Wisbech museum loans priceless manuscript to London as world celebrates 200th birthday of Charles Dickens

THIS untidy scrawl, complete with corrections and alterations, is from the original manuscript of a literary masterpiece – and it is normally on show in Wisbech.

But today, as the world toasts Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, the unique exhibit has been moved to London to form part of the celebrations.

The original manuscript of Great Expectations, one of Dickens’ most famous novels, was given to Wisbech and Fenland Museum in 1868. It was bequeathed by the Rev Chauncy Hare Townshend, who was a lifelong friend of the novelist and came from a family with estates near Wisbech.

David Wright, Curator at Wisbech and Fenland Museum, said the work was one of the few original manuscripts to be owned by a museum outside of London.

He said: “It’s remarkable that there’s something like that here. For a small rural town museum, it really is extraordinary to have such a work in it its collection.

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“The manuscript offers to all the opportunity to observe directly Dickens at work creating one of his most popular novels.

“Readers will discover pages littered with corrections and alterations as he constantly refines and seeks to improve the text demonstrating his extraordinary mental dexterity.

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“We are aware of his imaginative brilliance, instinct for characters and astonishing inventiveness. In the manuscript we view creative writing at its peak with the narrative evolving so rapidly that he can barely restrain his pen within the limits of the page.”

Mr Wright said that loaning the manuscript to a London museum offered an opportunity for it to be seen by a far greater number of people.

The Wisbech museum also has the chest belonging to anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson on loan to the New York Historical Society until April.

Prince Charles will lead today’s tributes to one of English literature’s most revered novelists by laying a wreath at his Westminster Abbey grave.

More than 200 descendants of Dickens are expected to gather for a special service in Poets’ Corner, where he was buried in 1870.

The British Council is also staging a global “read-a-thon” with 24 readings from different Dickens texts in 24 hours. This will start in Australia and include countries such as Iraq and China.

Wisbech and Fenland Museum is planning to stage a special exhibition on Dickens and Great Expectations in October.

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