Today is the bicentennial of Charles Dickens's older sister, Frances "Fanny" Dickens Burnett, born October 28, 1810.
During their difficult childhood, Michael Slater writes, Fanny was Charles's "dear companion and confidante." She was also a musical prodigy who began attending the Royal Academy of Music at age 13, and at 14 won their silver medal and second prize for piano. She later taught there herself. (At one point she studied with a pupil of Beethoven's.)
Although young Charles felt bitter and envious that his parents were able to scrape together enough money for Fanny's education but not for his own, he still loved her dearly. Some of his female characters, including Florence Dombey, Fanny Scrooge, and the little girl in "A Child's Dream of a Star," are said to be at least partly based on her. And her son Henry Burnett, Jr., was the model for Tiny Tim and Paul Dombey.
Fanny died of consumption at age 38. A few weeks before her death, Dickens wrote to his friend John Forster, "I asked her whether she had any care or anxiety in the world. She said No, none. It was hard to die at such a time of life, but she had no alarm whatever in the prospect of the change; felt sure we should meet again in a better world; and although they had said she might rally for a time, did not really wish it. She said she was quite calm and happy, relied upon the mediation of Christ, and had no terror at all."