Charles Dickens: Restless Shadow
We are delighted to partner with the Charles Dickens Museum and their Restless Shadow exhibition.
The tireless work of Charles Dickens as a campaigner and investigative journalist has been given overdue recognition with a new exhibition ‘Restless Shadow’ based at his London home. Restless Shadow will follow the footsteps of Dickens as he pounds the streets of London, determined to make himself aware of the terrible conditions, injustices and hardships faced by the poorest and least powerful people in society.
Cindy Sughrue, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum, said, “Dickens’s combination of a passion for walking and his periodic bouts of insomnia helped to create the ‘restless shadow’ that found its way into the darkest corners of society and exposed so many of the country’s inequalities. His campaigning spirit never left him and, had he never written a word of fiction, Dickens’s journalistic career is worthy of great recognition. We are proud to throw light on this area of his life, especially as it allows us to strike partnerships with charities with which he either worked himself or of which, in the case of The Big Issue Foundation, I feel he would have heartily approved.”
Our collaboration is finely depicted in a recent edition of The Big Issue that provided a wonderful insight into Dickens as a social activist…
Dickens was a habitual, even obsessive visitor of workhouses, prisons, fetid midnight streets, and any area of London – and elsewhere – where the poor lived and suffered and too soon died. His great subject as a writer and social activist, those he sought to portray and protect, were, he said, “the rejected ones whom the world has too long forgotten, and too often misused”.
His championing of these people is world famous, of course, in great novels such as Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit, but much less well known now is that Dickens was a journalist and magazine editor dedicated to exposing social evils, and a campaigner dedicated to eradicating them. It is this rather forgotten aspect of his life and work that the Charles Dickens Museum – in association with The Big Issue – is seeking to highlight in the exhibition Restless Shadow.
In A Christmas Carol, two starving infants appear; the personification of Ignorance and Want. How would Dickens feel to learn that, 174 years later, they are still with us? “Unsurprised but outraged,” says actor Simon Callow, who created an acclaimed theatrical version of the story. We could do with him now, couldn’t we? “We certainly bloody well could,” Callow agrees. “I feel that all the time. Where is our tribune of the people?”
Helplessness and despair are natural emotions for anyone considering the state of the world; a feeling there is nothing we can do about the many complex problems confronting us. But if Dickens teaches us anything, it is that human agency is a powerful force. “Dickens would have entirely endorsed the ethos of The Big Issue,” says Callow.
“‘A hand up not a handout’ is exactly what he believed. He knew he could so easily have become a criminal or simply destitute, but there was a spark inside him that refused to accept that, and he wanted to ignite the same spark in everybody else.”
The name of that spark is hope. Out of the shadows, light.
Restless Shadow: Dickens the Campaigner, Charles Dickens Museum, London, May 9–October 29; dickensmuseum.com