Better late than never
for the statue of Dickens

The handsome fang-tooth snake eel

ELISE BREWERTON: When the tide begins to turn

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Portsmouth has an uncanny knack of arriving late for its own glittering balls.

Take the Spinnaker Tower – finally opened nearly five years after its original target date.

Then there was the Mary Rose Museum. It eventually threw open its doors earlier this year, but was 12 months later than planned.

Now, we have the splendid news that at long last Portsmouth’s most famous son, Charles John Huffam Dickens, is to be immortalised in bronze in the city of his birth.

And that statue will be unveiled next February – two years after his 200th birthday, a day when the eyes of the world were on Portsmouth.

However, in years to come it will matter not a jot that Martin Jennings’s statue was installed in Guildhall Square 24 months late.

Like the tower and the Mary Rose Museum, no-one will give a hoot because the wait will have been worthwhile.

To misquote the prodigal young attorney Sydney Carton in Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It is a far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done, even if we were a tad tardy.’

The Victorian novelist and commentator might not have spent much time in the then town of his birth, but the deprivation, squalor, colourful characters and injustices of society in Portsmouth must have been indelibly stamped on his psyche in the womb.

It is incredible that the Dickens’s statue, which depicts the master wordsmith beside a pile of books, will be the first in the UK. We have great expectations of the finished piece.

He might have written that he wanted no ‘monument, memorial, or testimonial whatsoever’ to be erected in his name, but that wish is now believed to have referred to his gravestone. Surely the man would not have been so presumptuous to say there should never be a statue of him?

We maintain that, as his work is so relevant and loved 201 years after his birth at Landport, he would be tickled pink that the people of this city want to commemorate him.

Full marks to the Portsmouth branch of the Dickens Fellowship which, after five years of fundraising, will give Portsmouth another landmark monument.