Charles Dickens: The Key to Character (at NYPL)



There is a charming (and free!) little exhibition on Charles Dickens now up at the main branch of the New York Public Library, that’s well worth a pop in off the street to go see. The official description:

“The exhibition features artworks by nearly thirty illustrators—including unpublished watercolors by the well-known Phiz—along with rare translations, original sheet music, and the memoranda book the author used to jot down possible names for characters. Also on display are the 1867 pocket diary containing the code with which Dickens communicated with his mistress Ellen Ternan, a dress by Prabal Gurung, a contemporary fashion designer inspired by the decayed elegance of Miss Havisham, and audio-visual stations featuring unusual recordings from the special collections of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.”

But there’s way more than that (I stopped in for a look last evening). In a warm little nook off the main hall, they’ve dressed the little exhibition space to look like a Victorian parlor, complete with a (mock) glowing fireplace. Some of the cool things I saw on view:

* a publicity still of W.C. Fields as Micawber, with Freddy Bartholomew in David Copperfield

* a Yiddish edition of Oliver Twist

* a working zoetrope, animating an image of Dickens dressed as a sorcerer

* a photo of the cast of Wilkie Collins’s The Frozen Deep (the most famous amateur theatrical in which Dickens acted)

* a letter opener made from the paw of Dickens’ dead cat. Sorry, but that’s what they had.

* BEST OBJECT: Dickens’ personal prompt copy of “Sykes and Nancy” from his famous lectures

* a video of Patrick Stewart performing A Christmas Carol

* and just countless engravings, illustrations, first editions of books etc etc etc

The exhibition is up through January 27. I highly recommend it! More information at:


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