Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"Boz" Another Explanation

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"Boz" Another Explanation

Article excerpt

I have often felt a bit dissatisfied by the usual reason given for Dickens's use of the pen-name "Boz." John Forster explains it thus:

This was the nickname of a pet child, [Dickens's] youngest brother Augustus, whom in honour of the Vicar of Wakefield he had dubbed Moses, which being facetiously pronounced through the nose became Boses, and being shortened became Boz. "Boz was a very familiar household word to me, long before I was an author, and so I came to adopt it." [bk. 1, ch. 4).

If "Boz" was Gus Dickens's pet name, why on earth did his older brother take it over for himself? And why did Charles Dickens identify himself so closely with it as to make it so prominent a part of his own public persona? I have a suspicion that there may have been a further reason for the name, which also serves to explain why it might have served for more than one of John Dickens's sons.

In an article dating from 1957, the Dickens scholar W. J. Carlton wrote about a discovery he had made in the records of Lloyd's of London. In 1826 Dickens's father John Dickens had requested some consideration from the famous underwriters for a series of ten articles he'd written on marine insurance. The articles had appeared in a periodical called The British Press, which had gone bust, owing payment for the entire series. In the articles, Dickens senior had mentioned Lloyd's in a positive light, hence the application in his distress. Lloyd's responded positively in return, and voted him the amount of ten pounds sterling. …

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