Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation

Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation tells the story of a key moment in history, a moment of transformation for a man and for a nation.

Soon to be available as a virtual exhibit, Dickens and Massachusetts was displayed at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum Gallery at the Lowell National Historical Park (115 John St., Lowell). This interactive exhibition featured a rich collection of rare Dickens artifacts, on loan from the Charles Dickens Museum of London, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the American Antiquarian Society, the New York Public Library, the Fellman Collection at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Perkins School for the Blind, and other institutions.

An iconic 1842 portrait of the young Dickens, painted by Boston artist Francis Alexander, received its first public display in over 30 years.

After Dickens's trip to America, we see a new vigor and complexity in his writing and a heightened social consciousness. America changed him. He began to see that his role as a pop culture hero came with great accountability. It is no coincidence that the year after he returned home, he published his iconic Christmas Carol, a tale of radical transformation and social responsibility.

The exhibition Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation focused on several pivotal moments from the 1842 and 1867-68 trips to America, exploring these themes:

  • Dickens Finds His Power
    • The Early Years and Literary Fame
    • A Growing Family
    • A Magnetic Personality: Mesmerism and Celebrity
  • Bridging Two Worlds
    • Departure from Liverpool
    • The Passage over Stormy Seas
    • Arrival in Boston: "Here we are!"
    • Cross-Atlantic Letters
  • Conscience and Controversy
    • Harvard and the Unitarians
    • Felton Friendship: "Our hearts are of the largest size"
    • A Controversial Stand on Copyright
  • Models for Reform
    • Perkins School for the Blind 
    • Lowell Mills: "A large, populous, thriving place"
  • Reading Dickens Reading America
    • Capturing Dickens through Art and Phrenology
    • Capturing America in a Travel Book :  "slavery, spittoons, and senators"
    • The Scourge of Slavery: Dickens, Channing, and Longfellow
  • Dickens Returns
    • Transformations: From 1842 to 1868
    • Dickens on the Stage: The American Reading Tour
    • The Great International Walking Match
    • Farewell Friends
  • Dickens Lives On

Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation was co-curated by Diana Archibald, Associate Professor of English at UMass Lowell and director of the 2002 Dickens and America project in Lowell, and David Blackburn, Chief of Cultural Resources and Programs at Lowell National Historical Park.

Other contributing scholars included Joel Brattin, Professor of Humanities, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Natalie McKnight, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Humanities, Boston University; Lillian Nayder, Professor and Chair of English at Bates College; and Christie Jackson, the Ruby Winslow Linn Curator at the Old Colony Historical Society.


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