Charles Dickens at the Museum of London
This excellent exhibition is the first major Dickens show for forty years, and occupies the lower ground floor of the museum for the next six months. Included are the expected (Dickens’s writing desk, quill, letters, ledgers, annotated copies of books) and the unexpected (his velvet-covered lectern, a perfectly constructed object to read from, complete with book-stand).
There are also obvious items (plenty of gruesomely miserable oil paintings of queues outside workhouses, crossing sweepers, flower sellers etc, theatre programmes, old photography) and the artistic (a wall of projections featuring sights and sounds of old London).
Best of all is a superb modern-day reconstruction of a Dickens night walk, played out against his words, that reveals how little London has changed in some respects. What’s missing?
Well, for a writer the exhibition is slightly frustrating because I’m more interested in the fiction than the man – I’ve read enough books about Dickens to be almost over-familiar with the subject – so I would like to have seen the grim photographs of bulldog-faced women in Victorian gowns replaced with a section on Dickens’ influence and the various interpretations of his characters in different media.
To be fair, though, that’s what the National Film Theatre’s Dickens season is currently doing, although just trying to see even part of it would take up your life for a few weeks. Meanwhile, the new version of ‘Great Expectations’ on the BBC has proved an unexpected smash hit with viewers.
This is a balanced, intelligent show that won’t encourage the young to read Dickens but will satisfy most adult attendees. I wish it was even bigger and a little more interactive, rather than having a couple of quiz questions lurking in boxes near exhibits. There’s an audio thingie, but with only one earpiece and a lot to listen to, I grew tired of waiting for the woman in front to finish and left it for another day. The shop has a good selection of Dickens books and one object of extreme desire – a beautiful leather case that folds into a compartmentalised Victorian writing desk, priced at around £280.
Afterwards, I went over to nearby Postman’s Park and sat under the eaves in the rain, reading ‘Barnaby Rudge’. The end to a perfect wintry afternoon.