Charles Dickens Museum review
Charles Dickens seems to have moved house every five minutes, but the Charles Dickens Museum is the only London one left. It's from a time when he was still making a name for himself. He worked on The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby here, but was still years away from creating A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. He would have seen himself as successful, but he wasn't the superstar writer that he later became. He was good. But he wasn't yet great.
Everybody who writes about London wishes he was Charles Dickens. I would have loved to have been him, simply to have seen London before the Blitz -- before the Victorians started clearing the slums. For every great building they put up (and to be fair, they did put up plenty), they demolished plenty more.
His house is the total opposite of what you imagine when you think of Dickens. He was sympathetic to the deserving poor on paper, but living in a very comfortable townhouse. The dining room is dressed as if for Sunday dinner, with silver plate and tablecloths, and you've got a morning room with pictures and portraits hanging on the walls. His wife was certainly a pretty thing if her picture is anything to go by. Dickens is dressed more like a dandy with his floppy hair.
If you head down the creaky stairs to the basement then you can see the old kitchen complete with pottery bowls and a pump-style tap. The table's just a solid slab with pork pies and pastries and chunks and hunks of bread and cheese. They've got a little washroom with linen swinging from a string on the ceiling. There was no running hot water in those days -- just a log fire under the sink.
The first floor is where he had his drawing room and gloomy study. You can see his desk and books and bookcases where he locked himself away. Across the hall is where he entertained his guests and did a few readings from a self-designed podium. I like the way they're reciting his lines out of the speakers -- like he's actually in there reading them himself. A lot of house museums don't bother with details like that, but I think it really helps to bring the place alive.
The next floor up has two bedrooms where Dickens and his missus and his sister-in-law slept. It's all very posh -- four poster beds and dressing tables with lamps and candles, and plenty of ephemera like his shaving kit and his wife's perfume bottles.
The top floor was where the servants slept, but they've decided to strip it out and fill it with a little exhibition -- it's just a couple of books and pictures of Dickens as a rather foppish-looking kid. They've salvaged an old attic window from his childhood home and got hold of a prison grille from Marshalsea Prison, where his dad was banged up for debt.
If you're a fan of Dickens then it's a total no-brainer: you need to visit this house. And if you just want to see how a well-to-do Victorian lived then it's also worth a try.
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