Deciphering Dickens

Deciphering the Dickens manuscripts.

About the Project

Using the unparalleled collection of original manuscripts and proofs for most of Dickens’ novels held by the V&A, this project will develop and trial ways in which Dickens’s creative process can be opened out online.


The V&A holds one of the most important authorial archives in the English-speaking world and yet it is largely unknown. Dickens left behind a remarkably complete record of his literary output, including handwritten drafts for most of the major novels; marked-up page proofs, serial publications, illustrations, theatrical adaptations and records of his own legendary performances. The Dickens archives present a unique resource for understanding the entire process of textual composition, production, reproduction and dissemination. The only issue is, the manuscripts require deciphering.


This project aims to reveal an author's mind at work, using crowd-sourcing methods and online collaboration with Dickens' scholars, fans, students, coders as well as those working at the cutting edge of digital humanities and interactive design. We hope to untangle the dense thicket of Dickens' revisions allowing us to see his first thoughts, changes of mind and innumerable refinements of expression.


'Deciphering Dickens' will develop its plans for an online archive and interactive platform that will enable deep connections to be made with Dickens' manuscripts – between people, across time, and throughout the world. We seek to create a digital prototype which can be searched through key words and phrases, providing proof of concept for further funding to develop the full platform which we can apply to all the manuscripts as well as similar objects in our collection.

Project Outputs

Deciphering Dickens Team at The Dickens Universe 2019

Deciphering Dickens Project Leads Douglas Dodds (Senior Curator, Word & Image Department, V&A) and Professor John Bowen (Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature, University of York) will be at this year's Dickens Universe event at UC Santa Cruz (14-20 July 2019). Doug and John will be back by popular demand after their successful session at The Dickens Universe 2018 during which they crowdsourced transcription of pages from Dickens' manuscript for 'Little Dorrit'. They will be continuing the project this year and build on what they learned last year with some new resources and knowledge. Old and new hands welcome!

Project updates
15 January 2019
Paper Pinnacles: The conservation of an Architectural Church Model
  The conservation of this model of St Peter’s Church in Brighton was carried out as a final project during my time as a paper conservation student at Camberwell College of Arts in 2012. I...
10 January 2019
Community Engagement is a Paper Rainbow
Mumbai-based artist, activist and academic, Aqui Thami has been the V&A Research Institute’s (VARI) Offsite Artist in Residence since October 2018. In November, she launched a month-long community art project with a group of local...
7 January 2019
‘What does your making practice mean to you?’
Artist Anouska Samms discusses her approach to her work.
The Team
Douglas Dodds
Senior Curator, Word and Image Department, V&A
Professor John Bowen
Professor of 19th Century Literature, University of York
Partner Organisations
University of York
Oxford University Press
Dickens Museum