The Charles Dickens Museum presents a new exhibition entitled Charles Dickens: Man of Science that challenges the long held belief that Dickens had little interest in science.
The misconception about Dickens and science can be traced back to writer George Henry Lewes who when he saw Dickens’s library at Doughty Street in 1839, he declared him ‘completely outside philosophy, science, and the higher literature’.
However by drawing on his novels, journalism, letters and exchanges with friends, the exhibition illustrates that Dickens saw science as a potential force for good especially regarding curing disease and creating a cleaner and more healthy environment.
The exhibition reveals Dickens links to some of the greatest scientists and reformers of the day including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace, Mary Anning, Florence Nightingale and many more.
A little known aspect of Dickens is that his acute observations were sometimes used by the medical profession to aid diagnosis. A small wax figure of the ‘fat boy’ in Pickwick Papers is a reminder that his work was used by doctors in the 1950s when they were looking at why obese people sleep more than normal.
Dickens was fascinated by optical technologies and the exhibition features his telescope and a magic lantern.
Although Dickens was believer in mesmerism or animal magnetism, he did not believe in Spiritualism and would often join with others to expose tricks used by those who wished to exploit the ‘vulnerable’. The exhibition includes a version of Pepper’s ghost which uses glass to create the illusion of a ghost. John Henry Pepper was a professor at The Royal Polytechnic Institute where he saw in 1862, inventor Henry Dircks Phantasmagoria which was an optical illusion to make a ghost appear on-stage. Pepper realized that the method could be used to incorporate into existing theatres. Pepper first showed the effect during a scene of Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man, to great success.
This fascinating small exhibition illustrates that far from having no interest in science, Dickens used many of the latest scientific developments in his writing. Dickens had an extraordinary ability to observe some of smallest details of everyday life, but also saw the bigger picture. Whilst pointing out some of the human cost of the rapid industrialisation of the 19th century, Dickens had some faith that medical advances and scientific knowledge could have some beneficial benefits if practical uses could be found.
The Charles Dickens: Man of Science exhibition runs from 24 May – 11 November 2018 at the Charles Dickens Museum and is included in the admission ticket to the museum.
Visitors to the exhibition can also explore the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, the London Townhouse into which Charles Dickens moved with his family in 1837. The Charles Dickens Museum holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dickens-related material, including the desk at which he wrote Great Expectations.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Charles Dickens Museum website here
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