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Kent: The campaigning and journalistic work of Charles Dickens is on show in new exhibition, Restless Shadow

By Angela Cole

Charles Dickens’s tireless work as a campaigner and investigative journalist will be recognised more than a century after his death in a new exhibition opening at his former London home – now a museum – this week.

Featuring previously unseen documents, his much-used walking stick and editorial chair, Restless Shadow follows in the footsteps of Dickens as he pounded the streets of London to make himself aware of the terrible conditions, injustices and hardships faced by the poorest people in society.

The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street was the London townhouse where Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers, wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and began Barnaby Rudge.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

It will present evidence of Dickens’s writing, public speaking and campaigning, including rarely seen articles, speeches and letters.

The social ills and struggling working class of London were not only highlighted in his novels but also featured in speeches and weekly magazines that reached millions.

A star exhibit will be the writer’s wooden walking stick from the 1860s, the last decade of his life, which he used as he covered massive distances day and night, seeking out evidence of people suffering on the streets.

His walks brought hidden hardships into the open and helped him promote practical solutions.

His journeys helped him pioneer investigative journalism, a type of writing he saw as a shadow which was able to “go into any place, by sunlight, moonlight, starlight, firelight, candlelight, and be in all homes, and all nooks and corners.”

Dickens' study at the Charles Dickens Museum in London

Dickens' study at the Charles Dickens Museum in London

Journalism featured throughout Dickens’s entire career, from his early days as a parliamentary correspondent to his years as editor of weekly magazines Household Words and All the Year Round, which gave him a forum to speak out on issues and causes.

A highlight will be the chair he used in the editorial office of All the Year Round in Wellington Street, The Strand. It was later used by his son, Charles Dickens Jr, when he was also editor after his father’s death.

Articles he wrote on subjects such as homelessness, workhouses, conditions in the armed forces and for veterans, schools and schooling and prisons and punishment will feature. Many facts informed his fiction, with Fagin’s sentencing and last night alive and Bill Sikes’s accidental hanging from Oliver Twist clear examples. His belief in the abolition of the death penalty was also made clear in five long letters to the Daily News and letters to The Times.

Museum director Cindy Sughrue said: “Dickens’s combination of a passion for walking and his periodic bouts of insomnia helped to create the ‘restless shadow’ that found its way into the darkest corners of society and exposed so many of the country’s inequalities. His campaigning spirit never left him and, had he never written a word of fiction, Dickens’s journalistic career is worthy of great recognition. We are proud to throw light on this area of his life.”

The Charles Dickens Museum in London

The Charles Dickens Museum in London

Several of the charities which Dickens worked with are still operating today, including the Hospital for Sick Children – now Great Ormond Street Hospital. The Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust (originally Warehousemen and Clerks’ School) is a partner for the exhibition, along with homeless charity The Big Issue Foundation and The Big Issue magazine.


THE CHARLES DICKENS MUSEUM

Dickens’s London townhouse holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dickens-related material and is where visitors can see the reading desk he designed, from which he gave countless public readings, and look at original manuscripts of his great works, letters, personal items and photographs.

When he moved into 48 Doughty Street, he was a little-known writer, still using his pen-name, Boz. But by the time he left, he was a superstar, known around the world, having written The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Restless Shadow is at the Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, London, WC1N 2LX, from Monday, May 9 to Sunday, October 29. It will be open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm). Entry costs £9, children six to 16 £4, under sixes free.
For more information visit dickensmuseum.com, call 020 7405 2127 or email events@dickensmuseum.com

DICKENS AND KENT

Charles Dickens had many Kent connections. He made his home here and many sights and locations feature in his books.

* His former home, Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, where he wrote Great Expectations, has been used as a school since the 1920s, but is open to the public occasionally. For details visit dickensfellowship.org

Bleak House, which inspired Charles Dickens

Bleak House, which inspired Charles Dickens

* Bleak House, originally named Fort House, in Broadstairs, overlooking Viking Bay, was where Dickens spent many summer holidays in the 1850s and 1860s and where he wrote David Copperfield. For opening dates, times and prices, visit bleakhousebroadstairs.co.uk There is also the Dickens Museum in the town. Visit thanet.gov.uk

* Rochester stages its annual popular Dickens Festival from Friday, June 9 to Sunday, June 11. This year it will also form part of Medway’s celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the Battle of the Medway. For details visit rochesterdickensfestival.org.uk

* Broadstairs holds its 80th annual Dickens Festival from Saturday, June 17 to Friday, June 23. For details go to broadstairsdickensfestival.co.uk

Dickens festival parade in Rochester High Street

Dickens festival parade in Rochester High Street

 

 

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