Foreword, by Professor John Drew

A side profile black and white image of a middle-aged man in an oval mount. His dark hair is swept forwards curling at the temples and a thick dark moustache curves down towards his jawline. A collar, voluminous neckties and collared jacket cover his throat and neck.

Daguerreotype of Dickens (1853-55). Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum, London.

Charles Dickens never ceases to amaze and intrigue. As the writer and critic G. K. Chesterton put it in 1911, all those who love the writer and his work ‘have a strange sense that he is really inexhaustible’.[1] This new online exhibition, based on just some of the findings from the award-winning Dickens Code project (2021-2023), demonstrates this in splendid detail. It draws us into the world of Dickens and shorthand, where puzzles, mysteries, and intellectual challenges of the highest order still wait to be solved.

Throughout the early and mid-Victorian era, shorthand was absolutely at the forefront of the information technologies that shaped the print culture of the day. Like many of today’s technologies it was largely invisible to the citizens whose lives it affected. Thanks to the exciting new research, scholarship and ‘digital public engagement’ spearheaded by exhibition curators Claire Wood and Hugo Bowles we can start to trace out some of those invisible filaments and rediscover the coding and linguistic artistry that underpinned Dickens’s personal success as well as the nineteenth-century media landscape.

The exhibition gives unique public access to the fruits of the Dickens Code project and how Dickens’s shorthand has been decoded by volunteers and academics working in tandem. It will also allow visitors to see the crucial role that learning and becoming expert in shorthand played in Dickens’s career and rise to fame as an author and journalist of global renown. 

So, step into the labyrinth and be prepared to lose your way.


[1] G. K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (London: J. M. Dent, 1911), xx.

Foreword, by Professor John Drew