Literary Tourism

Charles Dickens’ House: Closed for refurbishment during the year of his 200th anniversary!

This year marks the 200th year of the birthday of Charles Dickens.  Though I don’t claim to have read ALL of Dickens’ novels, I have read many.  I am a fan.  I am also a literary tourist: i.e. if I should be in a city or place that has been graced with the birthplace of a famous writer, or scene from a famous novel, I make the effort to visit the landmarks and museums and what not.  I’ve been to the Bronte Parsonage, I’ve done the Bronte Walk, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh (which features the writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott).  I lived in Dorset long ago (Weymouth), and next time I visit will go and see Thomas Hardy’s house.
When I lived in London in 2005, I lived quite close to Charles Dicken’s house, which is now the  Charles Dickins Museum.  It is located at 48 Doughty St London, near Russel Square Station.  Not far from 343 Euston Road (where I lived).  But I didn’t make it there during that time.  There is so much to do in London, its easy to neglect seeing things you want to see, and experiencing things you want to experience, because you have it in the back of your mind that you’ll do it eventually.

I saw the film ‘Hereafter‘ (2010), starring Matt Damon, which featured three interwoven stories of characters who experience glimpses of the ‘after-life’ .  The film was set in 2005;  it follows a tsunami survivor (from the 2004 Boxing day tsunami disaster), the London bombings (one of the characters ‘just’ misses catching an underground train whilst scuttling about on the platform  for a hat blown off his head by the force of his brother’s deathly spirit) and Matt Damon’s character – who has come to London to take a break from the difficulty of life back in America where he feels cursed by his ability to communicate with those who have passed away from life.

I only lived in London for six months in 2005 , and unfortunately Dickens’  house is something I missed out on (one of the things I would get round to … eventually!).  Seeing ‘Hereafter’  re-invoked the shock of the day that the London bombings happened ( my experiences is written about here).  And Matt Damon’s character goes to visit Charles Dickens’ house –  and so I have promised myself, I will eventually do the same.

Here in Australia, I was surprised that the ABC (broadcast station that schedules BBC adaptations of everything!), did not schedule anything ‘Dickens’ on the date of his birthday (February 7th).  About two months later the latest adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ was aired.  At the Melbourne International Film Festival, a handful of Dickens themed evens will be on, and the Melbourne Writers Festival, happening over the next two weeks, will include a keynote opening address by Simon Callow about Dickens (Callow published a book this year celebrating the life of Charles Dickens).

I was lucky enough to visit London again this year (2012) in May, and was determined to go and see Dickens’  house.  I made it to the door.  But the place was being refurbished, no entry!  I couldn’t believe that of the possible sights to go and see that morning, I went all the way up to Russel Square, walked to Doughty St, and the museum was closed!  Fortunately there are plenty of other things to see and do, but I haven’t been able to cross this one off my list.    I almost went to The Old Curiosity Shop when I found out that such a place actually existed, but wasn’t sure what would be there.

Next time I’m in London I will go to Dicken’s house!  Such a pity that with so much happening in the year of the celebrations of his 200th Anniversary, the museum dedicated to him should be closed!