Charles Dickens' fame boosts Kent's economy 200 years on

Gad's Hill Place
Image caption Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities when he lived at Gad's Hill Place, his home in Higham near Rochester

"Rags to riches" novelist Charles Dickens spent his childhood in poverty but became a major commercial success during his lifetime. In 2012 he is set to continue boosting income for Kent, a place that inspired much of his work.

Literary tourism already generates £2m a year for the county.

That figure is expected to treble this year - the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, said Sandra Matthews-Marsh, chief executive of Visit Kent.

She said Dickens already brought tourists to Kent from across the world, particularly the US, Japan, the Middle East, and Europe, and "a great number of extra tourists" would visit in 2012.

'Personal insecurity'

But research has shown that the origins of what is now a global literary brand came from the author himself as he set out to reach the widest possible readership.

As a child, Dickens saw his father - an inspiration for Mr Micawber in David Copperfield - imprisoned for bad debt.

The young Charles was sent to work in a factory where he experienced loneliness, despair and working conditions he never forgot.

Dr Cathy Waters, a reader in Victorian Studies at the University of Kent, said Dickens' personal experience of insecurity gave the writer "an enormous sympathy with the impecunious", a theme that drove much of his writing.

Dickens went on to build his career with commercial awareness, driven by a moral and social purpose, she added.

His innovations included the idea of publishing a story in monthly parts and also publishing fiction inside journals that he edited.

'Truly brilliant storyteller'

The writer also gave public readings of his work, and went on book tours with one particular tour in the US generating "a lot of income", she said.

And when he published a periodical called Household Words in 1850, he branded every page with the strapline "Conducted by Charles Dickens" which, based on his reputation, guaranteed the merit of the writing and became "a real sales point", she said.

Image caption Charles Dickens became a publishing innovator by setting out to reach the widest possible readership

But even though Dickens set out to build mass popular appeal, he always relished the intimacy of contact he had with his audience, she added.

She said: "An intimate public sounds like a paradox but I think Juliet John - a great writer about Dickens and his mass cultural appeal - uses that phrase to describe what he sought to achieve."

And she added: "It was never money for its own sake. It had an important moral social end to it."

This year, tourism chiefs will take the Dickens brand and combine it with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee to make Kent a strong tourist destination.

'Rock and roll'

Attractions connected to the author, who spent some of his youth in Chatham, had holidays in Broadstairs, and died in Higham, can be found across the county.

Visit Kent has said that long-standing Dickens events held every year in Broadstairs and Rochester are set to be "extra special" in 2012.

Ms Matthews-Marsh said: "We've got so much to say and so much to show that is relevant and real to the Dickens story."

She added: "He was a truly brilliant storyteller and he used places in Kent to weave those stories and characters.

"He brings the place alive. Certainly with tour groups we bring here, they are overwhelmed by what they are seeing, being fans of the stories. So we believe he's rock and roll for 2012."

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