Charles Dickens and the literary actuary

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By Daniel D. Skwire | 01 September 2001

The complete works of Charles Dickens amount to more than 13,000 pages in a recent edition and his fiction includes more than 1,600 characters. Of this vast range of characters, however, there is only one full-fledged actuary. He is, in fact, a romantic hero, and he appears in a short story called “Hunted Down.” That Dickens should choose to write a romantic melodrama about insurance shouldn’t surprise members of the profession. Insurance—with its focus on life, death, and money—is the very stuff of romance. That the hero of Dickens’ melodrama should be an actuary, however, is more unexpected, given the popular conception of actuaries as introverted mathematicians.

But Dickens himself was a realist as well as a romantic, and he drew extensively on real-life sources for Hunted Down, including a historical murder case and insurance scam.

This article appeared in the September/October 2001 issue of Contingencies, a bimonthly magazine published by the American Academy of Actuaries.

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