If you are a descendant of a famous historical figure, going into the same line of work that made your ancestor famous can be a double-edged sword. The same name that can open doors can quite often carry less than realistic expectations.
But for the great-great-great granddaughter of celebrated English novelist Charles Dickens, being a descendant of one of the most famous literary figures in history has served her quite well. A successful author in her own right, Hawksley, who returns as a featured guest at Galveston’s Dickens on the Strand celebration, scheduled for December 4-6, says just having a great writer in the family is no guarantee of publishing success.
“When I was a child, I was always nervous of people—especially teachers—finding out that I’m related to Dickens,” Hawksley told me from her London home. “Now, I embrace it. As I have discovered how many people love talking about Dickens, but as an author, it can work for or against me, depending on the situation.”
Hawksley is the author or co-author of over 14 non-fiction books, the most recent of which is titled “The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter,” was published in 2014. She also authored an exhaustive look at Charles Dickens’ life in 2012 to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth. Other books have examined the lives of somewhat obscure figures such as 19th century poet, artist and muse Lizzie Siddal, as well as Katey Dickens, who as one of Charles and Catherine Dickens’ 10 children, went on to become an accomplished artist.
While Hawksley says her work has generally been well received by critics and the public, there have been times when being a part of the Dickens lineage made her a target.
“When I had my first book published, there were many Internet troll-type people wanting to criticize. Luckily, most people were very complimentary,” Hawksley said.
Hawksley and her two older sisters grew up in the English countryside in Derbyshire and, later, Somerset and Buckinghamshire. She has lived in London since moving there to attend college. She said she read children’s versions of Dickens’ work as a child before reading the full volumes in her teen years.
Hawksley will be appearing at Dickens on the Strand, along with great-great granddaughter Jane Dickens Monk, for the seventh year and while she lectures and makes TV and radio appearances to discuss the Dickens legacy, she always looks forward to her annual visits to the island.
“It is so wonderful that so many people in Texas want to celebrate my great-great-great grandfather’s work and I was very touched to be invited out to take part in the festival,” she said. “I love that it has become a recognized event and that it raises money for such a good cause. Dickens on the Strand is a lovely start to the Christmas season and it’s always so fun to come back and see people who have now become friends.”
Hawksley and Monk will attend numerous events throughout the weekend, so you may have the chance to meet and chat with both women as you stroll along the Strand. For more information on this year’s festival, visit the Galveston Historical Foundation’s site at galvestonhistory.org.