Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jill Krementz covers Charles Dickens at 200

Charles Dickens at 200
The Morgan Library and Museum
September 23, 2011 - February 12, 2012

Charles Dickens
(1812-1870) was Britain's first true literary superstar.

During his lifetime he attracted international acclaim, and many of his books, such as The Pickwick Papers, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, became instant classics.

The Morgan's collection of Dickens manuscripts and letters is one of the greatest in the world, second only to London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors to England can visit the Georgian home of the great Victorian novelist on 48 Doughty Street in Camden Town, London.

Dickens's early years were bleak to say the least. At the age of twelve, young Charles was withdrawn from school and sent to work at Warren's Blacking Factory, situated at Hungerford Stairs, on the banks of the River Thames. There, in a dilapidated, rat-infested warehouse, Dickens spent ten hours a day, six days a week, sticking labels onto pots of paste blacking (used for boot polish). Two weeks after he started factory work, his father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. The humiliation and misery of this childhood experience, “the secret agony of my soul,” as he put it, remained vividly present in his mind throughout his life, fueling his imagination.

Charles Dickens began his writing career as a journalist. Sixteen of his major literary works were serialized, either weekly or monthly, beginning with Sketches by Boz (1836) and concluding with the unfinished manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). Today his novels are taught worldwide in schools and universities.

Dickens died of a stroke in 1870. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Dickens fans will want to attend two lectures at the Morgan: The first is a Gallery Talk by the exhibition's curator Declan Kiely, at 7 pm on Friday, October 21.

Next month, on Friday, November 18th at 6:30 pm, the acclaimed literary biographer Claire Tomalin will hold forth with Charles Dickens: A Life to coincide with the publication of her new biography. On the evening Ms. Tomalin speaks the exhibition will be open until 9 pm. Trust me, the publication of this new Dickens bio will be a major event.
Declan Kiely, Curator at the Morgan of Literary and Historical Manuscripts.

His favorite Dickens novels? Great Expectations followed by a close second, Our Mutual Friend.
Charles Dickens’s portable ink pot

This ink pot, engraved From / J. F. to C. D. / 1833, was, according to Georgina Hogarth, Dickens’s sister-in-law, “always used by him when traveling and in his last visit to America and at Gad’s Hill until the time of his death.” In the years that Dickens worked as a reporter for The Morning Chronicle, from 1834 to 1836, he traveled regularly. This portable ink pot allowed him to continue writing anywhere, sometimes filing reports under the most challenging circumstances. Dickens recalled that he took down Lord John Russell’s 1835 nomination speech “in the midst of a lively fight maintained by all the vagabonds in that division of the country, and under such a pelting rain, that I remember two good-natured colleagues . . . held a pocket handkerchief over my notebook.”
Charles Dickens’s brass seal with ivory base, 1837

Dickens met John Forster in December 1836. Their similar lower-middle-class backgrounds, love of the theater, and passionate commitment to the dignity of literature as a professional vocation quickly led to a close friendship and strong working relationship that endured throughout the entire course of Dickens’s literary career.

In 1837, as a token of their friendship, Forster gave him this brass seal, which Dickens used to stamp the wax affixed to envelopes containing his letters. The seal’s design represents the Dickens family crest—the figure of a couchant lion brandishing a Maltese cross. Dickens’s initials appear beneath the lion. Forster remained an extremely loyal, trusted friend and adviser in all aspects of Dickens’s career and was his first significant biographer as well as coexecutor of his will.
Alfred-Guillaume-Gabriel, Count D’Orsay (1801–1852)

In early December 1841, Dickens sat for a pencil and chalk portrait by his friend, the talented amateur artist Count D’Orsay, who told Dickens that “I have set my heart on giving the representation of the outside of a head, the inside of which, has furnished delight to countless thousands.”

This hand-tinted lithographic print of D’Orsay’s portrait, dated 16 December 1841, shows Dickens in profile at the age of twenty-nine, much as he would have appeared upon arrival in the United States the following month.
Detail from Alfred-Guillaume-Gabriel, Count D’Orsay (1801–1852)

The outline figure on the lower right is D’Orsay, described as London’s “dandy par excellence, the very Prince and Pope of tailors.”

