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Posted October 14, 2013 by in Literary Travels
 
 

The Dickens Bicentennial: A Photo Retrospective


2012 was a great year to be a Charles Dickens lover in the UK. It was the Dickens bicentennial – 200 years since his birth in the southern coastal town of Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812. For England’s favorite writer (or should that be second favorite, after Shakespeare?), no expense was spared and no ceremony left undone during this landmark year.

“He is far more deeply ingrained in the culture than any other writer,” said Florian Schweizer, director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, in an interview with the Sunday Times. And with plenty of new biographies published in 2012, along with TV specials, museum exhibitions, and re-releases and remakes of classic film versions of the novels, it was going to be an extravaganza.

The celebratory year began with a pilgrimage to the Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth on that frigid February anniversary. It felt like a momentous occasion, with speeches from the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, direct descendant Ian Dickens, and actor Simon Callow (who I later in the year saw starring in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, a terrific one-man play written by Peter Ackroyd, at London’s Playhouse Theatre).

The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth.

The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth.

The cradle Dickens himself lay in as a baby?

The cradle Dickens himself lay in as a baby?

Portsmouth City Museum was hosting an exhibition of the town’s Victorian-era history, as seen through the works of Dickens (they had a handwritten manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby on display), and another highlight of the day was “The Ballad of Charles Dickens,” a musical skit by drama students from the University of Portsmouth, based on scenes from Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, and Hard Times.

Birthplace - this way!

Birthplace – this way!

Victorian-style entertainment on the streets of Portsmouth.

The Victorian-style entertainment on the streets of Portsmouth included a camera obscura, old-fashioned bicycles, giant puppets, and a hot chestnut seller.

Your writer was a keen participant in the bicentennial festivities.

Your writer was a keen participant in the bicentennial festivities.

Later in the year I also revisited the Charles Dickens Museum in London just before its temporary closure for refurbishments.

Outside the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Outside the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

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I enjoyed the story of Dickens's clock.

I enjoyed the story of Dickens’s clock.

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A plaque transplanted from a previous Dickens family home in London.

In the summer I took advantage of living briefly in the county of Kent to travel to the real-life “Bleak House,” overlooking the cliffs of Broadstairs. The building was Dickens’s summer home in the 1850s-60s, and is now a hotel.

Bleak House looms over the cliffs of Broadstairs, a seaside town in Kent.

Bleak House looms over the cliffs of Broadstairs, a seaside town in Kent.

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A Dickens-themed pub in Broadstairs.

A Dickens-themed pub in Broadstairs.

It is thought that Dickens based Aunt Betsey Trotwood's cottage on this house in Broadstairs.

It is thought that Dickens based Aunt Betsey Trotwood’s cottage (in David Copperfield) on this house in Broadstairs.

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A portrait in stained glass of David Copperfield the waif.

A portrait in stained glass of David Copperfield the waif.

I also journeyed to see the spooky baby graveyard at St. James’s Church, Cooling, which inspired the opening scene of Great Expectations. Here orphan Pip saw, beside his parents’ grave, “five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine.”

St. James's churchyard in Cooling, Kent. The spooky inspiration for the opening scene of Great Expectations.

St. James’s churchyard in Cooling, Kent.

Last but not least, I participated in an open-air production of A Christmas Carol that took place round the streets of York, a favorite medieval town in the north.

Following our Victorian narrator through the streets of York.

Following our Victorian narrator through the streets of York.

A pivotal scene of A Christmas Carol took place in an actual graveyard.

A pivotal scene of A Christmas Carol took place in an actual graveyard.

I started 2012 with grand plans of reading through the entire Dickens oeuvre (or at least the 6.5 major novels I haven’t yet read), but failed to get past page 200 of Dombey and Son! There’s always next year, though without the impetus of the bicentennial, it may be a while before I pick up my next Dickens novel. Perhaps it’s for the best, though – if I don’t rush through, I’ll still have ‘new’ Dickens works awaiting me for years to come. And that is something to celebrate.

 

Are you a Dickens lover too? Did you do anything special during the bicentennial year? Let us know in the comments box below!


Rebecca Foster

 
American transplant to England. Former library assistant turned full-time freelance writer and book reviewer. Check out all my articles.