Dickens in Lowell

Dickens Story Ideas


Charles Dickens not only wrote great stories, he is, himself, a great story—a man whose life and works continue to speak directly and vividly to our own times. Consider the possibilities:

Dickens’s Relevance
To a remarkable extent, Dickens’s stories are our stories, his themes ripped from our headlines. What would Dickens say about the Occupy movement? About the stalemate in Congress? About children living in poverty?

Check out our Dickens Quotations for relevant passages on:
  • income inequality
  • political upheaval
  • governmental bureaucracy
  • class differences and social mobility 
  • religious hypocrisy
Our experts can discuss his works in greater detail, and describe their parallels with contemporary issues.


Dickens and Massachusetts
Massachusetts plays a small but significant part in the Dickens story. He visited the state twice, first as a rising literary star in 1842, when his tour of North America began in Boston and Lowell; and then again in 1867–68, when he returned to America to give a series of wildly popular public readings.

Our major exhibition, Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation, tells the story of this mutual love affair:
  • the rapturous reception Dickens received during his 1842 visit
  • Dickens’s visits to universities, hospitals, orphanages—and, on a memorable February day, the model textile mills that had recently opened in Lowell
  • the lasting friendships Dickens made with Boston writers and academics
  • why Dickens later wrote that “Boston is what I would have the whole United States be”
We can help you retrace the story of Dickens’s visits to Massachusetts, providing you with firsthand accounts and images from our exhibition.


Dickens, the First International Celebrity
Did you know that Dickens was greeted like a rock star when he arrived in Boston in 1842?

As Dickens wrote to a friend, “How can I give you the faintest notion of my reception here; of the crowds that pour in and out the whole day; of the people that line the streets when I go out; of the cheering when I went to the theatre; of the copies of verses, letters of congratulation, welcomes of all kinds, balls, dinners, assemblies without end?”

Although he would eventually tire of the relentless attention, Dickens returned to England convinced of the enormity of his celebrity and of his responsibility to use that fame for good ends.

Our experts can offer a window on Dickens’s fame and its impact on his later novels.


Dickens, the Influence Lives On
Dickens’s influence on other writers has been considerable, and continues to this day. Find out why writers as various as Dostoevsky and Kafka, John Irving and Jonathan Lethem draw inspiration from his work.

We can provide you with quotations from well-known authors describing their favorite Dickens novels and characters.


Dickens, Steampunk Muse?
As a young man, Dickens was a famously flashy dresser—in 1842, one Massachusetts observer described him as a “genteel rowdy.”

Together with Lowell’s Revolving Museum, we’ll celebrate that inimitable sense of style with a series of Steampunk events, including art installations, a fashion show, and after-parties.


Dickens, Copyright Crusader
During his 1842 North American tour, Dickens—who received no proceeds from the sale of most of his works in America—made several impassioned speeches calling for greater copyright protections.

Join us on April 5 when three well-known UMass Lowell professors—novelist Andre Dubus III (Townie; House of Sand and Fog); photographer Arno Minkinnen; and musician Alan Williams—will share from their work and discuss intellectual property in the Internet age.


Catherine, the Other Dickens
Catherine Hogarth married Dickens in 1836, traveled with him to America in 1842, and bore him 10 children. Yet by the time of Dickens’s second visit to America in 1867, he had separated from her and written her out of his life.

Join us on April 12, when we’ll feature a talk by Catherine’s biographer, Lillian Nayder, chair of the English department at Bates College.


Lowell Rediscovers Dickens
The city that Dickens visited in 1842 is rediscovering him 170 years later, with a series of community-based programs and events:
  • Girls Inc. is devoting much of its 2011-2012 program to Dickens, including their own interpretation of A Christmas Carol, a Victorian dance class, and a “Mrs. Dickens cooking class”
  • Lowell Reads!: A citywide reading of Great Expectations, sponsored by Pollard Memorial Library, with discussion groups, an on-line forum, and other events
  • A Great Expectations mural-painting project, sponsored by the Revolving Museum. The mural will stretch 140 feet along Merrimack Street, downtown Lowell’s busiest street
  • A day-long "Dickens Aloud" reenactment of Dickens's public readings
  • Victorian lawn games and a Dickens tea at the Whistler House
  • Exhibitions at the American Textile History Museum and the New England Quilt Museum
What does Dickens have to say to Lowell today? How do his novels speak to the lives of its residents? How is Dickens in Lowell contributing to the city’s creative economy?


Dickens: Bring the Family!
Dickens in Lowell is filled with family programs that will introduce the author to a new generation of readers, including puppet shows, film screenings, Victorian lawn games, and a walking tour that retraces Dickens’s visit to Lowell.




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Dickens in Lowell
 was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, in partnership with the Lowell National Historical Park, the Tsongas Industrial History Center, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Charles Dickens Museum London, and with generous support from the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation and the University of Massachusetts President’s Office.