By Patrick C. Fleming
Dickens World is a Charles Dickens-themed attraction located in Chatham, Kent, where Dickens lived as a young child. The area, and nearby Rochester, feature prominently in many of his novels. The site opened in 2007, and featured:
- A Great Expectations-themed boat ride through a Victorian sewer. The ride features Magwitch and a host of other criminal characters from Dickens’s oeuvre;
- A haunted house, initially advertised as Scrooge’s but changed, before opening, to “the haunted house of 1859.” The house features a “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion, a trick using mirrors that first debuted in a production of Dickens’s story, “The Haunted Man”;
- A 4D movie at Peggotty’s boathouse, providing a brief biography of Dickens;
- Dotheboys Schoolhouse, featuring an actor who plays a scolding schoolmaster and interactive screens with a test on Dickens’s life and works;
- Fagin’s den, a play area for children;
- A restaurant, The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters;
- And a gift shop, The Olde Curiosity Shoppe.
Dickens World closed briefly in early 2013, reopening in March. The boat ride was removed, and the attraction now features “an interactive guided tour experience that takes visitors back in time to Victorian/Dickensian England” which the website bills as “a fun and educational experience for all ages.”
Scholars have written about Dickens World in relation to postmodernity, mass culture, literary tourism, and adaptation theory. Faculty who lead study abroad trips might consider a side trip to Chatham, or might include an article about Dickens World alongside a visit to more accessible Dickensian sites in London.
Questions for Discussion
As expressed in his letters, novels, and newspaper writings, what were Dickens’s views on popular entertainment, tourism, profit, and/or intellectual property? How would Dickens have reacted to Dickens World?
Compare Dickens World, as discussed in reviews and publicity materials, to Mr. Sleary’s insistence, in Hard Times, that “the people mutht be amuthed.”
Read the descriptions of the individual attractions in Dickens World. (You can supplement the short descriptions above with Marty Gould and Rebecca N. Mitchell’s “It Was the Worst of Times: A Visit to Dickens World”). Do the attractions change the way you think about Dickens’s novels or characters? What do these choices tell us about Dickens World’s vision? To whom are they intended to appeal?
If you were to design an attraction for Dickens World, what would you choose? How would your attraction develop an interpretation of Dickens and his works? Or, could you imagine a similar attraction for another Victorian writer? What might be featured at a “Bronte World” or “Browning World”?
Anderson, Sam. “The World of Charles Dickens, Complete with Pizza Hut.” The New York Times, February 7th 2012.
Booth, Alison. “Time Travel in Dickens’ World.” Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture. Nicola J. Watson, ed. Palgrave, 2009.
Easley, Alexis. Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Victorian Authorship, 1850-1914. University of Delaware, 2011.
Gould, Marty and Rebecca N. Mitchell. “It Was the Worst of Times: A Visit to Dickens World.” Victorian Literature and Culture 38 (2010), 287-318.
Gould, Marty and Rebecca N. Mitchell. “Understanding the Literary Theme Park: Dickens World as Adaptation.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3.2 (2010), pages 145-171.
Hughes, Kathryn. “Dickens World and Dickens’s World.” Journal of Victorian Culture 15.3 (December 2010), 388-393.
Huntley, Dana. “Visiting in Dickens World.” British Heritage 29.4 (Sep. 2008), pp. 42-5.
John, Juliet. Dickens and Mass Culture. Oxford University Press, 2010.