I was born in Rome, Italy, in the 1950s, when the country was still far away from the European connection it enjoys now. Notwithstanding this I grew up with Dickens. I read all of his most famous novels and enjoyed most of them.
David Copperfield though must be my favorite. The theme of the child orphaned, abused and sent away from home resonated very well with me, who, despite being brought up in a reasonably loving family, still felt that I never quite belonged. As I discovered later this is a relatively common psychological fantasy of many imaginative children. Dickens wrote the novel in the first person, and it is easy to see that much of what he was talking about he also lived.
Never forgot the first sentence of the book. I was in the habit of reading and re-reading it every time I got the book in my hands. I reproduce it here, in English of course, because to me sums up the fascination that Dickens had on my young mind:
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”
These lines used to thrill me, and many times inspired me to begin my own autobiographical novel. These brave attempts never went past the first couple of pages!
The novel was published in 1850 and in 1869, when asked which of his works he liked best, Dickens said: ‘Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them…But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD‘.
I was then naturally curious to check Dickens’ Natal Chart that I had never seen before. Here it is, fortunately with a time of birth.
It is not surprise that this man, who became the mouthpiece of the budding social conscience of Victorian England, was born under Aquarius, Sign of humanitarians, reformers and eccentrics, and also of individuals interested in psychology. His Sun, Mercury (Planet of writing) and Venus were all also in aspect to Uranus, the Promethean planet who urges us to defies conventions.
The Moon was in Sagittarius and in close conjunction to Neptune, enhancing the power of his imagination, his social sympathies and also his militant and outspoken stance on what he considered the shameful inequalities and injustice of the times he lived in. The Neptunian theme is augmented by the presence of Venus, planet of love, beauty and art, in the Sign of Pisces, in the VI House of work. Dickens loved (Venus) his routines and his work (VI House) and gave it all he had (Venus conjunct Pluto, both in square to the Moon and Neptune; all forming in fact a Grand Cross that includes the Mid-Heaven and Ascendant/Descendant axis, because the Moon and Neptune are near the cusp of the Lower-Heaven). These aspects could also have contributed to his reputation for being erratic and unpredictable. The importance of Neptune is at the base of Dickens interest in occult and paranormal phenomena. He became in fact a member of the Ghost Club in London and wrote few stories around these themes.
The Ascendant or Rising Sign was in Virgo providing the studiousness, application and fussy attention to details that allowed him to work tirelessly all his life. His biographers say that, despite his popularity with readers all over the world, he was a difficult man to live with, due to his Sun Sign’s aloofness, I suspect, his Moon Sign’s self-righteousness, his habit to seek complete control over his environment (aspects with Pluto) and the prickly and over critical Virgo temperament. The difficult aspect with Pluto speaks plainly of the resentment he harbored toward his mother who failed to understand or support him when he was sent to slave work in a leather blacking factory; sentiments that must have had a strong bearing on his future attitude to his wife and women in general. Virgo also highlights the material difficulties of his early years when he had to do exhausting physical work to earn a living, as also do his Mercury and Saturn’s placements in tough Capricorn, the latter in the IV House, the sector that describes his home life and family.
Dickens’ Mars was in Aries in the VII House of relationships, adding more fuel to his fiery temperament (see Sagittarius), and spelling trouble for his one to one relationships with women, as his early love disappointments and the unhappy marriage to Catherine Thomson Hogarth testify to. His famous infidelities are easily spotted from the conjunction of Moon to unreliable Neptune and their square to Venus and Pluto (on the cusp of the VII House, Descendant), and also by Mars’ trine to Moon-Neptune and square to Saturn. Later in life he even had a second de facto wife, Ellen Ternan, who lived with him for years in secret, fact that emerged only a long time after his death.
The square (hard angle) between Mars and Saturn testifies instead to the harsh discipline, physical limitations, humiliation and poverty he had to endure in his growing years, and to the fact that, as an adult, he used to impose a very strict discipline on his own children. The Aries Mars also adds a militant element to his character and the courage to speak out for what he believed in. The Wikipedia’s article mentions how Dickens resolved to write his famous ‘A Christmas Carol’ to “strike a sledge hammer blow for the poor“, a truly bold Mars in Aries statement!
The combination of Sun in Aquarius, Moon in Sagittarius and the strong Neptunian aspects prompted Dickens to travel abroad and explain also his keen interest in explorations and discoveries, as well as his talent as an actor, his interest in play writing and fascination for the theater. Neptune also helped with the verbal fluency and the talent he demonstrated in interpreting his characters when narrating his books in front of adoring fans in Europe and abroad.
Dickens didn’t just talk about social injustice, he also actively (Mars in Aries) initiated and participated in social projects aiming at reforming society. An example of this is his involvement in the foundation and running of the so called Urania Cottage (appropriate name for an Uranian man), a reformatory house for fallen women, where women in trouble with the law for prostitution or theft were given the opportunity to study and learn useful domestic skills if they accepted to live at the cottage until their graduation. Eventually they were requested to emigrate to Australia or North America to begin a new life there. Despite what nowadays we perceive as a glaring example of the misogynist attitude of the time, a charitable institution like the Urania Cottage was rather revolutionary in the repressive Victorian era, as it was created with the intent at rehabilitating rather than punishing these women.
Dickens also supported other charitable institutions, including hospitals for the poor and supported the abolition of slavery when in America. With his Lunar North Node in Virgo (XII House) and South Node in Pisces (VI House) it was his destiny to render services to people and society, not simply in the role of mentor and philanthropist, but at a very practical and down to earth level.
