On 7 February 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England. As a consequence, world-wide celebrations have taken place in 2012, the bicentennial year of his birth. And why not celebrate the birth of the creator of some 989 named characters such as the Artful Dodger, Mr Micawber, Little Nell, Wackford Squeers, Uriah Heep, Peggotty, Fagin, William Dorrit, Scrooge, Pecksniff, Paul Dombey, Sally Brass, and Bucket? These unforgettable characters (and others) appear in classic works such as Sketches by Boz (1836), Pickwick Papers (1836-37), Oliver Twist (1837-39), David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1860-61), Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870).

Special Collections, University of Otago Library, is fortunate to hold first and second editions of works by Dickens, as well as scarce published parts and periodicals that offer first time appearances. And many of these works contain memorable images executed by artists who collaborated closely with him. They include George Cruikshank, Hablot Knight Browne (‘Phiz’), John Leech, Frank and Marcus Stone, and Luke Fildes. Indeed, who can forget Cruikshank’s depiction of Oliver holding out his cup and asking for more gruel?

Dickens was a man of his times; the Victorian times. With his publishers, he capitalized on technologies and innovative marketing strategies by supplying instalments of his works to a growing reading public. He was inundated with letters from readers, many begging him not to kill off Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. And on the eve of her coronation, Victoria was so taken with Oliver Twist that she recommended it to her minister, Lord Melbourne. In her words, the work was 'excessively interesting'. Dickens also took his works on the road, performing numerous public readings in Britain and overseas.

His writing career spanned 34 years, during which he wrote 15 major novels, his famed Christmas books, travel books, plays, numerous newspaper and periodical contributions, and many miscellaneous pieces. To contextualise his life and works a select number of themes that figure so strongly during the reign of Queen Victoria will be on display. They include the City of London; the poor and dispossessed; Punch; the Great Exhibition; and the Crimean War. Dickens and his enduring legacy will also feature.

Exhibition handlist (PDF) | Exhibition poster (PDF)


  • Paul Davis, Charles Dickens A to Z. New York: Facts on File, 1998.
  • John C. Eckel, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens. Their Points and Values. Mansfield Centre, Ct: Martino Publishing, 2007.
  • Charles Dickens in Context. Edited by Sally Ledger and Holly Furneaux. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Oxford National Dictionary of Biography www.oxforddnb.com
  • Michael Slater, Charles Dickens. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
  • Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens. New York: Penguin, 2011
  • Victorian Web www.victorianweb.org - Charles Dickens

Thanks to:

Ian Church, Dunedin; Lucy Neales, Melbourne Dickens Fellowship; Georgia Prince, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Library; Esme Richards, Christchurch Dickens Fellowship; JoAnna Rottke, Dickens Project Co-ordinator, University of California, Santa Cruz; and Anthony Tedeschi, Heritage Collections, Dunedin Public Library