How science is unlocking the secrets of Dickens

Dalya Alberge
Monday 06 August 2012 22:51

Previously unseen passages from Charles Dickens's manuscripts are being revealed for the first time, thanks to digital technology which removes his crossings-out and corrections.

The new technique allows researchers to discover how the author shaped and reshaped his prose.

The Victoria & Albert Museum pilot study focused on his Christmas story, The Chimes, using technology developed by Ian Christie-Miller, a former visiting research fellow at London University. Although no dramatic revelations emerged from deletions in that short story, scholars are excited by the technology's potential on novels such as Bleak House.

Florian Schweizer, director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, told The Independent: "We're talking of tens of thousands of manuscript pages that could potentially be unlocked."

The technology, separating layers of text, involves combining two or more digital images – a frontlit and backlit image of a page.

By digitally subtracting one from the other, differences are revealed.

In The Chimes, the tests showed for example that the published sentence – "Years … are like Christians in that respect" – originally read: "Years … are like men in one respect."

Dr Schweizer said: "Why did he make that change? Quite a change. Literary scholars will ask themselves those questions."

Rowan Watson, a senior curator at the V&A, described Dr Christie-Miller's technology as "ingenious and inspiring". The manuscripts show Dickens "almost thinking aloud on to paper," he said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in