Tuesday, 7 February 2012

If you do one thing today: enjoy Dickens 200!

Choices abound: I'll be listening in to Michael Eaton’s radio dramas that recreate the life of Charles Dickens who was born on February 7, 1812. They started this week on BBC Radio 4 and if you missed the first play, ‘A-Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-of-Boy’,  which was broadcast yesterday, you can tune in here (the remaining programmes will be available as podcasts). Eaton’s five short biographical broadcasts, called Dickens in London, are collaborative productions with artist and film-maker Chris Newby and use a multimedia format including words, film and puppets.
If you are in Dublin and at a loose end over the next few evenings, you could enjoy an evening of time-travel and go back to August 1858, when Dickens visited the city to give public readings as part of a countrywide tour that also took in Belfast and Cork. Dickens in Dublin (on tonight at Rathmines Library with actor Laurence Foster) recreates the atmosphere of the Dublin readings to packed houses in the Rotundo’s Round Room - seen above (it is now the Ambassador Theatre) at the head of Sack-ville Street (now O’Connell Street). Prime seats cost five shillings for a numbered and reserved seat in the stalls — about €22 in today’s money (no mention of any booking charges in the Freeman’s Journal ad!) or a mere shilling for an unreserved seat at the back of the auditorium.
On his way from Morrison’s Hotel at the corner of Dawson and Nassau Street, where one Albert Nobbs subsequently worked, Dickens would have passed the photography studio of Simonton and Millard at 39 Lower Sack-ville Street  adjoining Jury’s Prince of Wales Hotel - pictured above. It was later known as the Metropole Hotel and a Penneys clothes store now stands on the site.  A notice in the Freeman’s Journal of August 28 proudly announced that the studio was displaying

‘Splendid Photographic Portraits of the eminent author, 
standing out in life-like reality, as he appears nightly at the Rotundo’. 

Especially useful for the many who had failed to get a ticket for the reading was the option of subscribing to a draw for a limited edition of these prints: a steal at just half the price of a ticket to the reading ....they could then perhaps read aloud from Dickens’ prolific output while in the presence, as it were, of the man himself. The Metropole was remodelled in two phases by Dublin architect, William Mansfield: once during 1891-93 and again from 1916-18 when it was rebuilt exactly as it was prior to its destruction during the Easter Rising. The cinema, which opened in 1922, and the ballroom, were great favourites with Dubliners down through the years. You can read about some of those memories in the Lifescapes:Mapping Dublin Lives project, an interactive, multimedia online digital resource from the Bridge-IT Project at Trinity College. But back to the nineteenth century.....

Jury’s Prince of Wales Hotel was later renamed the Imperial Hotel and it was owned by....yes - Mr. H. Jury! A successful businessman, he also owned the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green and two of the other hotels in which Dickens stayed while in Ireland: the Imperial Hotels in Belfast and Cork. Business boomed in the travel sector in nineteenth century Ireland and Jury continually upgraded his premises: in 1868 the Imperial in Belfast (below) was extended by two storeys containing 24 bedrooms at a cost of £2,000, equivalent to whopping €2.25m today.

Dickens was very pleased with the reception he received when visting Ireland. The Belfast Newsletter review of his appearance noted his remarks that ‘he had never the pleasure of addressing any audience  more competent to appreciate the points of his narrative’ in the texts he read there which included some of the ones he read in Dublin: Boots at the Hollytree Inn, Mrs Gamp and The Poor Traveller. The latter was published in Dickens’s weekly magazine Household Words on December 25, 1854. You can read this and lots of other wonderful tales and stories by Dickens and others such as Wilkie Collins, by browsing the Dickens Journals Online website. This digital humanities project used crowdsourcing to recruit volunteer online text editors to assiste the project team and kept us informed of their progress on Twitter and Facebook (see my previous post 'Please Sir, I want some more')

As of today the @Dickens_DJO team have reached their goal of creating a complete online edition of both Household Words and its successor All Year Round in time for today’s anniversary – well done to all!

© Caroline McGee, 7 February 2012

 Imperial Hotel, South Mall, Cork. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland, Lawrence Collection
Venue for Dickens's reading in Cork: The Athenaeum. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland Lawrence Collection

Morrison's Hotel, at the corner of Dawson and Nassau Streets, later became the offices of the North British Assurance Company, one of the many insurance companies that set up in Dublin during the nineteenth century. It is now a coffee shop.

Acknowledgements and further information:

The lead image in this post is a portrait of Charles Dickens painted in 1839 by Daniel Maclise. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw01842/Charles-Dickens?LinkID=mp01294&role=sit&rNo=1

The Lawrence Collection is available from the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive. Selected images of Cork may be viewed on http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/mapsimages/corkphotographs/lawrencecollection/

Information on the buildings mentioned in this post come from the Dictionary of Irish Architects at the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin. It is available on www.dia.ie

Read the Discovering Ireland post An Irish Christmas Carol: Dickens in Ireland on: http://blog.discoverireland.com/2011/12/charles-dickens-in-ireland/

More on Dicken's Cork visit is available here:

Google Doodle courtesy of Google.com
Charles Dickens 200th birthday Google Doodle for Feb 7, 2012

Charles Dickens at 200 

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