Deciphering Dickens


A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Autograph manuscript signed, December 1843. Stave 1. Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum.

Charles Dickens left behind a remarkably complete record of his literary output, including handwritten drafts for most major novels, marked-up page proofs, and planning notes. The revisions allow us to see his first thoughts, changes of mind, and innumerable refinements of expression. Together, the manuscripts form a unique resource for understanding the whole process of composition by Dickens, from 'planning to proofs.' Following our deciphering projects on the manuscript of Little Dorrit in previous Dickens Universes, at this year’s Universe, in association with the Morgan Library, we will be looking at the manuscripts of Dickens’s first two Christmas books, A Christmas Carol and The Chimes.

Douglas Dodds, the Senior Curator in the V&A’s Word & Image Department, leads the 'Deciphering Dickens' project, with John Bowen, Professor of English and long-time Dickens Project faculty member and Dr. Philip Palmer, Robert H. Taylor Curator and Head of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts department at the Morgan Library & Museum, together with V&A postdoctoral research fellows Dr. Emma Curry and Dr. Aine McNicholas. It will eventually create a digital platform with high-resolution scans of the novels together with proofs, planning material, the published text of the novel, and supporting material. Most excitingly, Universe participants will be invited to help decipher in a guided way as much of Dickens’s deleted and revised manuscript material as possible to produce a powerful and lasting resource for readers, scholars, and editors of his work.

We are currently trialing ways to crowdsource these new transcriptions of Dickens's manuscripts and would like your help. If you like Dickens, visual puzzles, reading bad handwriting and trying to figure out crossed-out things, this project is for you. We want to form a group of volunteers to look closely at some sample online pages of Dickens’s manuscripts to see how successful we can be at finding out how his manuscripts changed and what, if anything, of the deleted material we can recover.