With the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth almost upon us I have wholeheartedly thrown myself into Dickens season. The BBC have put on an array of fantastic programmes about his life and works, and there's still more to come. I'm not sure I can quite bring myself to watch the adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood with its imagined ending. Unfinished novels are tantalizingly frustrating, but they are unfinished, and, unless we find some long lost manuscript (I wish!) I can't help but think they should be left that way. That's not to say anything against the adaptation, I'm sure it will be brilliant, especially if Great Expectations was anything to go by!
In the spirit of Dickens season, I thought it was about time I visited the Dickens Museum in London. I was particularly excited about this, which almost made me slightly hesitant about visiting, as these things rarely live up to expectations. It was, however, a fantastic experience.
From its unassuming exterior I knew my hopes hadn't been entirely unfounded.
You enter through the house next door, meaning that the house Dickens lived in has been mainly unspoilt by gift shops, cafes, etc. The museum feels much more like visiting somebody’s house than going to a museum. In large part still decorated as close to how it would have been as possible, and with minimal cabinets you are free to wander round at will, enjoying the atmosphere. Spread over four floors, you are able to see the wash room, wine cellar, still room, study, library, bedroom, and several other rooms. I was lucky enough to go whilst the Christmas decorations were still up, and it was certainly a welcome sight. Christmas as we know it is so closely identified with Dickens and how he described Christmas to be that it was really very special to see the house in which he wrote Oliver Twist decorated as close to his descriptions as possible.
In the library a TV had been set up (one of the few features that seemed out of place) with a half hour film about Dickens’s life, which was an interesting addition to the visit, and made it possible not to have too many signs with information around the house, making the experience feel all the more genuine.
I understand the museum has plans to expand this year, making use of the house next door to allow for more visitors, and a more in-depth exploration of the history of the house, and its most famous inhabitant. This is certainly a museum I can see myself going back to time and time again.
Feeling even more inspired to find out yet more about Dickens I headed over to the British Library where they currently have a small, free exhibition about Dickens and the Supernatural. Another fascinating exhibition, you learn not just about Dickens, but in popular beliefs about the supernatural in the nineteenth century. Although Dickens was sceptical about many of the beliefs, ghosts, and unexplained phenomena feature heavily in many of his novels. You also learn of a fascinating link between one of his tales, and a real life event which was spookily similar to that of Dickens’s imagination. A fantastic exhibition, as always, from the British Library.
Later in the month I plan to visit the Dickens exhibition at the Museum of London, but in the meantime I plan to get on with reading some more Dickens, where to start, where to start...?