Kathryn Hughes, ‘Dickens World and Dickens’s World’

Dickens World LogoDickens World opened at Chatham Maritime Docks in May 2007 and it almost immediately met with widespread criticism. Dickens World, emphasize its owners, is an ‘attraction’ and not a theme park. Given that once-aloof museums are increasingly employing the interactive strategies of the theme park, it seems entirely reasonable that a commercial ‘attraction’ such as Dickens World might in turn wish to annex some of the curatorial rigour of the museum. For what strikes you as you walk through Dickens World is the obviously detailed knowledge of the author’s life and works which inform the enterprise.

There is, then, a sense in which Dickens World functions as a dramatization (not a recreation) of the mid nineteenth-century urban working-class experience that lies in the recently recovered family pasts of so many of its visitors. The characters and the narratives on which this ‘attraction’ chooses to focus are those that, at a stretch, can be shown to tell communal rather than private stories. All of those lawyers and medical men holed up in their chambers and consulting rooms in Dickens’s original writings are startlingly absent from Dickens World, as are the respectable bourgeoisie and even those who are trying to penetrate it such as the Veneerings or Mr Turveydrop. Instead, it is Boffin and his dust mounds and Fagin and his handkerchiefs – scavengers in early capitalism whose business is done on the streets – who are the central players here.

The full text of this article from JVC 15.3 is available here

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