Arts, Culture & Media

London's Dickens Museum Closed During Bicentennial

This year fans of Charles Dickens are celebrating the bicentenary of his birth.

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Many Dickens lovers will be traveling to the UK to celebrate. Some may have been planning to visit the Charles Dickens Museum, housed in one of his London homes.

It contains thousands of manuscripts and personal items owned by the author—and it's where he wrote novels including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

But, from April to December, the museum will be closed for renovations. And that's causing a stir.

Then again, right now in Britain, it's Dickens, Dickens, Dickens. There are exhibitions, festivals, film seasons, you name it.

And so Florian Schweizer, the director of the Charles Dickens Museum, says maybe it's not such a bad moment to do the renovations.

"While in any other year our closure might have been a problem we feel quite confidently that we've created such a strong program of events in and around London and around the country that for that short period the public probably won't miss us too much."

That's utter nonsense, according to Lucinda Hawksley. She's Dickens' great-great-great-granddaughter and a patron of the Museum.

Hawksley wants the refurbishment plan to be postponed until 2013, leaving the building open this year.

In particular she's thinking of Dickens pilgrims from overseas who are planning trips to the UK. Many of them are members of an association called the Dickens Fellowship.

"A lot of people have been saving for four or five years to come here in the bicentenary year," she says.

The museum will be open for Dickens' birthday on February 7th, continues Hawksley.

"But what they've neatly not mentioned is that in August of this year the International Dickens Fellowship Conference is being held in the UK. It's being held in Portsmouth and people were planning on coming to London to visit museum. And the museum is the international headquarters of the Dickens Fellowship. People are so upset," Hawksley says.

Rose Roberts will be going to London. She's president of the Dickens Fellowship of New York, a group of 40 people who meet at a local Barnes and Noble to talk about everything Dickens.

Roberts has been president for the past 35 years.

By day she's a full-time travel agent, but it's the works of the great writer Charles Dickens that she loves the most.

"He's not a great writer, he's a fantastic writer," she counters.

"There's no one like him. People compare him to Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote a few plays. Big deal."

If you're thinking that Rose Roberts is a little bit like one of those larger-than-life Dickensian characters, well, she wouldn't entirely disagree.

"I'm considered feisty, I'm 4'10'', I weigh 100 pounds, so I'm quite petite. But I have a joie de vivre, you know a zest for living. And I know looking at me you might not think it, but I'm over 90."

Rose Roberts reached that milestone last October. Recently she got the email from the Dickens Museum announcing the planned closure.

"I think it's bad timing, a bad decision."

As for the works of Dickens, Rose Roberts says she loves A Tale of Two Cities, and its famous opening.

"The best of times, the worst of times. That's our logo on the heading of our calendar: the best of times with the Dickens Fellowship of New York," Roberts says.

And she admires the way he shone a light on the mistreatment of women and children in his time.

But there's one thing she doesn't like about Charles Dickens.

"The way he left his wife after having 10 children, because she let herself go, she shouldn't have had that many," she says. "He had nothing to do with it?"

Not the kind of behavior that gets you into heaven, she thinks. Unless you're Charles Dickens.

"Because of his writings there's no choice, he has to go up there," she says. "When I go up and I see him, I'm going to talk to him."

And you can be sure Rose Roberts will be giving the Dickens Museum a piece of her mind when she visits London later in the year.

"When I was there five years ago I said this could be really stepped up quite a bit," she says. "It did look dowdy, it wasn't comfortable—seating arrangements and so on—so they had all these years to do it. Why now?

The Dickens Museum will likely be fielding that question until its planned re-opening just in time for Christmas.