20th November 2011

Two important events in the last couple of weeks

First, the Charles Dickens Museum has reopened!  Monday, 7 November, was the tentative target date for completing all the electrical retrofitting, some painting, and restoring the rooms to their accustomed state.  Most significant, this renovation opened a door between 48 and 49, so that now visitors will enter at Number 49, going directly into the shop for tickets and souvenirs—the room corresponding to the dining room in 48—and then pass into the front hall of 48 and begin the tour of Dickens’s house as usual.  Much better security now, an immediate opportunity to acquaint visitors with the Museum’s treasures, and a straightforward approach to the Dickens rooms, without visitors having first to go all the way to the café for tickets and then retrace their steps to begin the tour.

During the renovation the Director made sure the processes were documented on film. Our first day saw a scheduled group arrive promptly in the morning, when things were still just a bit unsettled, even though the staff and workmen had spent the entire weekend setting things to rights. But by the second day the last display cases had been filled and the last picture hung. The drawing room in particular looked festive and welcoming in the late autumn sunlight.

I have written guides to the rooms, trying to give visitors an impression of the life that went on inside as well as the themes each room incorporates and the precious objects that our curator Fiona Jenkins cares for so well. The narratives are a bit too long. We’ll try them out for a while, adjust them according to feedback, and eventually laminate new and improved versions that can be picked up and read as people enter the six principal rooms. Eventually the Museum hopes to make audio recordings as an alternative accompaniment for our visitors.

The Museum will be open Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, celebrating the past Christmases when the young Dickens family was so happy to be in such a splendid new home, and the present one when we can welcome so many Dickensians. I very much look forward to imbibing some mysterious mixture compounded according to a family recipe to cure troublesome coughs and brighten the cheeks. We anticipate large numbers of visitors, so please book now.

The other special event was the first meeting of the Headquarters branch of the Fellowship in the Churchill room of Goodenough College. A warm, paneled chamber with portraits not only of Sir Winston but also of the queen and several other eminent statespersons provided a comfortable, indeed elegant setting. The Dean of the College, Roger Llewellyn, welcomed us, and then got around to doing what a Dean does best: scrambling around in a closet to find more chairs, as we had a standing-room only audience.

Understandably, since Michael Slater has just returned from his second trip to the Morgan Library in New York, a trip that according to the newspapers and reports from American Fellowship members was as sold out as any of Dickens’s Readings. Michael gave a wonderful talk on a most unexpected subject: Great Expectations as Dickens’s comic masterpiece.  That’s right!  By the time he had gone through the various kinds of comedy the novel celebrates, from the Jonsonian humours characters of the greedy Havisham relatives to the good-natured lessons Pip learns from Herbert about peas and knives and other things, to Joe’s gentle nurture and nursing and apologies for “Tickler,” the audience rendered hearty if surprised agreement.  I am ready to admit that Hamlet, as performed by the illustrious company headed by Mr. Wopsle and produced with the lavish sets and costumes, especially hosiery, that signify the Danish court, is indeed Shakespeare’s own triumph in farce.

Michael was warmly applauded, and Joan Dicks should also have received a round of thanks for another successful meeting, in a setting that I feel sure the Fellowship will want to return to in the future.

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