Joel Brattin, WPI's Expert on Charles Dickens, is in Demand as State Celebrates the Author's 200th Birthday

March 27, 2012

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Charles Dickens, the great Victorian novelist who was born 200 years ago this year, visited the United States twice: first in 1842 as a tourist, and again in 1867-68 while on a speaking tour. On both occasions his travels brought him to Massachusetts - and to Worcester.

His time in the state was some of the most enjoyable he spent, and was in sharp contrast to his experiences as he journeyed farther south, according to Joel J. Brattin, professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and an internationally recognized scholar on the work of Dickens.

"He grew to be disillusioned with America later in his trip,” Brattin told Andrea Shea of WBUR radio in Boston. "Part of that was his disgust at American slave-holding, part of that was disgust at the manifest greed and selfishness that he saw in American society."

The vists Dickens made to Massachusetts are the subject of a new interactive exhibition, "Dickens in Massachusetts," which will run from March 30 to Oct. 20 at the Boott Gallery in the Lowell National Historical Park.

The Robert D. Fellman Dickens Collection at WPI, which Brattin directs, is an institutional partner in the exhibit, along with the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the Lowell National Historical Park, the Charles Dickens Museum of London, and the Tsongas Industrial History Center. The Fellman Collection contributed numerous Dickens works and artifacts to the collection, including a first edition of American Notes, the book Dickens published after returning from his first trip to the states.

Brattin spoke with Andrea Shea about how Dickens saw Massachusetts—and how people here saw him—and what Dickens took away from his American experiences. His interview was broadcast during NPR’s All Things Considered on March 23, 2012. That same day, Brattin appeared with Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of Radio Boston, in a live segment on WBUR.

Brattin has also been a key player—literally—in a more personal celebration of the Dickens bicentennial. A member of the London-based Dickens Fellowship, Brattin has teamed with fellow members of the fellowship's Worcester chapter to stage skits drawn from Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Bleak House and Great Expectations.

The skits were developed by Brattin and Randolph Bloom, president of the Worcester chapter. They include some passages that Brattin discovered had been cut from the original manuscripts when the works were trimmed by Dickens to fit the format of the monthly installments in which they were originally published.

In addition to Brattin, the actors are Barbara and Gene McCarthy, Kit Polga, and Joan Townsend. There are two remaining performance:

  • Wednesday, March 28, Worcester Public Library, Saxe Room, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 3, Shrewsbury, Mass., Public Library, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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