There is however a subtle thread in this Chart that explains, more than anything else, his outstanding writing skill and also his great and enduring success as a master storyteller, after beginning his literary career as a journalist, a typical Mercurial occupation. This thread has to do with Mercury and the Mutable Signs this planet traditionally rules. Positioned in serious and sometimes depressing Capricorn, Mercury pushed Dickens to grow up quickly in order to assume responsibilities and so help his family to survive. Throughout his life fear of poverty dogged Dickens even when, having reached fame and fortune, he could have easily become more relaxed about these things. This placement also shows his ability to spot financial opportunities and generally his well developed business sense. The Gemini Jupiter in the X House shows also that opportunities came his way allowing him to better his situation and further his career throughout life. Returning to the Mercurial thread, the Writer Signature, the four Angles of Dickens’ Chart are in Mutable Signs, showing adaptability, eclecticism and mental flexibility. Mercury in Capricorn is then the Ruling Planet of both his Virgo Ascendant and his Mid-Heaven in Gemini and has a direct influence over Jupiter in this Sign, the latter a sign of a fortunate writing career and general popularity (the Sun is trine Jupiter and Jupiter is trine Chiron, showing that writing and working at his many projects had a healing effect on his life).
Mercury also happens to be on the cusp of the V House of children and creativity (he had 9 children and perhaps more from other women than his legal wife), showing a child like curiosity as well as the ability to describe childhood themes with ease and spontaneity, and, of course, his deep interest in social issues regarding children. The Leo House also enhances the showmanship he demonstrated during his reading tours. To add to the Mercurial factor Uranus, the Moon, Neptune and the Asteroids Ceres and Pallas are all in the III House, corresponding the the Sign Gemini, the sure signature for the high order writing skills he possessed. Furthermore Mercury was trine the Mid-Heaven of career and goals, and sextile Uranus in the III House, adding originality and a modern philosophy of life. Looking closely at his Sun in Aquarius I also noticed that the Decan of Dickens’ Sun is Gemini (ruled by Mercury) while the Decan of his Gemini Jupiter is Aquarius, thus creating another interesting connection between the Sun and Jupiter.
The emphasis on the lower hemisphere in Dickens’ Chart, with Sun, Moon and many planets there , with the notable exception of Jupiter and Mars, shows a rich inner life. While the majority the celestial bodies being placed in the last four Signs of the Zodiac, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces, shows an openness to collective energies and themes, hence his skill at painting a very realistic picture (Mercury and Saturn in Capricorn) of the characters and lives of many diverse individuals and social environments, and his penchant for writing stories of great universal appeal.
Jupiter is the most elevated of all the bodies in this Chart, his prominent position enhancing the importance of the big picture in Dickens’ view of life and philosophy. Jupiter is, of course, prominent in other ways too, by ruling the Sign occupied by the Moon, Neptune and the cusp of the Lower-Heaven (IC). Due to the challenging angles between Moon-Neptune and Venus-Pluto the Sagittarius-Jupitarean optimism was heavily tainted by his own personal experiences, especially experiences of evil, injustice and the unavoidable losses of which he had his fair share. The Moon-Neptune conjunction happening in close proximity to the Midnight point (IC or cusp of the IV House), the taproot of the whole Chart, testifies to the fact that Dickens’ inspiration, like that of all truly great artists, came from the inner sources of his personal unconscious (Moon) as well as the deep pool of humanity’s collective unconscious (Neptune).
Going back to Jupiter for a moment we should not forget that the Giant Planet was Retrograde, moving inward in a very outward House (X), and perhaps thus withdrawing some of the good luck his prominent position entailed, but also deepening Dickens’ breath of vision. Furthermore Jupiter was Out of Bounds (OOB) and therefore working pretty much as a free agent and a lateral thinker, and showing his unique brand of talent for writing (Gemini MC), as well as for publishing and promoting his works (Jupiter culminating in Gemini and ruling the III). The same position of Jupiter would have also attracted some opposition, making him appear or act haughtily and self-righteously, despite the naturally bland Virgo Ascendant.
All summed up though the combination of all the factors in this Horoscope explains Dickens’ enormous international success and his appeal to the masses. He is in fact one of the few very popular writers who has been also acclaimed by literary critics and scholars.
I love Dickens best when he is an impartial psychological observer of his humanity (Aquarius Sun, Gemini Jupiter), while achieving, at the same time, a quasi-magical psychic participation with his characters (Moon-Neptune-Venus), also displaying a deep knowledge of the inner demons they are struggling with (Moon-Venus-Pluto). Like other masters of literature, Dickens is able to describe life in flux, life as it is, events, people, places, effortlessly and with true Geminian humor, so that his characters, no matter how distant in time or different in temperament they seem from us, come truly alive.
I like Dickens least when he is intent at instructing his readers through obvious morality tales, a malaise of the literature of the prudish Victorian era, and, in particular, of the conservative Saturn’s generation Dickens belonged to (Saturn in Capricorn). But also, to a degree, a limitation of his own temperament and mind set, as shown by Mercury in Capricorn, easily conditioned by the moral attitudes and prejudices prevalent at the time. His description of women I feel is less convincing because of these moralistic limitations, infected as they were with his unavoidably sexist beliefs and those of the times he lived in. His women portraits are somewhat flatter than his portraits of men or children. He seems to idealize a certain type of Angel of the Heart Woman, self effacing and sweet; and, at other times, to portray instead the more dangerous, manipulative, cruel and even crazy aspect of womanhood, a dimension that he could not possibly understand or accept as part of his own psyche.
Charles Dickens died on June 9 1870 after few years of ill health, age 58, but that could be the subject of another astrological tale. His life Secondary Progressions are certainly worth studying.