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‘Dickens in Lowell’ Celebrates Final Chapter

Exhibit and Event Series with Lowell National Historical Park Drew Thousands to City

Miriam Margolyes with UMass Lowell Chancellor Meehan by Edwin Aguirre
Miriam Margolyes toured campus with Chancellor Meehan while visiting for "Dickens in Lowell."

By Beth Brosnan

As part of its Oct. 18-21 closing weekend, “Dickens in Lowell” — UMass Lowell’s seven-month exhibition and event series celebrating Dickens’ bicentenary and his travels in Massachusetts — will take a page from the master’s book and go out with a flourish.

The Nigerian Association of Merrimack Valley presented the premiere of “Asking for More: Dickens in Nigeria,” a high-energy, entertaining twist on “Oliver” set in Lagos, Nigeria, during the 1970s. Conceived by Robert Omoyeni and directed by Obehi Janice, “Asking for More” was performed by an ensemble of Nigerian immigrants from Lowell who shared their experiences with the audience after the play.

On Friday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m., the award-winning English actress Miriam Margolyes (best known to American audiences as Professor Sprout in the “Harry Potter” films) will bring her acclaimed show, “Dickens’ Women,” to Durgin Hall. In the show, Margolyes transforms herself into two dozen of Dickens’ best-loved characters in what London’s Guardian newspaper called “a virtuoso display.” Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $10 general admission, and will be available at the door.

Dickens fans looking for just a little more “Oliver Twist” can get their fill with two Lowell screenings of the classic 1922 silent film version, starring Jackie Coogan as Oliver and Lon Chaney as Fagin. “Oliver Twist” will be screened Saturday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. at the 119 Gallery at 119 Chelmsford St. and on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center at 246 Market St. Both screenings are free, and will be accompanied by live music.

The closing reception will take place Saturday, Oct. 20, 4-5 p.m., at the celebration’s centerpiece, the exhibition “Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation,” at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum Gallery, 115 John St. The reception is open to the public, and will afford visitors a final chance to explore a show that WGBH has called “a story as fascinating as Dickens’s own.”

Co-curated by Diana Archibald, associate professor of English at UMass Lowell, and David Blackburn, chief of Cultural Resources and Programs at Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP), “Dickens in Massachusetts” examines the author’s life, his work, and his travels in Massachusetts. It features a rich collection of artifacts from museums around the world, including the Museum of Fine Art’s iconic 1842 portrait of the young Dickens, painted by artist Francis Alexander during the writer’s first trip to America.

Since opening on March 30, “Dickens in Lowell” has attracted thousands of visitors to both the exhibition and a total of 70 different performances, speakers, family and community programs, as well as a popular Dickens Walking Tour organized by LNHP. A major Dickens Society Symposium, held in July, drew scholars and Dickens enthusiasts from around the world. “Dickens in Lowell” also drew considerable media attention.

“As a scholar, I’ve always felt that Dickens’s stories are our stories, and that his novels have such resonance for our lives today,” says Archibald, who served as director of “Dickens in Lowell.” “It’s been enormously gratifying that so many different people have had the chance to learn more about Dickens’s life and his work, and his special relationship with the city of Lowell.”

After touring Lowell’s model mills in 1842, Dickens, a committed social reformer, described his visit as “the happiest day” he spent in America. Visitors to “Dickens in Lowell” echoed these sentiments, says Archibald. “We heard from many people who said this was their first visit to Lowell, and who told us how much they enjoyed the city, its rich history and cultural scene. This series has been good for both Dickens and Lowell.”

The largest Dickens bicentenary event in New England, “Dickens in Lowell” drew on the talents and resources of several dozen institutional and community partners, including LNHP, the Charles Dickens Museum of London, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Tsongas Industrial History Center. Major funding support was provided by the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation and the University of Massachusetts President’s Office Creative Economy Initiative.

“Dickens in Lowell” will live on after its Oct. 20 closing, with a rich website, that will include video from several major lectures and performances, and a virtual tour of Dickens and Massachusetts scheduled to be posted later this fall. And as a final holiday treat, “Dickens in Lowell” will present UMass Lowell alumnus Al LePage performing his one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2:30 p.m. at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Lowell.

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