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What the Dickens! Museum reopens page 2

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


But at its heart it is a house of a proud young family man. Visitors can see the blue dining room where Dickens entertained, complete with original sideboard and a portrait of the 25-year-old author looking, it has to be said, pretty pleased with himself.

"It's rather Byronic," Schweizer said. "Not the Victorian sage with a beard that we think of."

Upstairs are the drawing room where Dickens moved guests to laughter and tears with readings from his works and the bedroom where his sister-in-law Mary died at 17, a tragedy that may have influenced the many death scenes in Dickens' novels.

Rooms are furnished with Dickens' own possessions--his writing desk and chair, wardrobe and shaving kit, copies of his books annotated in his handwriting.

"We're trying to make it feel like a home," Schweizer said. "As if Dickens had just stepped out."

The museum does not skip over darker periods of Dickens' life. On the top floor, the former servants' quarters hold a set of bars from Marshalsea prison, where Dickens' father was imprisoned for his debts, and jars from the boot-polish factory where 12-year-old Charles was sent to work.

That financial insecurity marked Dickens for life, and drove his workaholic quest. He wrote more than 20 books, had 10 children, traveled the world on lecture tours and campaigned for social change until his death from stroke in 1870 at 58.

Museum directors have been criticized for shutting the facility during most of the bicentenary of Dickens' birth--and London Olympics. It reopens in time for a Dickensian Christmas, with readings, performances of "A Christmas Carol," mulled wine, mince pies.

The museum hopes to draw 45,000 visitors a year, a 50 percent rise on pre-refurbishment levels. Schweizer thinks Dickens' future has never been rosier.

"There has always been interest. I think the bicentenary has taken it to a whole new level," Schweizer said. "There is a great hunger of Dickens, especially in these times" of economic austerity and uncertainty. As evidence, he held up a London newspaper proclaiming the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy under the headline "Kate Expectations."


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