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

6 May 2021

Dickens in the digital age

On the 18 February, the ‘Deciphering Dickens’ team hosted ‘Dickens in the Digital Age’, an exciting online symposium that brought together academics and museum professionals working on a range of digital projects
1 February 2021

Little Dorrit ‘Transcribe-a-Thon’

On Thursday 10 December, the ‘Deciphering Dickens’ project hosted a small group of Dickens, manuscript, and handwriting enthusiasts to take part in an online ‘transcribe-a-thon’ of Little Dorrit. As well as sharing Dickens’s manuscripts with...
3 October 2018

Deciphering Little Dorrit at the Dickens Universe, July 2018

I’m the co-lead for one of the V&A Research Institute’s current projects, Deciphering Dickens. The Museum holds the manuscripts of many of Charles Dickens’s novels, plus the author’s working notes, printers’ proofs and early editions...

The Team

Douglas Dodds

Senior Curator, Word and Image Department, V&A

Professor John Bowen

Professor of 19th Century Literature, University of York

Emma Curry

Research Fellow, V&A Research Institute

Partner Organisations

University of York
Oxford University Press
Dickens Museum


Dickens in the Digital Age

Join us for an afternoon exploring the V&A’s Dickens collections and discussing exciting new approaches to the ways in which we might read, edit, and share historical materials in the digital age, both in Dickens’s case and beyond.