Charles Dickens' London
In 2012 London celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens. We investigate Dickens' iconic portrayal of London through exploring some of the creative projects put on and highlight the disparities and similarities between the city's past and present.
It is hard to think of a writer as synonymous with London as the inimitable Charles Dickens. His 200th birthday anniversary in 2012 was be celebrated globally in places as far reaching as the United States and New Zealand; however Dickens surely has a special resonance for Londoners, whose city’s streets are evoked with vivid accuracy in all of his novels. In honour of the author, The Museum of London hosted an eclectic range of exhibitions, tours, talks and workshops to commemorate the author.
Amongst the most unique of these exhibits was a film by William Raban, one of Britain’s leading documentary-makers, whose 19-minute film The Houseless Shadow played at The Museum of London. Raban’s short film took as inspiration Dickens’ Night Walks, a record of the observations Dickens made whilst wandering London’s streets in the early morning hours as a cure for his dogged insomnia. On these solitary nocturnal roamings, he bore witness to the degrading power of drunkenness, prostitution, poverty and homelessness over individuals. These experiences fuelled the desire for social change so evident in his writing.
Retracing Dicken’s nocturnal strolls through contemporary scenes, Raban aimed to make himself invisible, and thus on par with the homeless people and other nighttime wanderers he was recording. To become invisible, he dressed unassumingly and carried his equipment in a supermarket bag. Reviewing the exhibition, John Bowen commented that ‘Raban’s camera... matches the solicitude of Dicken’s text, where sympathy is pushed to the point of identification with London’s poor and homeless’. Extracts from Night Walks accompanied the HD footage, resulting in a juxtaposition of the Victorian past and present that confronted the viewer with the realisation that many of the problems Dicken’s wished to eliminate through his writing remain prevalent in contemporary London.
The Museum of London took the theme further by melding the past and present London through the ‘Dark London’ iPhone app. This interactive graphic novel superimposes a Victorian map by illustrator David Foldvari over its contemporary counterpart so that users can retrace Dickens’ Night Walks and see London in a new light.
Watch a clip from The Houseless Shadow:
By Kate Kelsall
Image courtesy: 1: WikiCommons