An exhibition that’s the first to explore one of the great literary friendships between Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, has opened at the museum dedicated to the author of A Christmas Carol.

The two beardy men, the slightly older Charles and the decade younger Wilkie, were co-writers, editors who became linked by family, but above all, they were the best of friends who partied, entertained and toured the world together.

The exhibition, held in the Charles Dickens museum, where the Dickens family lived for a couple of years in the late 1830s, is a mix of letters, drawings and even early photos of the two men and the links between them.

At the time of their first meeting, in March 1851, Dickens had already found international fame, while Collins was early in his career, but they came together as fellow actors, performing in a mutual friend’s play.

The two men collaborated on several plays. Something worth looking at carefully is the adverts for the plays that have been printed on silk — these are the VIP invites for special guests—the Victorian version of today’s embossed cards, but undeniably much nicer.

The title of a painting of two children titled Wilkie and Charles may cause a bit of confusion as the two men first met well into adulthood — it turns out that Wilkie had a brother also called Charles, and it’s the two brothers, not some peculiar attempt to paint the two adults as childhood friends.

As the two men travelled a lot together, one of Charles Dicken’s travelling cases is here, and the description says that the outside of the lid has Dicken’s name on it — which you can see if you get down onto the floor and peer up at the bottom of the open lid.

You’re guaranteed puzzled looks from visitors if you do that, and when you tell people what you just got on the floor to see, they will all do the same.

The rest of the exhibition is a mix of the letters between the men, fortunately with descriptions for the many of us who struggle to read their handwriting, and many of the bill posters promoting their collaboration. Theatre fans will be particularly interested in Dicken’s notes about theatre rules, introducing principles that are now commonplace, such as the green room and waiting in the wings to go on stage.

The exhibition does presume you know who Wilkie Collins is, and why he’s significant, so a bit more about that would have been helpful to put the friendship into context, but that’s a common issue with most museums dedicated to a single person, in this case Charles Dickens.

The exhibition, Mutual Friends: The Adventures of Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins is at the Charles Dickens Museum until 25th February 2024.

  • Adult: £12.50
  • Concessions (Students, 60+ and Disabled Visitors): £10.50
  • Child 6-16 years: £7.50
  • Children under 6 years: Free

Tickets can be bought in advance from here, or on the day. Note the museum gets very busy around Christmas.


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