Dickens first met the artist in 1840, at the salon of Lady Blessington, D’Orsay’s mother-in-law and, scandalously, his lover.
Alfred Bryan (1852–1899)
Caricature of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray (undated)
Charcoal and colored chalks, on blue paper

Dickens and Thackeray never allowed a cordial friendship to come between their lifelong professional rivalry. Thackeray, the slightly older novelist and artist, became acquainted with Dickens in 1836, when he applied unsuccessfully to illustrate The Pickwick Papers.

Bryan’s caricature indicates the novelists’ different social ranks and readerships: Thackeray, educated at private school and Cambridge University, wears a top hat, while Dickens wears a bowler, the hat commonly worn by working-class men in Victorian England. His hat is also suggestive of Dickens’s popularity with American readers—the bowler was the preferred hat in the American West, worn by railroad workers and cowboys.
John Bidwell, Curator of Printed Books and Bindings.

It's a tradition that the manuscript of A Christmas Carol is placed on exhibition at The Morgan annually during the Christmas season. But of course this year, it's on display as part of the Charles Dickens at 200 exhibit, which runs through February 12th.
A Christmas Carol in Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.
Autographed book signed, December 1843
Title page and first page of the manuscript: A Christmas Carol in Prose. Being a Ghost Story
of Christmas.

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan before 1900

Compelled by personal financial difficulties, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in only six weeks, during a period of intense creativity in fall 1843. The original manuscript of A Christmas Carol reveals Dickens’s method of composition, allowing us to see the author at work. The pace of writing and revision is urgent, rapid, and boldly confident. Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen and replaced with more active verbs—to achieve greater vividness or immediacy of effect—and fewer words for concision. This heavily revised sixty-six-page draft—the only manuscript of the story—was sent to the printer in order for the book to be published on 19 December, just in time for the Christmas market.
Clara Drummond is a curator at the Morgan. Ms. Drummond was featured on the front page of The New York Times "Museums" section on March 18, 2010 in a piece by Carol Vogel: "The New Guard Steps Up."

Ms. Drummond, 33, has multiple degrees, including a master's in library science and a Ph.D from Boston University's Editorial Institute, and has taught classes in scholarly subjects such as
letter writing.
Original playbill of the Theatre Royal, Adelphi, [London] for the week of 19 February 1844 . . . A Drama of Peculiar and Novel Construction . . . founded on and called A Christmas Carol: or, Past, Present & Future

Within weeks of the publication of A Christmas Carol, eight different stage adaptations were playing in London’s theaters. The only one approved by Dickens was Edward Stirling’s production. A respected actor and stage manager, Stirling was the most assiduous adapter of Dickens’s novels for the stage, having begun in 1838 with Nicholas Nickleby. Some adaptations took considerable liberties with Dickens’s plot and characters, but this original playbill indicates that Stirling’s adaptation was faithful to its original. Although Dickens rightly considered adaptations of his novels to be “piracies,” dramatizations of his work were central to the repertoire of popular theater in Britain during the 1830s and 1840s, and many poorer people, who either could not read or afford to buy books, knew Dickens’s work only from popular stage performances.
George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
Original watercolor drawing for Title page Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, [1866]

Emerson called Cruikshank’s illustrations for Dickens’s first book, Sketches by Boz (1836), “daguerres [daguerreotypes] of London forms and faces.” Although Cruikshank, an artist in the tradition of William Hogarth, provided the illustrations for only two of Dickens’s titles (Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist), they are among the most memorable and celebrated.

Cruikshank shared with Dickens an intense enthusiasm for the theater—he joined Dickens’s company of amateur actors in 1845—and this is reflected in much of his work. Judiciously selecting the optimal moment in the narrative for illustration, his acute sense of dramatic design enabled him to create highly energized and theatrical images. Cruikshank’s illustrations work harmoniously with Dickens’s text to enrich and extend the narrative and further enlist the reader’s sympathies.
Jeremiah Gurney and Son (1812–1895)
Albumen print on paper

Jeremiah Gurney, New York’s preeminent commercial photographer, was granted exclusive rights to photograph Dickens during his 1867–68 reading tour. Although this portrait is signed by Dickens and dated Wednesday Fifteenth April, 1868, he sat for Gurney on 9–10 December 1867.

