“Dickens saw a world of possibility in Massachusetts,” says Diana Archibald, associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Archibald is co-curator of the “Dickens and Massachusetts” exhibition, part of the Dickens 2012 Worldwide Bicentenary Celebration. “Massachusetts was the other America,” Archibald says. “It wasn’t the America that disappointed him. It was the one where he developed lifelong friendships and saw possibilities for reform in England.”
Seven months of events and an exhibition at Lowell National Historical Park that runs from March 30 to October 20 illuminate Dickens’s watershed experiences in the Commonwealth on his two visits, first as a youthful celebrity in 1842, then 25 years later as a wealthy and powerful man who had paid dearly for fame.
Among the exhibition’s highlights are five key pieces from the Dickens Museum in London, including the Daniel Maclise portrait of the Dickens children; an 1868 raised-letter version for sightless readers of The Old Curiosity Shop — part of a gift Dickens made to the Perkins School for the Blind; and, at the centerpiece, the Francis Alexander portrait from the author’s landmark 1842 visit to Boston. Loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the painting has not been viewed in the city publicly in more than 30 years.