Astro Riff: Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was the first novel assigned in my freshman lit class in high school. I'd been warned about high school lit classes.  Since I hadn't yet figured out that terrifying students with threats of what other teachers will do when you're older is just a popular form of crowd control, being handed a thick 19th century novel on the first day of class seemed to confirm all of my worst fears. The sad irony was that, if I had thought for a moment about my own experience, I would have recognized Charles Dickens as the author of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, two of my favorite plays, and fallen in love with Miss Havisham's gothic house that much sooner. 

There is more to Dickens' work than creepy old houses and doomed romance and happy families at Christmas, of course. His experience pasting labels onto boot blacking bottles in a factory as a child gave him an obsession with the horrible working conditions forced on the poor in Victorian England. At heart, Charles Dickens was a social reformer, but, despite his personal investment in the issue, he never preached.

According to his birth chart, Charles Dickens was a genius (Aquarius) with the heart of a philosopher (Sagittarius) wearing the mask of the analyst (Virgo). The most visible part of his chart (Midheaven) was in chattery Gemini, a natural placement for a writer. His Mercury was in Capricorn in the 4th House with Saturn in the same house and sign. His evolved response to all that Saturn gave him the ability to write about things that were personal to him with the discipline required of Victorian novelists who usually wrote their novels as serials. 

Next door, the House of Communication (3rd House) had three planets: Uranus, the Moon, and Neptune. Uranus in the 3rd House in Scorpio was the revolutionary urging Dickens to be authentic to his own experience in his writing and giving him the strength to look deeply at the underbelly of Victorian society. As an Aquarius (ruled by Uranus), Dickens had a strong relationship with this planet. When he was older and well-known, he was fond of taking his rich friends on tours of the slums of London, shocking them with the squalid living conditions. 

The Moon and Neptune were conjunct in 3rd House Sagittarius, less than three degrees from his IC. Dickens had an emotional need to speak for justice joined with the psychological function that longs for unity with all of humanity.

The combination of that shocking, individual Uranus energy with the relational, emotional Moon and Neptune would have challenged him from within to find a balance between those very different impulses and kept him from going to any extreme.

Things get really interesting, though, in Dickens' 6th House Pisces. The old name for the 6th House is the House of Servants. With the strong influence of his time in the factory in Dickens' biography, we would expect to see a lot of activity in this house, and there is. His south node was in this house along with Pluto and Venus together right on his descendant. 

Pisces is the sign of the poet and the dreamer. With the south node in this house, we know that Dickens' time in the factory wasn't just hard. It was a wound to his dreams. With Pluto conjunct Venus (the planet of money) in Pisces, it's not out of the question that these were dreams of wealth.

When Dickens was a child, he liked going on long walks with his father. One night they stopped to look at a big house, the house that would inspire Miss Havisham's house in Great Expectations, and Dickens' father gave him a speech about how he could live in that house if he worked hard enough. Even as a child, Dickens must have known that a good education was key to achieving success, so it would have been especially devastating to have to leave school to take a job with no chance of upward mobility. 

This experience would have given him a vendetta (north node) to manifest (Virgo) his dreams  (Pisces) with words (Mercury, ruler of Virgo) that reflect his deep self (Mercury in the 4th House) and personal experience.

His nodes also might explain an odd incident later in his life. Charles Babbage was a friend of Dickens', and in 1864, he decided to go on a crusade against noise. As an author who wrote with an obvious mischievous pleasure about pickpockets, you wouldn't expect Dickens to get in on it, but when Babbage appealed to his artist friends to help him write a book against street musicians, Dickens eagerly contributed. With the north node in his 12th House, though, he had a deep soul need for silence too big to be satisfied by endless night walks through London's empty streets.