This photograph portrays Dickens much as Mark Twain described him in his Alta California newspaper account of 5 February 1868, with “gray beard and moustache, bald head, and with side hair brushed fiercely and tempestuously forward.”

Twain, who attended Dickens’s New Year’s Eve reading at Steinway Hall, New York, commented that “his pictures are hardly handsome, and he, like everybody else, is less handsome than his pictures.”

Nevertheless, John Forster considered this an appropriate likeness to be used for the engraved frontispiece portrait of the third volume of The Life of Charles Dickens (1874).
George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
Fagin in the Condemned Cell
Original watercolor drawing for Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, [1866]

Fagin, one of Dickens’s most memorable grotesques, is named after Bob Fagin, the boy who befriended the twelve-year-old Dickens when he worked in Warren’s Blacking Factory.

Described in Oliver Twist as “a very shrivelled old Jew . . . villainous-looking and repulsive,” the characterization of Fagin has long attracted criticism for its anti-Semitism. Dickens is implicated in the conventional anti-Semitism prevalent in nineteenth-century Britain, and he consciously drew upon many Jewish stereotypes in Oliver Twist.

In editions published before 1867 Fagin is most often referred to simply as “the Jew,” but in response to Eliza Davis’s criticism that his portrait of Fagin “did a great wrong” to Jewish people, Dickens eliminated or altered most occurrences of “the Jew” to “Fagin” for the Charles Dickens Edition published that year.
George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
Oliver Asking for More
Original watercolor drawing for Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, [1866]
Mostly watercolor, over graphite, with pen and gray ink, on paper
9 x 6½ inches (229 x 165 mm)

Dickens conceived Oliver Twist as a social satire, a savage attack on the intentionally harsh Poor Law Act of 1834 that created a system of workhouses for the destitute and separated them from their children.
In the character of Oliver, Dickens created an allegorical representative of oppressed childhood. The episode depicted in this illustration, in which Oliver, “desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery,” approaches the master to utter the famous words, “Please, sir, I want some more,” is perhaps the best known in all of Dickens’s fiction. Cruikshank’s iconic, melodramatic illustration perfectly conveys Oliver’s timid supplication and the master’s surprise and outrage. Cruikshank augmented the force of Dickens’s narrative by adding the figure of the smallest boy tilting his head backward to finish every drop of gruel.
A wall of drawings, most of them by George Cruikshank.
Views of the gallery.
Our Mutual Friend. Autograph manuscript of installment number 16, book 4, chapters 1–4. Published on 31 July 1865.

On the afternoon of 9 June 1865, traveling by express train from Dover to London, Dickens was involved in a train accident at Staplehurst, Kent, in which ten people were killed and more than fifty seriously injured. The carriage in which Dickens was traveling with his mistress, Ellen Ternan, was derailed and suspended over the precipice of a collapsed bridge. Dickens described himself as “not touched, scarcely shaken” by the crash. He “got out with great caution,” assisted with the evacuation of other passengers, and “worked hard afterwards among the dead and dying.” Remembering that the manuscript of the next installment of Our Mutual Friend was in his luggage, he “clambered back into the carriage for it.” This is the manuscript that Dickens retrieved on that day.
John Watkins (1823–1874)
London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Photographic print of Charles Dickens, [1867]

From 1858 to 1860—the years of “cartomania”—photographs of Dickens became much more readily available than before. Carte de visite photographs, produced in huge quantities to satisfy the demands of the author’s adoring public, made him immediately and easily recognizable. He is considered to be the period’s “most photographically famous person outside the royal family” and “the first photographically mediated celebrity of modern times.”

