Reading is the county town of Berkshire, England, located 37 miles (60 km) west of London. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Charles Dickens has a number of connections with the town including being asked to represent it as a Member of Parliament.
Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795 – 1854) was an English judge, politician and author who was elected as Member of Parliament for Reading in the 1835 general election. He was voted in again just two years later when another general election was triggered by the death of King William IV. However, Talfourd chose not to stand at the subsequent election of 1841. Talfourd was a close friend of Charles Dickens after he helped the author in copyright battles. In return, Dickens dedicated his novel The Pickwick Papers to Talfourd. Talfourd introduced a copyright bill in 1837, but after a series of set-backs had to re-introduce it until it was finally adopted in law by 1842.
In 1841, one of the most prominent booksellers in Reading, George Lovejoy, wrote to Charles Dickens asking him if he would consider standing as the Member of Parliament for the town. Dickens replied with the follwoing response, citing financial reasons and the lack of a chance of winning, for not accepting the invitation:
My principles and inclinations would lead me to aspire to the distinction you invite me to seek, if there were any reasonable chance of succees, and I hope I should do no discredit to such an honour if I won it and wore it. But l am bound to add—and I have no hesitation in saying painly — that I cannot afford the expense of a contested election. If I could I would act on your suggestion instantly. I am not the less indebted to you and the friends to whom the thought occurred, for your good opinion and approval. I beg you to understand that I am restrained solely (and much against my will) by the consideration I have mentioned. and thank both you and them most warmly.
On Tuesday 23 December 1851, Charles Dickens visited Reading with an amateur group of actors to raise money for the Guild of Literature amd Art. The visit had been organsied by the town’s Mayor, Mr. W. S. Darter who had frist written to Dickens in October asking if he would bring his fund-raising initiative to the town. The perfromance was held at the Town Hall.
Decidedly one of the finest entertainments, and one most reflective of honour to the town, that has ever yet been given.Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 27 December 1851 (review of the performance on the 23 December).
On Monday, 8 November 1858, Charles Dickens returned to Reading. This time the performance was not to raise funds but as part of a series of commercial readings Dickens undertook later on in his career. He visited town’s New Hall as part of a tour, during which he read the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.