A bleak house we did not come upon, the woman whose beauty seduced my heart, and I, this Wednesday past. Nay, we bound up into it with a mighty fervor and a wondrous sense of joy to discover the facts, figures, and facets of a bygone era, and of a man immortalized in the book pages of literary masterpieces such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and Nicholas Nickleby.
I will leave the Dickens writing style to someone more qualified. I have no idea how authors of his time were able to craft such intriguing and timeless tales, especially without the assistance of Google or Thesaurus dot com. I am lost half the time trying to sift through my feeble Rolodex of vocabulary. Dickens and his lot, on the other hand, had quill and ink to work with – gasp, no computers or internet resource! Their range of imagination and wizardry with words is evident in the volumes of work they produced. I probably rely too much on letting machines provide words for me instead of thinking for myself. Hmmm, let me think a bit on a synonym for the word thesaurus.
Charles Dickens Museum
I waited over two and a half years to see the only surviving London house of one of my favorite authors. I visited London for the first time in April, 2012 and the museum was closed. I should have checked first to make sure it was not closed, and I recommend you do the same if you are planning a visit.
Waiting for a tour of the Charles Dickens Museum turned out to be a blessing in disguise because after a £3.1 million makeover the house looks immaculate. I have to say it lived up to my great expectations (that’s five Dickens book references so far in case you are counting).
Georgian Terraced House in Camden
For any Charles Dickens enthusiast, a pilgrimage to the Victorian era house at 48 Doughty Street is essential. He and his wife Catherine lived here with three of their children, and Dickens wrote the whole of Oliver Twist at the house. For more on Charles Dickens check out this excellent resource website.
It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to visit the 5 floors and get a real sense of how Dickens lived his life from the years March 1837 to December 1839. At one point I was alone in his study and I could almost see him sitting at his writing desk, eyes closed, intently and methodically plotting his next paragraph while at the same time holding the next 20 paragraphs in his mind. I thought to myself that this is the exact spot where he wrote, “Please sir, I want some more.”
Viewing anyone’s home feels awkward to me. I don’t think I would want hundreds of strangers traipsing around my house, peering into my intimate spaces and private life, and touching my stuff! I suppose that is the price of fame for an author like Dickens. Luckily, I am not a famous author, plus I got rid of all my stuff on Craigslist before we moved to London.
Floor-plan From Bottom to Top
- Basement – Kitchen, scullery, and wine cellar. The kitchen would have been unbearable for the servants that had to cook and clean in the basement of the house. With the back door open for ventilation, rats and other vermin were free to enter. The soot from coal would likely have filled the air and made everything black – a never ending job to clean. The wine cellar was particularly interesting for an oenophile such as myself. It seemed in good condition, rather large, and set outside under the back steps in a purpose build alcove away from sunlight. I thought I spotted an old bottle of vintage Chateau Margaux, and I tried to reach my hand through the iron gate. Alas, it was just out of my reach.
- Ground Floor – Dining room and meeting room. The dining room is pictured above with a portrait of Dickens on the wall and a full table setting. I like the added touch the museum added – a built in speaker system in the floor that played sounds to mimic life just outside the windows. At one point I thought a horse drawn carriage had arrived to whisk Meredith and I away to see the Queen for tea time.
- Floor 1 – Social center of the house with the great room and Dickens’ library/study. Unfortunately, my pictures did not turn out for these two rooms as the lighting was quite dim and you cannot use flash photography. A shame because I would have to say the library/study was my favorite room. It holds some of the original books that Dickens wrote along with other priceless artifacts from his life. In addition, the desk he used to write three of his major works resides in the study. I was tempted to sit down in his chair just for a second in order to see if it is more comfortable than my own.
- Floor 2 – Charles and Catherine’s bedroom and Mary’s bedroom. Pictured above is Charles and Catherine’s bedroom with the maroon covered bed spread.
- Top Floor – Nursery and servants’ quarters. The children were housed upstairs along with the servants. An original iron bar and wood framed window is front and center in the nursery to remind museum guests of the hard times in London during that era. Dickens himself was not immune to struggle – he was forced to leave school to work in a factory at a young age when his father went to debtor’s prison.
Charles Dickens daily life at 48 Doughty Street was not complicated. He would rise in the morning, break fast, and then write until lunch time. Nothing would distract him or take him a way from his writing path, and most knew not to try. After lunch, he usually took a long walk to explore the vast city of London that he loved so much. He was always on the lookout for new characters for his novels, new sights and sounds that he could weave into his stories, and of course to document what he believed to be the social injustices of his time. More often than not, supper usually mean time to spend with invited guests to the house. Dickens loved to host parties and looked for any excuse to have friends over. Apart from the tragic death of his sister-in-law Mary, Dickens and his wife had a comfortable three years at the house.
I think there are valuable insights and lessons to be learned from great individuals such as Dickens. His single minded focus, determination, and persistence to his chosen craft allowed him to become a great writer. Perhaps natural ability and talent were present, but more than that he worked hard and often. I have seen it too in many professions/crafts. Success comes to those who focus on one thing and stick with it.
I good friend, whose wisdom I take to heart, offered me similar advice on two distinct occasions. Once he said something to the effect, “Andrew, you are a young man in your early 30’s. Now is the time for you to take charge and do something with your life. If not, life will pass you by and you may regret not taking that chance.” In a more recent conversation he explained, “Always try to focus on one thing and do it well.”
Perhaps we only need turn to Dickens and his novel Dombey and Son where he describes the habits of Mr. Carker:
“Among sundry minor alterations in Mr Carker’s life and habits that began to take place at this time, none was more remarkable than the extraordinary diligence with which he applied himself… He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”
What do you think? Do you feel like you are pulled in many different directions and therefore you don’t accomplish what you set out to do?
I know when I try and take on too much I end up with mediocre results. I think that is part of the journey towards learning to work with true purpose, passion, and mindfulness everyday.
“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”
– Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Charles Dickens has been one of my favorite authors since I was a young boy. I remember I watched A Christmas Carol on TV for the first time and I immediately loved the characters – grumpy old Scrooge and poor Bob Cratchit. Later I was able to appreciate the witty dialogue and the way Dickens captures the spirit and meaning of Christmas.
One of the most prolific and genius novelists of the Victorian era (any time period for that matter), I have read many of Dickens’ novels and will continue to read his work until I have finished every last word he wrote.
Where to Stay in London
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