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Town holds original Great Expectations but don’t expect to find a copy

PUBLISHED: 09:29 05 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:36 05 March 2018

The first page of the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Picture: Chris Bishop

The first page of the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Picture: Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop

It is a piece of literary history which lies within the heart of the Fens.

The original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations can be found in Wisbech Museum. Pictured is curator Robert Bell. Picture: Chris BishopThe original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations can be found in Wisbech Museum. Pictured is curator Robert Bell. Picture: Chris Bishop

Yet although Wisbech is home to the original handwritten manuscript of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, those who think its special connection with the town might make it easier to obtain a copy may be disappointed.

The historic manuscript was bequeathed to the museum in 1868 by Chauncy Hare Townshend, a clergyman and poet who is best remembered for collecting several of Dickens’s work.

But despite the museum holding one of the most significant pieces of literature in history, Great Expectations is missing from the shelves in Wisbech Library just a few metres away.

Wisbech Museum. Picture: Chris BishopWisbech Museum. Picture: Chris Bishop

At the time of reporting, the book could be ordered to the library, at a cost of £1, from the nearest branch to hold a copy - 50 miles away in Linton.

Interest in the book seems to be steadily waning, as the last time Great Expectations was loaned out in Wisbech Library was in 2015.

In other libraries within a 15-mile radius, only March has the book available for loan - but the last time it was picked up by one keen reader was in 2016.

Wisbech Museum. Picture: Chris BishopWisbech Museum. Picture: Chris Bishop

Great Expectations is Dickens’s penultimate completed novel, which focuses on the adventures of an orphan named Pip.

The priceless manuscript contains the original ending of the book, which Dickens was made to change into a happy ending as his friend and novelist Edward Bulwar Lytton felt the original was too gloomy.

Dickens’s chaotic scrawls, scribbles, crosses and corrections running across the yellowed pages reflect the author’s imaginative brilliance.

Wisbech Museum. Picture: Chris BishopWisbech Museum. Picture: Chris Bishop

“It is a wonderful thing for Wisbech to have,” said museum curator Robert Bell.

“It is available for people to look at on the first Saturday of every month but we are looking to make it more available to the public.”

“There is no connection between Dickens and Wisbech other than this manuscript.

Only a few metres away from Wisbech Museum is the town's library, which does not hold a copy of Dickens' novel. Picture: Chris BishopOnly a few metres away from Wisbech Museum is the town's library, which does not hold a copy of Dickens' novel. Picture: Chris Bishop

“The reason it came here was because Dickens cultivated a friendship with Chauncy Hare Townshend. He visited the museum in 1850 and thought it was well set out.”

Townshend came from a wealthy family with estates in Norfolk. He and Dickens bonded over their belief in mesmerism, so much so that Dickens inscribed his name on the first page of his novel.

The original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations can be found in Wisbech Museum. Pictured is curator Robert Bell and EDP reporter Taz Ali. Picture: Chris BishopThe original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations can be found in Wisbech Museum. Pictured is curator Robert Bell and EDP reporter Taz Ali. Picture: Chris Bishop

A page from the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Picture: Chris BishopA page from the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Picture: Chris Bishop

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