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Charles Dickens described London as his 'magic lantern', and walked its streets at night, imagining the settings, plots and characters of his novels.
Phoebus Levin, The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens, 1864
Museum of London
To celebrate his 200th birthday, the Museum of London is putting on a show focusing on the author's experience of the city. The display evokes London's physical appearance in his time, and examines the big social issues tackled in the novels.A collection of evocative paintings and Dickens's own chair, desk and manuscripts will give a flavour of the author's world.
Canvases on display include London scenes that could be drawn straight from one of Dickens's novels. George Elgar Hicks's An Infant Orphan Election at the London Tavern shows a corner of the grand first floor room at the London Tavern at Bishopsgate that has been taken over by a crowd of well meaning voters. They have bought the right to vote for the needy children of their choice, so that they may hopefully enter the Infant Orphan Asylum at Wanstead. There are many placards around the room encouraging people to vote for Annie Lisle or Lydia Malverns.Phoebus Levin's The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens gives us a bawdy take on popular entertainment in Victorian times. The Gardens, situated near Battersea Bridge between King's Road and the Thames, boasted a circus, theatre and orchestra, along with the dancing platform represented here. Pleasure gardens had a reputation as places of debauchery and Levin depicts supplications of love both bought and freely offered against a backdrop of heavy drinking.
What the critics say
The exhibition shows how Dickens was the first great novelist of the modern city and how London was central to his works.The show features rarely seen manuscripts of his works including Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Bleak House but it also tries to give a sense of what Dickens's London looked like and will include numerous paintings of Victorian London.
Rather than taking an autobiographical approach, the exhibition is arranged thematically. It features some manuscripts including Great Expectations, Dombey and Son and David Copperfield which give a fascinating insight into how Dickens worked creatively. In many respects Dickens seems an incredibly modern author. He still challenges us today.
This exhibition, running into Dickens's bicentennial year, takes as its subject London as the writer's muse. It seeks to paint a picture of the city that Dickens called his "magic lantern", that he tirelessly tramped on his long night walks; a place as full of contradictions and teeming with filthy life as the London we know today.