If you fancy a bit of quirky heritage in the heart of London than the Charles Dickens Museum is just for you. Dickens moved into 48 Doughty Street in 1837 when he was a little known writer. The recreation of the historic house gives the chance to wander through Dickens’ rooms and imagine him entertaining the great and good of the day as well as getting down to some serious writing in his study where he wrote without distraction from breakfast to lunch.
The Dickens Museum has launched a new exhibition running to 11th November that uncovers Dickens as a man of science. They delve into Dickens’ friendships with Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale and place his work and writing at the heart of a Victorian society beginning to push the boundaries in many areas of scientific study.
The exhibition, set over 3 floors, allows you to dip into Dickens’ well placed connections including his attempts to befriend Roderick Murchison, the celebrated geologist, and his wife – a talented ‘Conchologist’ (surely the best job description ever).
I am intrigued by Dickens’ fascination for mesmerism but he wasn’t the only one experimenting as his wife, Catherine, also explored optical illusion and the properties of chloroform. They held dinners to discuss the shocking new theory of evolution and I bet their after dinner activities were pretty eye opening.
There are a few select objects to help tell the story of Dickens as a ‘Man of Science’ including the very strange wax figure of the ‘Fat Boy’ from the Pickwick Papers, the model is used to highlight Dickens’s talent for capturing the symptoms of diseases.
I particularly loved his fabulous travelling bag given to him by French aristocrat Alfred d’Orsay in 1844. He took it with him on his travels to Italy and may well have had it with him on his visit to Mount Vesuvius. His interest in volcanoes clearly strikes a chord with today’s visitor as footage of the eruptions in Hawaii from Mount Kilauea are constantly on our television screens.
Perhaps the most fascinating connection with today is the power and influence Dickens wielded as a popular and influential writer. At a time when little public funding was available for scientific endeavour Dickens’ popularity and influence allowed him to push scientific ideas out to the widest imaginable audience. Like a Youtube superstar of his generation he could use his literary status to court great minds and investigate the latest ideas.
As you leave the museum a timeline sets Dickens’ life agains significant moments: in 1852 Ada Lovelace dies, in 1859 Charles Darwin publishes ‘On the Origin of the Species’. A visit to Doughty Street and ‘A Man of Science’ not only helps you understand a literary giant but also the world he lived in and role he played along with many other great minds in trying to understand the world around us.
Charles Dickens – Man of Science runs from 24th May – 11th November 2018 entrance is included in price of house admission. https://dickensmuseum.com/blogs/exhibitions/charles-dickens-man-of-science
To find out more about the Dickens Museum including opening times and ticket prices please see the website – https://dickensmuseum.com/