Dickens. You don’t have to be a book worm to know the name. It’s a name that transcends literature, a name that is a part of England’s heritage, a name that has become an adjective in “Dickensian.”
I became an immediate fan of Charles Dickens’ books since I first read A Christmas Carol as a school child, going on to read A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist. So I jumped at the chance to learn more about the author behind the words when the Museum of London held an exhibit paying tribute to his life and workings in celebration of his two hundredth year anniversary.
As soon as you arrive at the exhibition, you realise that this is more than a gallery dedicated to the author, but rather an experience to be had. Foreign sounds and images culminate in the dimly lit display to deliver an ambience from another time.
“There are dark shadows on the earth,” Dickens wrote, “but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” This seemed to be the theme of the exhibition. Rather than following any particular pattern, echoes guide you through the scene as you’re educated in to the details of Dickens’ life.
So little is publicly known about this mysterious character, held in such reverence by the literary world, that you could almost forget that he was a man at all and instead a myth, fictional as the characters that he created. However as you are given insights in to his life, his insomnia, his abused childhood, it becomes more apparent that he was flesh and blood like any one of us, with weaknesses and fears of his own, a realisation that makes him more endearing.
Original scribbling’s can be found around the exhibit. Hand written drafts of Bleak House and David Copperfield stand beside the writing desks where many of his masterpieces were created. Audio visuals surround visitors which adds to the Victorian atmosphere, along with personal possessions of the writer.
At the end of the exhibit there is a short film of modern day London created by William Raban which is narrated with the words of Dickens’ little known essay, Night Walks.
The portrayals between the old and the new offer little, if any contrast to one another. It brings you to recognise that with the modern technology of Facebook, and iPhones, television, and space travel, so little has changed in our human nature. There are direct parallels that run between Dickensian London and the London of today.
“We lost a great deal of companionship when the late public-houses turned their lamps out, and when the potmen thrust the last brawling drunkards into the street.”
Although Dickens reveals the darker parts of London in many of his books, it is made clear that he had an infatuation with the city he referred to as his magic lantern. London was his muse and was as much a part of him as he now is a part of it.
Overall the Museum has done a great job of revealing one of history’s finest wordsmiths. As an aspiring writer myself I took great pleasure in being brought closer to Dickens’ perspective. Although I wouldn’t assume that the intrigue would be exclusive to writers. He’s one of our nations iconic figures, one that we should be proud of.
The exhibit is open until 10th June 2012 in the Museum of London.