Although he was a successful writer already, it was the publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1836 that was to transform Charles Dickens into the publishing legend that we know today, and there’s an exhibition about that first novel at his eponymous museum.
The novel wasn’t published as a novel, but was serialised over 20 months, as was often the case at the time, and it was the serialisation that made the novel such a success, with people having to wait for a month to get the next section of the story.
The novel, officially The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, but better known as The Pickwick Papers tells the exploits of an inept sporting club. Dickens was commissioned to write the text to go alongside amusing drawings by illustrator Robert Seymour, and such was Dickens’s skill that today most people remember his words, not the drawings he was writing for.
What was somewhat unexpected is how the serialisation spurred other people to set up their own Pickwick Clubs, with the earliest known being set up by a group of friends in Whitehall, who met in a local pub and kept records of their meetings and debates. The Minute Book, as their records were known, has now gone on display as part of the Charles Dickens Museum’s exhibition about the Pickwick Papers.
Many of the clubs lived up to the eccentricities of their fictional inspiration with curious by-laws and traditions. In 1979, Cedric Dickens, the great-grandson of Charles founded his own Dickens Pickwick Club, with a dedicated club tie everyone has to wear, while the much older Pickwick Bicycle Club have their own club hat to wear. The annual toast to the “immortal memory of Charles Dickens” is a popular tradition in many of the clubs.
What the exhibition shows off is partially about what Dickens wrote, but very much more the fascinating way that his fans reacted with their own clubs. An early precursor of the modern-day cosplay fandom.
In addition to the main exhibition, dotted around the house are a number of other objects all related to the Pickwick Papers. If you wander around, you might be very surprised to learn that Robert William Buss, the artist responsible for one of the most famous images of Charles Dickens, was originally commissioned to illustrate the Pickwick Papers, but was rejected in favour of Robert Seymour
The exhibition, Picturing Pickwick: The Art of The Pickwick Papers is at the Charles Dickens Museum until 11th September.
Adult: £12.50 | Concessions: £10.50 | Child 6-16 years: £7.50 | Children under 6 years: Free
You are recomended to book tickets in advance from here.