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What the Dickens! Museum reopens


 This row house where Charles Dickens lived with his young family is no longer a dusty and slightly neglected museum.
PHOTOS BY SANG TAN /ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 12/11/2012

BY JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

LONDON

--Charles Dickens' London home has gone from "Bleak House" to "Great Expectations."

For years, the four-story brick row house where the author lived with his young family was a dusty and slightly neglected museum, a mecca for Dickens scholars but overlooked by most visitors to London.

Now, after a 3 million pound ($4.8 million) makeover, it has been restored to bring the writer's world to life. The house reopened Monday, and its director says it aims to look "as if Dickens had just stepped out."

"The Dickens Museum felt for many years a bit like Miss Havisham, covered in dust," said museum director Florian Schweizer, who slips references to Dickens' work seamlessly into his speech. Miss Havisham is the reclusive character central to the plot of "Great Expectations."

Now, after a revamp code-named--inevitably--"Great Expectations," the house is transformed.

Schweizer said, quoting that novel: "I have been bent and broken, but--I hope--into a better shape."

Few authors remain as widely quoted, read and adapted as Dickens is 200 years after his birth. Characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Pip and Miss Havisham, Fagin and Oliver Twist, are known to millions.

And no writer is more closely associated with London than Dickens, whose accounts of Victorian workhouses, debtors' prisons and the urban poor embarrassed the establishment into acting to alleviate poverty.

He lived all over the city in his impoverished youth and increasingly affluent adulthood, but 48 Doughty Street in the Bloomsbury area of London is his only home in the city to survive.

Dickens lived in the house between 1837 and 1839, a short but fruitful period that saw the birth of his first two children. It's where he wrote "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Oliver Twist," going from jobbing journalist to rising author whose serialized stories were gobbled up by a growing fan base. He leased the simple but elegant Georgian house, built in 1807, for 80 pounds a year.

The restored museum has all the modern trappings, including audio-guides, a "learning center" and cafe. There also is a temporary exhibition of costumes from Mike Newell's new film adaptation of "Great Expectations," starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.


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