December 5, 2012
Dickens Museum reopens its doors
by Nick Davies
In something of an antidote to last week’s disheartening news about the Edgar Allan Poe house, the Guardian reports that the one surviving Charles Dickens home in London has reopened after an extensive renovation. Funded by the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund, the renovation cost £3.1m and focused on what architect Dante Vanoli described as “cleansing” alterations that happened after the author lived there.
Interestingly, as Guardian reporter Maev Kennedy points out, the decor of the meticulously restored house doesn’t feel particularly Dickensian. That makes sense, since Dickens probably didn’t aspire to live under the same conditions as characters like Bob Cratchit or Miss Havisham. Still, it’s hard not to feel some cognitive dissonance at seeing how bright and comfortable the space is. Vanoli explained that his restoration efforts aimed to return the house to the way Dickens had decorated it, in light, Georgian-style colors, along with the original floorboards unearthed from beneath linoleum.
The attic has been opened to the public for the first time, and there people will find something more in keeping with what they might expect of Dickens. It features a barred window from the Marshalsea Prison, where young Dickens and his whole family were imprisoned due to his father’s debts, an experience that surely influenced his writing.
The house, where Dickens lived for three years in the 1830s, was eventually turned into a boarding house, a move that allowed it to escape the modernization that the surrounding buildings underwent. It was later slated for demolition, but saved by public subscription, and became a museum dedicated to the author in 1925. Now that it’s up and running again, it will maintain its legacy as “the house where Dickens virtually invented the Victorian Christmas,” per Kennedy, by being the only museum in London to stay open on Christmas Day.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.