Theatrical Staging Suits Dickens Characters at NYPL

Daria Strokous walks the Fall 2011 runway in Prabal Gurung’s gown, part of a collection inspired by Miss Havisham. Photo: Caroloa Gualnari/GoRunway.com

Daria Strokous walks the Fall 2011 runway in Prabal Gurung’s gown, part of a collection inspired by Miss Havisham. Photo: Caroloa Gualnari/GoRunway.com

This runway model is surely not from a Dickens novel, but her dress was inspired by one of his characters. NYC designer Prabal Gurung, who first read Dickens in his native Nepal, used Great Expectation’s Miss Havisham as his inspiration for his Fall 2011 collection.

Lucky for us, the New York Public Library curators selected this evocative gown for inclusion in their 200th birthday tribute to the beloved author – NYPL’s exhibit Charles Dickens: The Key to Character.

Entering through the dramatic red-swagged doorway, you step back in time to a drawing room loaded with cabinets of curiosities, a crackling fire, a hanging birdcage, books, seashell collections, taxidermy, a zootrope, tiny Doulton porcelains, and Dickens-related treasures from NYPL and other collections, including the infamous cat-paw letter opener.

These worlds within worlds are arranged to shine a light on the over 3,592 characters created by Dickens in his lifetime. Above the fireplace is a reproduction photograph of his little nephew who inspired the character of Tiny Tim. Other ephemera posted near the case with the wooden leg show Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, where Dickens toiled away as a child laborer himself, many years before creating the characters of the Artful Dodger, Fagin, and Oliver Twist. A revealing letter demonstrates why his own father inspired him to create Micawber in David Copperfield.

Miss Havisham illustration by Charles Green (c. 1877) and installation view of the NYPL show

Miss Havisham illustration by Charles Green (c. 1877) and installation view of the NYPL show

See this beautifully designed show, which also delves into the author’s passion for theater and his own performances of particularly dramatic scenes. The décor, the Gurung gown, the 1870 edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the 1867 ticket stubs from the Dickens reading tour, early films of his novels that you watch through peepholes, and photos from recent Broadway productions will have you sliding seamlessly back and forth through the last 200 years to meet truly remarkable characters.

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