. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, an incarceration which inspired Jean Rhys' prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea.

Wide Sargasso Sea on Book Drum

Page 178. " Mr. Dick had been for upwards of ten years endeavouring to keep King Charles the First out of the Memorial; but he had been constantly getting into it "

The reign of Charles I (1600-1649) was troubled by political and religious struggles. During the English Civil War (1641-1651), Charles eventually lost both his crown and his head. He was executed in 1649.

Page 178. " If he likes to fly a kite sometimes, what of that! Franklin used to fly a kite. "

The American Founding Father and inventor, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), experimented with electricity by attaching a key to the string of a kite and flying it through an electric storm.

Page 187. " No one has ever raised that curtain since. I have lifted it for a moment, even in this narrative, with a reluctant hand, and dropped it gladly. "

Charles Dickens concealed much of his childhood experience from his own wife and children. Dickens' friend and biographer, John Forster, explained that it was only an accidental question in 1847 that prompted Dickens to confide in him. 

You can read the biography in full here.


Page 190. " twinkled like a star "

The children’s nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was first published in 1806 as a poem entitled “The Star” by sisters Ann and Jane Taylor.

The words of the poem were later used as lyrics and music was added to create the popular lullaby.

Page 190. " He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention "

Some speculate that the mannerisms and physical appearance of Uriah Heep were based in part on those of Hans Christian Andersen, who visited England shortly before Dickens began writing David Copperfield.

Uriah's deceptive and scheming nature is thought to have been inspired by Thomas Powell, who ingratiated himself into Dickens' social set and was subsequently discovered to be a fraud and a thief.

Page 193. " Although her face was quite bright and happy, there was a tranquillity about it, and about her "
Mary Hogarth
Public DomainMary Hogarth

Agnes Wickfield is most likely based on Charles Dickens’ deceased sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth.

Mary moved into the home of Charles and Catherine Dickens when they were still newlyweds.

In 1837, Mary, who was still in her girlhood, suffered a sudden illness and died in the arms of her brother-in-law. Her death had a deep impact on Dickens and caused him to miss a deadline for the first time in his writing career. Charles and Catherine named their first born daughter Mary “Mamie” Angela Dickens.

In death, Mary became to Charles Dickens an embodiment of female goodness and she inspired many of his angelic female characters, such as Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841) and Mary Graham in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844).

Mary’s death is thought to have been depicted in The Old Curiosity Shop in the demise of Little Nell.