In 1842 when Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine Hogarth Dickens, traveled to North America, he had already achieved immense fame. Blockbuster hits such as Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop had established the 29-year-old Dickens as the most popular writer of the era, and, in a new age of mass media culture, he was the first true celebrity.
After this trip 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 focuses 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