Saturday 28 April 2012 dawned grey, wet and cold, but for visitors to the Westminster City Archives ‘Dickensfest’ event, held in the welcoming environment of the Great Hall at King’s College London, the day could not have been more illuminating.
Hosted in conjunction with King’s College London’s Centre for Lifewriting Research, Dickensfest brought together speakers from across the arts and academic sectors for a joyous celebration of Charles Dickens and Victorian London. It was a fantastic opportunity to discover the treasures that leading Dickensian scholars have been unearthing in the nation’s archives, and how these records shed new light on the life and works of the great author.
As Chair, Griff Rhys Jones shared his musings on both Dickens and the Victorian city, and insights into his own work relating to Dickens. He entertained the audience with memories of performances in Oliver! and skilfully introduced our Dickensfest speakers.
In total, 16 speakers took the podium, each sharing their unique perspective on the great author. The subjects of the talks were wide-ranging: Dickens and the theatre, the ‘gruelling’ workhouse diet, Georgian and Victorian transport, child mortality and the Poor Law… the list goes on. As one visitor commented:
“It was more than a feast – it was a banquet with so many courses that we were thoroughly spoilt!!”
Between these talks, actor Gordon Milne captivated the audience with extracts from Dickens’s novels. Within these readings, he slipped into the characters of Mr Micawber, Poor Joe of Bleak House, and even Betty Higden from Our Mutual Friend. Dickens was acutely aware of the dramatic nature of his novels, engaging on extensive reading tours during his lifetime. One can only feel that he would have been very pleased to see his works so skillfully brought to life by Gordon at Dickensfest!
By the close of the event, over 300 people had visited Dickensfest. Its popularity is testimony to the lasting power of Dickens’s works, 200 years after the author’s birth. The event not only presented new research findings into Dickens’s life and works, but also reminded us of his immense talent for story-telling, the deeply political nature of his novels, and the way that he, as a writer, was both a product and a huge influence over the city he lived in.
Dickensfest was part of the Westminster Libraries and Archives contribution to Cityread London, a London-wide campaign to get people into libraries and to discover Dickens. Coming right at the end of a month of Dickens events in across London’s library services, it was a pleasure to witness how insatiable Londoners’ appetite for Victoriana and Charles Dickens’s works really is.
Our favourite feedback from the event?
“Can we have some more… please?”