Dickens generally disliked being photographed, perhaps because, as the biographer Peter Ackroyd observed, “in middle age Dickens looked much older than he really was, having been wearied by a life to which he had contributed the work and energy of ten men.” These carte de visite portraits, taken between 1860 and 1863 (the fourth portrait was printed in 1867 but the photograph was taken earlier) confirm this vividly.
Antoine François Jean Claudet (1797–1867)
Half-plate daguerreotype of Charles Dickens, London, ca. 1852

This dynamic daguerreotype portrait shows Dickens at the age of forty, at the height of his fame. In 1852 Dickens was at work on his ninth novel, Bleak House, and his tenth child was born.

This is one of the very few photographic portraits of the novelist taken before he grew the characteristic beard and mustache he favored in later life. Dickens was noted for his flamboyant and extravagant taste in clothes—he often wore scarlet waistcoats, green or blue jackets, and garishly checked trousers.

This nontinted plate, however, does not document the colors of his attire. The portrait is, nonetheless, unusually accurate in that it is oriented naturally rather than laterally reversed.
Detail: Nell Trent (“Little Nell,” the child heroine of The Old Curiosity Shop) with her weak and childish grandfather.
Above, left: Attributed to George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
Portrait of Charles Dickens Surrounded by Eight Characters from His Novels

The portrait at the center of this drawing is an adaptation of John and Charles Watkins’s 1863 photograph, the most widely reproduced portrait of Dickens. Surrounding Dickens are vignettes featuring characters from his novels, including Wilkins and Emma Micawber (from David Copperfield); Nell Trent (“Little Nell,” the child heroine of The Old Curiosity Shop) with her weak and childish grandfather; Fagin (Oliver Twist); Mr. Pickwick (The Pickwick Papers); and Amy Dorrit (Little Dorrit).

Dickens is estimated to have created 989 individually named characters in his fiction, many of which are among the most famous in literature and have become synonymous with archetypal human traits.
Hillary and Declan Kiely. Mrs. Kiely works for McKinsey and Company. Patrick Milliman is The Morgan's Press Officer.
Dickens enthusiast Charles Meyer and Declan Kiely. Mr. Meyer is the Deputy Editor and a film critic for the website Cinespect. Next summer, Mr. Meyer and his fiancée, Emory Zink, are planning to attend the Dickens camp at UC Santa Cruz, which Jill Lepore wrote about in the August 29, 2011 issue of The New Yorker. Her piece was called Dickens in Eden: Summer Vacation with "Great Expectations."
Robert Hindry Mason (fl. 1858–1872)
Albumen print on paper

In fall 1863 Mason visited Dickens at Gad’s Hill Place, Kent, to photograph the novelist at home, among family members, and to record some rooms of the house. Following Mason’s visit, Dickens told him on 14 September that “the photographs you have had the kindness to send me are extremely good” and assured him that he was “perfectly satisfied” with them.

This extremely rare portrait photograph of Dickens, seated in his study chair reading a book, has never been reproduced. Dickens was fifty-one years old at the time, but, pictured in repose, his heavily lidded eyes along with the deep wrinkles visible in his face, reveal a prematurely aged man.
Jeremiah Gurney and Son (1812–1895)
Albumen print on card

This portrait photograph of Dickens, grandly attired and standing at a Davenport desk with a book in his left hand, was taken at Gurney’s New York studio. Of the twelve poses that Gurney photographed, most of the portraits available to the public, eager to acquire an image of the great novelist as a memento of his extensive reading tour of the United States, were carte de visite prints, or this larger, more expensive “imperial” cabinet card print.

After his protracted session at Gurney’s studio in December 1867, Dickens—who disliked posing for photographers—vowed he would never again allow his photograph to be taken. No later photographs of the author are known to exist.
Irving Carabello, who works in The Morgan Library Gift Shop.
Postcards available in the Morgan Gift Shop. $1.25 each.

On the left is Jerimiah Gurney's 1867 photograph of Charles Dickens.

The image on the right has often been attributed to Herbert Watkins, but Declan Kiely believes it to be a photograph by John and Charles Watkins (1861).
Books on sale in The Morgan Library Gift Shop. A wonderful pop up book of A Christmas Carol.
Tiny Tim popping up to bless us all.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.