Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"Boz": Reinforcement of the Received Wisdom

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"Boz": Reinforcement of the Received Wisdom

Article excerpt

Dickens famously wrote in the preface to the 1847 Cheap Edition of Pickwick:

   "Boz," my signature in the Morning Chronicle, appended to the
   monthly cover of this book, and retained long afterwards, was the
   nickname of a pet child, a younger brother, whom I had dubbed
   Moses, in honour of the Vicar of Wakefield; 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. (ix-x)

Biographers have generally accepted this account at face value. Recently, however, Ruth Richardson has suggested "another explanation" (64) of the name. And Robert Patten, in the context of examining the construction of Dickens's authorial identity, has considered the implications of the pseudonym (36-46). For him, Dickens's account becomes a "deceptively uninformative explanation" (39) of an "(alleged) derivation" (397). Neither author appears directly to posit the inaccuracy of Dickens's account, only its possible incompleteness. This note, while acknowledging the interest of Richardson's and Patten's observations, serves as a reminder that independent evidence is consistent with the account (whether complete or not) given by Dickens.

Late in 1834, in the wake of an arrest of John Dickens for debt and his narrow avoidance of re-imprisonment, the Dickens family dispersed. John wrote to the family friend Thomas Beard on 4 December:

   ... I apprehend you have been made acquainted that our
   establishment is about being broken up, Mrs. Dickens, my Daughters,
   Alfred and Boz, going into more economical apartments ... Charles
   (taking Frederick with him) into chambers and your humble servant
   "to the winds." ...

Twelve days later, John Dickens told Beard:

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