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Charles Dickens in the Marketplace


Oil painting of Charles Dickens, artist and date unknown.

The exhibit “Charles Dickens in the Marketplace” is based almost exclusively on the Whittaker-Dickens collection. The holdings of the Vassar library on Dickens are now especially significant, and the exhibit provides a way to bring this development to the attention of those in the College community and beyond. Of course there are many more items in our collection than could be exhibited at one time, but we hope that the exhibit will at least offer a sense of the collection and how it could be used in both teaching and research.

As the title suggests, the thematic focus of the exhibit is the production, distribution, and reception of Dickens’ work in the culture. During the nineteenth century there were numerous changes in the system of publishing in England and America, as publishers tried to expand the reading public and extend their own profits. As discussed by Joanne Long in her article which appears later in this catalog, Dickens provides a remarkable case study for observing these changes in the publishing industry. We see his work distributed in a variety of new ways in order to reach a growing audience of readers. Dickens’ works have also penetrated the culture via non-print media, such as film, and memorabilia. The exhibit tries to illustrate Dickens in the marketplace by displaying examples of both print and non-print media. It is arranged according to type of distribution method, such as periodicals, musical scores, videos, etc. The exhibit is not limited to the nineteenth century; it also looks at various distribution methods as they evolved in the twentieth century. Our hope is that viewers will walk away with a better sense not only of Dickens’ works, but also the means and mechanisms through which they have been presented to society. Even a quick glance at a few items reveals the tremendous influence Dickens has had in his own time and in ours.