Unseen letters to go on display as Charles Dickens Museum brings Christmas home

Unseen letters to go on display as Charles Dickens Museum brings Christmas home


One hundred and seventy-seven years ago, in November 1843, Charles Dickens was writing the book that would become a hit barely a month later. A Christmas Carol was completed in the early days of December, published on the 19th of that month and greeted with great reviews. Since 1843, the book has never been out of print and remains firmly fixed as an important ingredient of Christmas.

Once the current pandemic restrictions are lifted, the book will be at the heart of Christmas celebrations at the Charles Dickens Museum at no. 48 Doughty Street, Dickens’s only surviving London house. In what has become an annual festive highlight for visitors to London and locals alike, Dickens’s home will be the place to experience the rich traditions of a Dickensian Christmas. While the ongoing pandemic makes special events impossible, this year the Museum will make 48 Doughty Street a home from home with a special set of online events celebrating Dickens and Christmas.

48 Doughty Street is the London residence where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, completed The Pickwick Papers and began Barnaby Rudge. As well as the historic rooms and the collections that feature throughout, the current exhibition Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens brings visitors closer than ever before to the real Charles Dickens. It reveals Dickens as he actually was, explores the enduring power of his image and culminates in a new, vivid suite of colour photographic portraits.

From Thursday 3 December, visitors to the Museum will follow in Dickens’s footsteps as they savour the sights, sounds and scents of the rooms where he lived and worked – with holly and ivy decking the halls, beautiful Victorian decorations throughout and a whole host of other festive surprises to discover.

As the house is dressed for Christmas, the Museum will also display a number of previously unseen items from its collection, which both underline Dickens’s love of the season and also act as a progress report on the writing of A Christmas Carol.

On 9 November 1843, in the midst of working on A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote to his friend Thomas Mitton, ‘I have half done the Christmas Book, and am resting for two days before going to Chuzzlewit – that is, if I can call anything rest, with that before me. Yesterday I walked a great deal. Today I am going out on horseback, for a thirty mile ride…’

On 27 December 1843, a week after the publication of A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote about the healthy sales of the book, ‘the Carol was then in its Sixth Thousand; and that as the orders were coming in fast from town and country, it would soon be necessary to reprint…’

In a letter written on Christmas Eve 1867, during a US tour, Dickens thanked his friend Captain James Dolliver for sending a Christmas gift of a piece of English Mistletoe which was placed at Dickens’s breakfast table that day.

Elsewhere, an 1844 playbill for A Christmas Carol at the Theatre Royal, Adelphi, promotes the only dramatic version of the Carol sanctioned by Dickens. A 21 February 1844 letter to biographer John Forster reveals that Dickens had a mixed opinion of the production: ‘I saw the Carol last night. Better than usual, and [Edward Richard] Wright seems to enjoy Bob Cratchit, but heart-breaking to me. Oh Heaven! if any forecast of this was ever in my mind! Yet O. [Richard John] Smith was drearily better than I expected. It is a great comfort to have that kind of meat underdone; and his face is quite perfect’.

Lucinda Hawksley on Dickens and Christmas
Join Lucinda Dickens Hawksley and discover what Christmas was really like in the 19th century. Find out how Charles Dickens and his own family celebrated Christmas, and how Dickens’s stories helped to influence the way we celebrate today. Using the research for her book, Dickens and Christmas, Lucinda will talk about the ways in which the festive season changed during her great-great-great-grandfather’s lifetime – from 1812-1870 – and how his Christmas writing captured the public imagination, and began a renewed fervour for all things Christmas. Date: Sunday 13th December; 5.30pm; £8; Via Zoom.

Christmas Housemaid Tour
Step back in time to Christmas 1838; Dickens and his young family are out enjoying the festivities and during their absence, the housemaid is up to no good…While they are attending a Christmas Ball at the home of Ms Burdett-Coutts, their housemaid takes a break from her many duties and invites you to step through the original door of 48 Doughty Street and discover the secrets of the esteemed young writer and his growing family. Follow in the footsteps of the celebrated young author as you enjoy an exclusive tour of Dickens’s ‘house in town’ filled with festive greenery and authentic Victorian fayre. Date: Tuesday 15th December 7pm and Sunday 19th December 11am & 4pm; £12; Via Zoom followed by live Q&A.

Dominic Gerrard’s A Christmas Carol
Experience this celebrated production of A Christmas Carol online from inside Dickens’ London home. Filmed this year by candlelight, this beautiful, haunting, adaptation will follow Scrooge through the very rooms where Dickens lived and wrote. Featuring puppetry and a Christmas soundscape, this magical, site-specific performance will transport you through a shifting scenery of decorated spaces, as Scrooge travels with the ghosts that have been sent to reclaim him. According to Dickens’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, ‘It’s the perfect way to begin your Christmas’.
Dates: Thursday 17th December 7pm, Sunday 20th December 2pm and Thursday 31st December 7pm; £15; Via Zoom Includes Pre-recorded performance and live Q&A

A Dickens Family Christmas
A family Zoom call with a difference. Join the extended Dickens family as they share memories from generations past and discuss all the vital ingredients of a Dickens family Christmas. We’ll learn which Victorian traditions have stood the test of time and the modern traditions that have been adopted by the family. The event includes a bonus as the family shows how to blend the perfect Smoking Bishop.
Date: Tuesday 22nd December; 7.30pm; £15; Via Zoom Live

Unabridged A Christmas Carol by Dominic Gerrard
Join us on Zoom for a special live reading of Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. No cuts and no revisions! Every beat of Scrooge’s Christmas will be told as Dickens first conceived it, in the winter of 1843. Read in real time, by acclaimed actor Dominic Gerrard, this story will haunt your house pleasantly as you sit by the fire; wrap presents; or make your last-minute Christmas preparations! Book early for this rare chance to experience the full magic and power of Dickens’ words and their bright, cheerful influence on all of us.
Date: Wednesday 23rd December; 3-7pm; Pay What You Can – Tickets from £10; Via Zoom live

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