The Other Dickens: Discovering Catherine Dickens
This exhibition aims to debunk a series of myths surrounding the life of Catherine Dickens.
Guest curated by Professor Lillian Nayder and based on her 2011 biography of Catherine, the exhibition will showcase a combination of rarely-seen exhibits, including many personal items and letters, to present an accurate picture of a woman who met Charles Dickens in her teens and whose own character and achievements remain in his shadow.
Working its way through Catherine and Charles’s home, the exhibition will explore Catherine’s childhood in Scotland, her relationship with her sisters, the role she played in Charles’s success, her place in London’s literary scene, and her musical and needlework skills. It will reflect on her experience of motherhood, as well as the effect of the loss of three of her children.
With the support of a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England, we have commissioned sound artist Felicity Ford to make Hearing Catherine, a collection of six new works which will bring Catherine’s voice back to Doughty Street. Introduced throughout the exhibition, a subtle combination of spoken word, music and field recordings will use Catherine’s own words to give her a presence and build something of the atmosphere that she would have known in the family home.
“When Charles and Catherine separated, he characterised her as an unnatural mother who shirked her maternal duties. But his claims are readily disproven by Catherine’s behaviour, by the evident affection between her and her children and by Dickens’s own statements to the contrary about his wife. Indeed, during most of their years together, parenthood strengthened their mutual attachment. When Dickens was away, Catherine wrote to him about the children and he answered in kind soon after their third child was born: ‘Their dear little voices...have sounds for you and me that we shall never forget.’“
Guest curator, Lillian Nayder, Professor of English at Bates College, Maine, USA