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A tale of one man and his city …

on December 16, 2011 – 3:02 am

There has not been a major exhibition on Charles Dickens in the UK since 1970. Dickens and London will be the largest exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2012. It will reveal that Dickens was the first great novelist of the modern city and the age of mass culture. Original and rarely seen manuscripts of his most famous novels, including Bleak House and David Copperfield, will be on show.

The display will examine the central relationship between Dickens and London – the city that inspired much of his work – and that he described as his ‘magic lantern’. Often walking the streets at night, Dickens would build in his mind the settings, plots and characters of his novels. Evoking the atmosphere of the streets of Victorian London and the river Thames, visitors will follow in Dickens’ footsteps and be taken on a memorable and haunting journey, discovering the places and subjects which sparked his imagination.

The great social questions of the 19th century will be investigated including childhood mortality, prostitution, and wealth and poverty. They will be set against the new features of the modern industrial age such as steam boats, railways, the electric telegraph and the penny post. The display will end with a specially-commissioned film, The Houseless Shadow, by William Raban, one of the UK’s leading documentary filmmakers. It will explore the continuities between London after dark as it is now, compared with how it was described by Charles Dickens over 150 years ago.

Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London and lead curator of Dickens and London, said: “Dickens is the first author to describe the modern city of the 19th century and its profound impact on society and, in particular, on ordinary people. London was Dickens inspiration. He knew its alleys and streets better than anyone. His writings remain relevant today especially for the rapidly developing mega-cities around the world today, which face many of the problems and challenges that impacted on Victorian London 150 years ago.

The official book of the exhibition, Dickens’ Victorian London by Alex Werner will be published by Ebury Press, £25 on 5th January 2011. Advance copies of the book will be on sale at the Museum of London when the exhibition opens.

To 10 February 2012, the acclaimed creative director and set designer, Simon Costin, will be designing a playful and contemporary window installation inspired by the Dickens and London exhibition. The display will create a fantastical vision of a wintery London in the mid-19th century – a magical and sprawling blackened cardboard city. The model will explore winding alleys, shop fronts and at night, hundreds of tiny LED lights will illuminate to make the murky windows of the city and street lamps glimmer. The installation will also feature stylized versions of Victorian ‘window tappers’. These were once small mechanical toys, which were wound up and would tap against the glass of a shop window to attract the attention of passersby. Simon Costin work is widely celebrated. He collaborated extensively with the late Alexander McQueen, becoming his Creative Director, and has also worked with clients including Hermes, Lanvin and Stella McCartney.

The Museum of London has commissioned artist Suki Chan to produce a work that responds to the nocturnal world of Charles Dickens’ London and draws parallels with the modern city. The commission is displayed in the museum’s entrance and is entitled Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk.

Dickens and London runs until 10 June 2012. The Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands and the Museum of London Archaeology seek to inspire a passion for London. For further information visit