Although 2012 marks what would have been his 200th birthday, Charles Dickens is far from passé. His novels, with their inimitable energy and their comic, tragic and grotesque characters, are still some of the most widely read around the world, often reworked for film and television (The Muppet Christmas Carol, anyone?), and even chosen by Oprah as the last selections of her legendary book club.
Dickens had the original manuscripts of his works bound and presented them to his friends: Great Expectations was given to Chauncy Hare Townshend, a fellow writer who also shared an interest in mesmerism. The pages of the manuscript offer a unique opportunity to look inside Dickens' creative process and get a glimpse into his mind.
Unlike for some of his other novels, Dickens didn't use planning notes for Great Expectations. The pages of the manuscript are dense with corrections, ink splotches suggest where he was might have been distracted, and many revisions (including a reworking of the famous first line of the story) can also be seen. Famously, the ending of Great Expectations also went through several revisions - and the manuscript also validates the original conclusion, where the protagonist Pip isn't rewarded with the traditional happy ending.
Upon his death, Townshend bequeathed his library to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England. In the nearly 150 years since, the manuscript has only left the museum once, for an exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In December 2011, it traveled for the second time, to a showcase at the Museum of London. But readers all over the world now have the opportunity to study it up close, as Cambridge University Press published a same-size color reproduction of the manuscript in December.
"Readers can imagine themselves accompanying Dickens on his creative journey following the narrative as it develops--corrections and all--and the novel becomes real," said David Wright, Curator of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum." These pages reveal some of the highlights along that journey to create one of the classics of English literature.
All images courtesy of Cambridge University Press.