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January 10, 2012


Smith College to Display Notable Collection of Works by Famed Victorian Author

Editor’s note: For high-res images of featured works, e-mail Marti Hobbes.

Oliver TwistNORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Victorian novelist Charles Dickens by exhibiting a variety of his works in the Book Arts Gallery in Neilson Library January 15 to April 15. The books on display in the exhibition “Charles Dickens at 200,” which is free and open to the public, are from the Mortimer Rare Book Room and include Dickens’ novels in paper-wrapped installments and bound volumes, popular magazines he edited and profiles of his two most well-known illustrators, George Cruikshank and H.K. Browne.

Dickens, born in February 1812, is a writer who presumably needs no introduction. Many of his characters and stories are part of the cherished fabric of readers of English literature—Oliver Twist and Fagin, Pip and Miss Havisham, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge and all the rest. After a difficult childhood, Dickens started his writing career as a journalist and editor of several popular magazines. His first collection of essays and stories, “Sketches by Boz” (an early pseudonym derived from a family nickname), was published in 1836. Dickens was only 24 years old and not well known as a writer. His illustrator, George Cruikshank, was 20 years older and already an established graphic artist. The second series of Dickens’ sketches, generally known as “The Pickwick Papers,” is the work that made Dickens famous, almost overnight. Dickens was a prolific writer, and his popularity flourished during his lifetime and well beyond his death in 1870. His many works were illustrated by a number of the Victorian era’s most notable graphic artists.

Many of Dickens’ novels, as well as others of the time, were published as serials, in weekly or monthly parts, stitched into printed paper wrappers. This meant that the novels didn’t have to be, or seldom were, complete when publication began, resulting in the use of the “cliffhanger,” a suspenseful end to each section of the novel, intended to guarantee the reader’s interest and eagerness to purchase the next installments of the story. The Mortimer Rare Book Room has a notable Charles Dickens collection. The bulk of the Dickens material was a gift to the library in January 1965 (and exhibited here in February of that year) by Helen Dunbar Holmes, class of 1909.

For more information, contact Barbara Blumenthal, Mortimer Rare Book Room via e-mail at, or call (413) 585-2906.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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