(First, I’d like to apologize for that painfully cheesy title. But I needed something that would adequately express my excitement because today was Dickens day!!!)
Part I: A Dickensian Path
There is a lot to be said about our walking tour. First, our tour guide was excellent. Ulla was incredibly knowledgeable and energetic. Sometimes, she did get a little carried away on small tangents, but she seemed to be very excited when she did so, so I enjoyed her genuine enthusiasm. Second, the tour was much longer than I had anticipated. I’m almost certain we were walking for a grand total of about three and a half hours. My body is aching, especially from the stairs I climbed yesterday at St. Paul’s Cathedral. At nearly every stopping point we took, we could see St. Paul’s Cathedral, showing just how central to Christianity it is in the city of London.
For me, one of the most resonant parts of our walking tour was walking down by the Old Curiosity Shop, Gray’s Inn, and Smithfield Market. These three locations had the greatest impact on me because each had a certain level of grittiness to them which created the visual of how grueling the lifestyle was for anyone who was not of particular nobility, but also what influenced Dickens in his upbringing and shaped him into the writer so many people now know him as. I also felt a significant impact from Lincoln Inn, especially in the chapel. The chapel undercroft was interesting because despite the rain, it was still relatively light out while we visited, and the masonry was absolutely beautiful. In fact, the undercroft was so beautiful that visualizing the pain of mothers who had abandoned their children in such a fashion made me uncomfortable that I could enjoy a place with such a dark history.
In the chapel itself, I was emotionally mixed as well because as a former chorus girl, I have spent my fair share of time singing in chapels, but none of them had the wealth of history which Lincoln Inn Chapel did. Aside from the time when the choir was singing, I was incredibly uncomfortable. Granted, I have my personal afflictions when it comes to organized religion, much like Dickens’s, but I still felt incredibly disconnected from what was happening. I felt like such an outsider, wearing casual street clothes and sneaking out after a few moments, while others were dressed in their Sunday Best and presumably stayed for the duration of the service. I’ll never forget the face of the greeter/usher who’d handed us our prayer books and hymnals upon entering the chapel, when we left the chapel. It was a combination of disappointment, disapproval, and betrayal, and it riddled me with guilt.
Part II: House of Dickens
Being the Dickens fangirl I am, I was incredibly excited to visit the Dickens Museum. Honestly, I was mostly indifferent to the non-literary artifacts. I wasn’t enthralled by the place settings at the dining room table, nor was I taken aback by the wine cellar. Some items were of more interest to me, such as the portion of the prison gate on display in the nursery and some of his personal belongings that allow us as museum spectators to get a further glimpse into Dickens’s life and character. Mostly, I mean his grooming tools which were displayed in his bedroom. The placard beside it explained that Dickens was a man who prided himself on his appearance, so he kept several grooming tools in his possession.
What really struck me was his study. In Dickens’s study, there are several of his personal books as well as preserved copies of his various publications. His study also houses his desk and chair where he was often depicted (in drawings which are also on display here) writing. I had a slight internal freak-out. I was completely awestricken by what the room had to offer. Although A Tale of Two Cities (which is my favorite Dickens work that I’ve read and one of my all-time favorite novels) was not written here, it was still breathtaking to think that someone created masterful writing in that very space. I had similar feelings when I lifted the little flaps, which kept the sunlight off of the sensitive manuscripts beneath the glass, to see the Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby manuscripts. In that same portion of the bookcase, there were also some of Dickens’s personal books, the most dazzling being his copy of a Shakespeare anthology. I was completely enamored by this room, as much as a person could reasonably be. It was like I was starstruck, except rather than encounter a person, I had encountered significant artifacts from their life, and somehow, that was enough for me.