April 2, 2008 / 10:04 AM / 10 years ago

Dickens' "Great Expectations" desk to be auctioned

LONDON (Reuters) - The desk where Charles Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” and his final correspondence hours before his death will be sold at auction in June, Christie’s said on Wednesday.

The writing desk and chair from the study of his Gad’s Hill residence near Rochester, Kent, was passed on by descent to Christopher Charles Dickens and his wife Jeanne-Marie Dickens.

She then donated them to the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, with which Dickens had a close association, so that they could be sold to raise funds.

The items, included in the Christie’s valuable books and manuscripts sale on June 4, are expected to fetch 50-80,000 pounds ($100-160,000).

“Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor and needy and an enthusiastic patron of Great Ormond Street hospital in its early days,” said Jeanne-Marie Dickens.

“My husband shared his ancestor’s desire to help the disadvantaged and when I became aware of the fundraising needs of Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, I knew that I had to give the desk and chair to them.”

The desk where Charles Dickens wrote "Great Expectations" and his final correspondence is seen in an undated handout photo, released to Reuters on April 2, 2008. REUTERS/Christie's/Handout

Dickens was an early patron of Great Ormond Street, and was a friend of its founder Charles West. The hospital also benefited from the support of other famous British authors including Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde.

In its early years, Great Ormond Street would organize fundraising events including the Annual Festival Dinner, where Dickens and Wilde both spoke.

According to the hospital’s Web site, it was an appearance by Dickens in 1858 which helped it overcome a funding crisis and expand its bed capacity to 75 from 20.

“We need to raise 50 million pounds every year to help provide world class care to very ill children and their families -- this gift will help us do that,” said Charles Denton, executive director at the hospital children’s charity.

According to Christie‘s, Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” and a number of other late novels and short stories at the mahogany writing desk.

The auctioneer quotes the memoirs of Dickens’ eldest daughter Mamie Dickens saying that on the evening of June 8, 1870, Dickens wrote letters “and arranged some trifling business matters” in the library where the desk stood.

He went for dinner and collapsed after suffering a stroke, and died the following day aged 58.

Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia

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