Dickens and the Experience of Immersion

As indicated in my post’s title, I think an excellent way to place today in a category would have to be: a day of “immersion.” While I typically feel connected to the place and time in each of Charles Dickens’ novels, the walking tour demonstrated this feeling much better than sitting in my armchair at home does. (The only thing that would have perhaps made this walking tour better is doing it again, but while listening to audiobooks of Oliver TwistGreat ExpectationsBleak House….)

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To use a quote from the lovely Harper Lee: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” While these words come from a place of sympathy and compassion, I feel they can easily be applied to today’s walking tour. As we walked around and pointed out places Dickens and his parents went, lived, were inspired by… one can’t help but feel their shadows around them. I got a similar feeling in the Dickens Museum.

Before I talk about that, though, I have to talk about the elephant in the room: when we sat down at the chapel for service at Lincoln’s Inn. I’ve read many of my classmates’ experiences here on their blog posts, and I have to say I did not have a similar feeling. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all – I thought it was wonderful and actually wish we had stayed a bit longer. I’m not a religious person by any means, but I think going to these ceremonies can be incredibly informative and exhilarating. Sure, we got a lot of looks from nearly everyone that showed up (I locked eyes with one of the choir members and she gave me the most confused look), but in the end, that doesn’t matter. I wish I had kept the booklet that was given to us, because in the beginning is a Preacher’s Note that gives a warm feeling of acceptance and even directly welcomes people who do not believe in God or believe in different religions. The Preacher, like I and many others, believe that there’s something to learn in all religions, not just your own. I think especially for those of us that love Victorian literature and poetry, understanding the Church of England and religion at the time is vital, so being part of even a small bit of a service was an experience I’m sure I’ll remember for a while and maybe even bring up in a book of my own. Then again, maybe I didn’t feel uncomfortable because it was nowhere near the level of embarrassment that I experienced with my husband when we accidentally walked into a baby’s baptism in Rome. (That was awkward.)

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Right, the theme of immersion: the Dickens Museum. I’ve wanted to go to this museum for a couple of years now and am so glad I finally got the opportunity, and even got a couple of souvenirs to take home. I’m always interested in how the people in charge of these museums present the house – this museum gave me a very similar feeling to Shakespeare’s childhood home exhibit in Stratford-Upon-Avon: small and short, but so very powerful, like you can feel Dickens in the room. I always get this feeling when I look at beds and writing/working desks, like I can feel them there, writing, or in Dickens’ case, acting out his characters as he writes.

 

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My favorite room, though I did love everything, is a tie between the upstairs room with all of the quotes (including one from my favorite Dickens novel, Hard Times) and the Timeline/Copyright room. This room reminded me that by 23 he was already published – a reminder that I am currently that age and nowhere near published. This sobering and astonishing fact really puts you squarely in the mindset of Dickens – so young, with so much experience already, that he can write these incredible novels and dive into these characters so well…. it’s easy to see why he’s so revered today.

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