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