Inside the Dickens Museum No 3 – A scandalous playbill!

Please click play to watch the video and learn about this intriguing and unusual playbill.

In this third and final video, Louisa Price, curator of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, shows this unique item, never shown publicly before. At first sight it apears to be a normal playbill for one of Dickens’ many amateur theatrical productions, but a closer look reveals a more scandalous tale!

‘Even Worse Than They Seem’ spoof playbill by Rosina Bulwer-Lytton, 1851. Purchased by the Charles Dickens Museum with support from the National Heritage Monument Trust, Friends of the National Libraries and the Dickens Fellowship. DH715, Charles Dickens Museum Collection.

Published by Pete Orford

I'm course director of the MA in Charles Dickens Studies at the University of Buckingham in conjunction with the Dickens Museum in London. I am currently editing Pictures from Italy for the Oxford Dickens collection, and I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com). My book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel and our endless attempts to end it" was published by Pen and Sword Books in 2018.

9 thoughts on “Inside the Dickens Museum No 3 – A scandalous playbill!

  1. Another amazing item. Rosina’s story always fascinated me. She always seems so angry at her husband, and is clearly very driven by the raging sense of injustice she felt. I might need to have another look at the Sadleir book on Bulwer-Lytton to see if there are any hints of this in his account of their relationship dramas.

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    1. It really is! We were completely blown away when we found out about it.
      There are further details about the incident in an article in the Dickens Quarterly by Michael J Flynn in 2012, Dickens, Rosina Bulwer Lytton and the ‘Guilt of Literature and Art’

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  2. This is such a fascinating item. I shall look forward to seeing where you decide to display it, Louisa. Thank you for sharing such interesting items with us.

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  3. The satire here is eye-wateringly savage! “‘Mr Charles Dickens, who to act with the more life, has a dead child in one pocket, and a dead father in the other”–this playbill was produced May, and John Dickens had died in late March and Dora Dickens (aged 8 months) in April… so literally a few weeks before. Ouch!

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  4. A bit of an eye-opener, to say the least.
    I’m very interested in delving deeper into Rosina. On first acquaintance, she seems like a remarkably awful person, although first appearances can be deceptive (he says gallantly).

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  5. Hi folks. Its Saturday 19th June 2021 and John and I are online both here and on twitter to answer any questions you have about the research being shown, Dickens, or the MA. Just post your questions below or on any of the posts and we’ll happily answer!

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  6. Dickens was deeply engaged with the theatre throughout his life. He famously arranged to audition at Covent Garden Market while a young man, with the comic actor Charles Mathews (of whom Dickens was a huge fan), but was unable to attend due to a cold. Even after gaining success as a novelist, Dickens’s fascination with the stage continued – he wrote a series of short comic pieces for St James Theatre and even an operetta (The Village Coquettes); then he trod the boards himself in amateur productions, some written by himself. One of my next research projects is co-editing a collection of the plays written by Dickens and I am looking forward to discovering more about this fascinating area of Dickens’s writing career!

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