When we were planning our visit to London in 2012, one of the sites I was looking forward to seeing was the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. The year 2012 marked the 200th anniversary of his birth, and I knew the museum must have been planning a number of events and special exhibits.
Except it wasn’t. The museum was closed in 2012 for remodeling. Bad timing.
I did see it in 2013 (and 2014 and 12015 as well). Located at 48 Doughty Street, it is a townhouse where Dickens lived with his family from 1837 to 1841, and the only Dickens residence in London still standing. There are five floors, including the basement, so you’re climbing a lot of stairs (an elevator is available for several floors). The gift shop is small but packed with all things Dickens. In 2013, I noticed a scrapbook-like book that celebrated what the British call the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth. It was a bit expensive and so I passed.
I saw it again (with fewer available) in 2014 and (fewer still) 2015. A few months ago, I found it on sale for a very reasonable price (and free shipping from England).
Charles Dickens: The Dickens Bicentenary 1812-2012 is written by a descendant of the writer, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. It is not an exhaustive, detailed biography. Instead, roughly the size of a scrapbook, it is a volume of 39 short chapters about Dickens’s life, works, family, friends, social issues he was involved in, and legacy. In addition, the work includes four “envelope pages,” containing facsimiles of letters, photographs, calling cards, theater playbills, excerpts of the magazines that carried his serialized stories, a front page of the newspaper he published, portions of manuscripts, and even his will.
Yes, they are reproductions and facsimiles, but there’s something fascinating about holding a copy of the first serialized number of Bleak House (priced at one shilling), including the illustrations and advertisements, that gives a Dickens fan a minor thrill. You’re seeing the first two chapters of the novel just as the original readers did when they were published in March of 1852. The ads, by the way, are for waterproof overcoats from Edmiston & Son on the Strand and bedsteads by Heal & Son on Tottenham Court Road.
|Lucinda Dickens Hawksley|
And the Dickens calling cards, which no gentleman or lady went without when visiting friends and acquaintances, each include a different photograph.
Hawksley has published Charles Dickens and His Circle; The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter; Essential Pre-Raphaelites; Charles Dickens’ Favorite Daughter: The Life, Loves, and Art of Katey Dickens Perugini; and March, Women, March; among several other works. She’s also an art historian and public speaker, especially on environmental causes.
Charles Dickens has numerous photographs and illustrations, in addition to the envelope facsimiles. With the concise chapter texts, it is a very visual and tactile way to experience the life and times of Dickens.
A Week of Dickens: For no ostensible reason other than I like the man’s writings and novels, each post this week will be about Dickens or his writings. Featured tomorrow is a review of Oliver Twist, published at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Top photograph: Charles Dickens in his late 40s.