Charles Dickens celebrated his 200th birthday in style surrounded by friends and admirers at the Inn & Conference Center, just days after the 170th anniversary of the author’s transformative trip to America in 1842. The Victorian celebrity may not have been there to cut the cake, but his memory was very much present as UMass Lowell and community partners kicked off a Dickens celebration years in the making.
“It’s estimated that Dickens created 10,000 characters in his stories and it’s taken a vibrant cast of characters almost as large to make this possible,” said English Prof. Diana Archibald, in welcoming attendees at the party, which launched a multimonth “Dickens in Lowell” program.
The exhibit and slate of 75 related events are presented by UMass Lowell and the Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP) with support from dozens of community and international organization. Participants will explore Dickens's life, work and travels in America through discussions, interactive projects and collaborative events between October and March of 2012.
David Blackburn, chief of cultural resources and programs for LNHP, has been working on the project for four years after receiving an email from Archibald about the idea. He says that the variety and number of events planned for the coming months "represent the depth and breadth of the relationships we've created since" the idea’s inception. The LNHP will host a "Dickens in Massachusetts" exhibit March 30 to Oct. 20 in the Boott Mills Gallery downtown.
A grant from the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation was vital in bringing more community members into the Victorian mindset. Newell Flather, president of the foundation, says that they were glad to help broaden the program to include events like a Cambodian and Nigerian interpretation of Dickens' classic, “Oliver Twist.”
"It’s our job to fund great things and this is a great thing," Flather says. "Dickens may not have had Lowell in mind when he wrote “A Tale of Two Cities," but it fits. This is the story of Lowell then and now. We're seeing Lowell move closer to what Dickens saw then in practice and potential and it's because of community projects like this."