At the age of 25, Charles Dickens rented (as was normal practice of the day) a large home in Doughty Street, North London. He did this, just as his writing career (under the pseudonym of ‘Boz’) was taking off. Dickens lived here happily with his wife, Catherine, and their three children. Charles and Catherine would go on to have ten children, but would separate in later years. Dickens moved to Kent and had a relationship with the actress, Ellen Ternan – lasting up to his death in 1870, at the age of 58.
The house is now a fascinating museum of his life in this early Victorian period – he took out the lease (for £80 per year) in 1837, just as Queen Victoria came to the throne.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and arrived in London from Portsmouth at the age of ten. He was strongly influenced by the imprisonment of his father for debt problems – resulting in his removal from education to work at a ‘boot blacking’ factory at the age of twelve!
Fortunately, matters improved and Dickens did eventually receive an education in Hampstead a few years later. Subsequently, he became a court clerk and then a parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle. Whilst at the paper he started writing about London, it’s people and the social conditions – producing the regular ‘Sketches by Boz’ at the time of moving to Doughty Street.
Dickens first went to America in 1842 for a six-month lecture tour. He was greeted like a rock star! He wanted to see how life compared to the class-stricken streets of London. The commercialism, promotion and raw energy of its people wasn’t what Dickens expected. It’s well known that his experience was mixed! In fact it led to a cooling of relations between the American press and Dickens for twenty years! But Dickens returned twice for lecture tours in the late 1860’s.
In the museum, the key attractions are the room and desk at which Dickens wrote his first three blockbusters; The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist, his lectern used on trips to America and his court suit. All the rooms are fitted out in the style of the period and filled with displays of his personal artefacts such his handwritten drafts, prints and paintings.
No matter how familiar you are with Dickens’ work, the museum is a fascinating insight to the life of this literary giant and the early Victorian household.