Museums that previously were homes are weird places. They may work out splendidly, like Sir John Soane’s Museum, or they may fall a bit flat. Unfortunately, for me, the latter was the case with Charles Dickens Museum. I must admit the bar was set high as I did visit it on the same day as Soane’s. Nonetheless, it is a case of just another house. The best thing about the museum are the people working in it, they are extremely knowledgeable, happy to share and really keen on making your experience interesting.
I have to confess that I haven’t read anything by Dickens. I tried Oliver Twist once, but the dialogues killed me, to make sense of them I’d have to read everything aloud. Maybe an audiobook would be an option. Either way, this discouraged me from trying other books by Dickens, so there is this shameful hole in my experience of English literature.
This however did not prevent me from understanding the references, as Dickens is such a part of cultural imagery that there is no way of avoiding them. As mentioned before the museum is based in a home where Dickens lived with his family for a while. The interior is restored as closely as possible to the original. Giving us a glimpse into the way of life at the time.
We start in the dining room, ready for Dickens to entertain. I loved the care put into setting the table and even the fake food. It was charming. What I also found interesting is that the rooms are relatively small. It is a big house, but the space is divided into those tiny containers. I found it a bit claustrophobic. After the dining room, we can go down to the servant’s quarters and kitchen, which was a very interesting space. It is arranged to feel like the servants only just left. Probably the ‘washing machine’ was the most surprising part for me.
When we venture upstairs we come across Dickens’s study, with an original desk, though one from another home of his. Again it is a pretty cramped space. In the parlour there is a reading desk Dickens had made to order. It’s something I never considered, the writer’s comfort as he is doing the public readings.
The next thing you realize is how many floors this house has because as you climb to the next level to find the bedrooms, you realize this is by no means the end. On the top floor is the nursery, which was a kind of sad room, maybe because the sun was setting and it was getting dark. But also the bars from Marshalsea prison didn’t help, I am not sure what came over the curators to choose the children’s room as a fitting space to display the bars.
The museum also managed to squeeze in an exhibition space, to show some of Dickens’s letters, portraits, art related to his books. The nice touch was how much the museum is trying to cater to children with the routes and treasure hunts. Overall it is not a bad museum, but given the competition, it has in London it really needs to fight hard.
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