The Charles Dickens Museum tells the story of one of England’s most important writers. The author moved to the house in 1837, while still basking in the success of Sketches from Boz and the Pickwick Papers.This was an incredibly productive phase in Dickens’s life. Reluctant to turn down work and keen to capitalise on his new-found success, Dickens accepted almost every commission he was offered in the late 1830s.
During the two years that Dickens lived at 48 Doughty Street, he completed the Pickwick Papers, wrote both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and set to work on Barnaby Rudge. All while editing the English literary magazine Bentley’s Miscellany.
The move to Bloomsbury was prompted by the arrival of Dickens’s first child, Charles Dickens Junior. Young Charley, as his proud parents called him, arrived into the world on the 6th of January 1837, and from that moment on Furnival’s Inn, which had served Dickens so well up to then, seemed far too small.
The new property was a considerable step up for the young author. In contrast to the rather humble lodgings he had grown accustomed to, 48 Doughty Street was a proper grown up home. The house was set over three floors, with 12 good rooms and a respectable garden. To top it all, Doughty Street had gates at either end: a common feature of the time in middle class residential streets.
Within weeks of arriving at the new property, his wife Catherine’s seventeen-year-old sister Mary had joined the family to provide support for her older sister. Dickens struck up an immediate bond with the young girl – so much so that he would later base one of his most memorable characters, Little Nell, on her.
Tragedy was to strike, however. Within months of moving to the house, Mary would tragically pass away, breathing her last breath in her step brother’s arms. Dickens was inconsolable. He cancelled all of his engagements and stopped writing immediately. He adopted a uniform of black and entered into an extended period of mourning. When he spoke of the deceased girl it was in hushed, reverential tones. He even confided in one friend that he intended to be buried alongside her.
One of the highlights of a visit to 48 Doughty Street is the opportunity to visit tragic Mary’s room. Even now there is something very sad and mournful about the place, as if it still holds the spirit of the young woman who inspired a literary great.
The house on Doughty Street is Dickens’s sole surviving house in London.
You can read more about Dickens’ life in London here: Charles Dickens – A London Life
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