Dickens' London comes to life in a new app

A new app created by the Museum of London for their Dickens exhibit lets the user dive into the city that inspired the British author.

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    'To delve into the world of his darker observations is to be taken on a compelling journey through the seamier side of Victorian London,' says actor Mark Strong, who narrates the London app.
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Charles Dickens’ novels provide such a strong sense of the London locale in which they were set that the city is often regarded as practically another character in the British author’s classic books.

And now modern-day readers can experience the city that inspired the prolific writer through a new app created by the Museum of London to go with its Dickens exhibit. The main feature of the app is a graphic novel that is illustrated by David Foldvari and brings the app user on a night journey through the London streets right alongside Dickens. Actor Mark Strong of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Sherlock Holmes” reads excerpts of Dickens’ work to go along with the illustrations. The text in the novel comes from Dickens’ “Sketches by Boz,” a collection of his short works. The app includes an interactive map through which the user can explore the world described by the author as well as extra historical information added to the short stories so readers can learn more about Dickens’ references and gain context for the story.

“Dickens is the first author to describe the modern city of the nineteenth century and its profound impact on society and, in particular, on ordinary people," Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London, told Reuters. “His writings remain relevant especially for the rapidly developing mega-cities around the world today, which face many of the problems and challenges that impacted on Victorian London 150 years ago.”

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Extra material on the app includes illustrations to go with excerpts from Dickens’ more well-known novels like “Oliver Twist.”

Strong said the app will open the eyes of readers who remember the author only for his memorable characters and not the place they lived.

“It is fascinating to discover quite how brutal some of Dickens' descriptions of London actually were,” he told Reuters. “Usually we associate his writing with vivid caricature and lively character comedy, but to delve into the world of his darker observations is to be taken on a compelling journey through the seamier side of Victorian London.”

Installments of the app, which debuted today, will be released monthly through June, when the Dickens museum exhibit closes, in order to mimic the serial style in which Dickens’ stories were originally published. The first will be free, then the next episodes will cost $2.33.

The Museum of London’s exhibit, which marks the upcoming 200th birthday of the author on Feb. 2, 2012, includes manuscripts of “Great Expectations” and “David Copperfield.”

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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