“Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” exclaimed a London barrow-girl upon hearing the news of the wordsmith’s demise according to those who documented his life.
Dickens was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Amongst his many multitudes of achievements, the man is credited with creating the modern idea of Christmas, so it’s appropriate that at this time of year that this intrepid museum adventurer makes a pilgrimage to the Dickens House Museum in Doughty Street, London.
“The best way to see it,” explained the helpful front of house staff, realising that it wasn’t long until closing time, “is to start at the top and work your way down.”
So Helen and I work our way up the winding stairs to the top of the house to a room designated the “Mary Hogarth Room.” Who was Mary Hogarth? Well, the room was not altogether forthcoming with clues. There was this white dress draped on the couch,
which would usually suggest a Miss Havisham character; being homed in the attic also brings to mind Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre… but literary clues betray the tragic truth. Mary Hogarth was Dickens’ sister-in-law, to whom he was devoted, who sadly died at only 17. Her passing had a profound effect on the writer, who subsequently based characters such as Little Nell on her.
“Wait a minute,” said Helen as we descended to examine the next room, “hold on a second. This is Dickens’ actual house?”
It’s always nice when the penny drops.
What finally convinced her was the Study, where we saw this:
It’s Dickens’ desk; complete with waste-paper bin overflowing with rejected manuscripts. The bin was a humanising touch that really brought to life the image of the incredibly busy man, working away, overflowing with energy and ideas.
The main reason we visited the House was Christmas; and the drawing room was decorated accordingly; fitting, for the man who invented Christmas (although Prince Albert popularised the use of the tree). On the piano was a score of Good King Wenceslas, the best known Victorian carol. I think Kermit the Frog sang a bit of it in the Muppet’s version of A Christmas Carol…
The rooms maintain their Victorian chill; we had to wrap up warm. My frayed fingerless gloves gave an impression of Dickensian poverty. The chill becomes more pronounced in the washing room where the dying embers were all that were there to keep the servants, and whoever else there, warm.
Helen says: “It was worth every penny to smell the musky books and papers and feel the whole Dickens vibe. If you love your Dickens, you will love this place. It comes complete with a little [informative] video and added merriment around Christmas time.”