Free Library of Philadelphia

Although the weather outside is anything but frightful, there’s definitely a festive feel in the air thanks to Philadelphia’s quaint Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Throughout the month of December, Chestnut Hill is getting into the holiday spirit and partnering with the Free Library’s Year of Dickens.

Visitors to Chestnut Hill will find plenty of Victorian holiday cheer, as the shops on Germantown Avenue will take you into the world of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with decorated merchant windows featuring scenes from the tale. The festive transformation also includes special holiday and Dickens performances, extended store hours, and Dickens-themed activities up and down Germantown Avenue—including some at the Free Library’s Chestnut Hill Branch! Enjoy the famous Dickens sandwich and wassail at McNally’s Pub, meet Dickens characters, and munch on roasted chestnuts all while listening to Christmas carolers and street performers.

For a complete schedule and list of events, click here! Hope to see you on the Hill!

Tags: Year of Dickens


Today marks the opening of the eagerly anticipated Rare Book Department exhibition on the life and work of Charles Dickens. "From the Desk of Charles Dickens: Celebrating the Great Writer at 200" brings together printed works, correspondence, autograph manuscripts, and original drawings, as well as objects Dickens used throughout his life.

From the tip of his quill pen Dickens conducted his life—conscious and in control of all the moving parts. He took such an interest in so many things: art-directing his publications, producing amateur theatricals, raising money for the less fortunate, planning outings and holidays with his family and friends, and expressing gentle and sometimes not-so-gentle concern for their well-being.

Dickens was an exceptional correspondent; many of his letters are every bit as engaging as his published works. Letters to close friends where he jokes and teases them affectionately, instructions to the artists who were illustrating his works, correspondence explaining his worldview and his reasons for writing what he did illuminate the way Dickens lived and worked.

The exhibition shows the works that were the product of the author’s creative genius and places them in the context of the life of a man for whom no detail was too small and who wielded the power of his celebrity for the causes he believed in and for the good of those he cared about.

The Free Library is home to one of the finest Charles Dickens collections in the world, mostly owing to the generosity of two distinguished benefactors. William McIntire Elkins, a Philadelphian and a trustee of the Free Library, bequeathed the Library a complete record of Dickens’s literary and public career. D. Jacques Benoliel, a Philadelphia industrialist, focused his collecting on Dickens's lifelong passion for the theatre. His collection of autograph letters and playbills was donated to the Free Library by his family after his death in 1954 and has been extensively augmented from an endowment set up by the family in Mr. Benoliel’s memory.

The exhibition runs through May 25, 2012 and can be viewed Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Rare Book Department on the 3rd floor of the Parkway Central Library. Tours of the general collection are conducted at 11:00 a.m. To learn more about the Free Library's Charles Dickens Collection or for more information on events related to our Year of Dickens visit

Tags: Charles Dickens, Exhibitions, Rare Book Department, Year of Dickens

William Powell Frith. Portrait of Charles Dickens, 1858. Gift of William M. Elkins.
William Powell Frith. Portrait of Charles Dickens, 1858. Gift of William M. Elkins.
Charles Dickens. Portion of original manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby, 1837. Benoliel Gift.
Charles Dickens. Portion of original manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby, 1837. Benoliel Gift.
Hablot Knight Browne. Illustration for Chapter the Sixth. Original pen and ink drawing for Master Humphrey’s Clock (Barnaby Rudge), 1840.
Hablot Knight Browne. Illustration for Chapter the Sixth. Original pen and ink drawing for Master Humphrey’s Clock (Barnaby Rudge), 1840.

We found our Dickens!  Lisa Litman of Bala Cynwyd, Pa. won today's ‘Dickens Idol Contest," our quest to find someone to bring Dickens to life for the Free Library's Year of Dickens 2012.

To win, Litman performed for a panel of judges, all experts in Dickens or the art of personification. As part of her audition, Litman performed an original monologue as Dickens, acted out a scene theatrically as Fagin from Oliver Twist, and endured a fast-paced question-and-answer period from a celebrity panel of judges including Ben Franklin; Janine Pollock, Head of the Free Library’s Rare Book Department; Sam Gish, Casting Expert from the Philadelphia Casting Agency; and Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library. The judges declared Litman the winner by unanimous vote. 

Litman is an education consultant with a diverse background in ethics education, family education, and the performing arts. As an actor, singer, writer, and composer, Lisa has performed extensively on radio, in television, film, and regional theaters throughout the New York, Philadelphia, and New England areas.

“I’m thrilled to embark on this journey with my new alter-ego as Charles Dickens,” said Litman. “We all learn when education is fun and engaging. I look forward to inspiring new generations to the wonderful words, worlds, and characters of Charles Dickens.”

We're thrilled, too! Looking forward to seeing lots of "Charles" in the year ahead!

Tags: Charles Dickens, Year of Dickens, theatre

Lisa as Charles Dickens (photo by Ryan Brandenberg)
Lisa as Charles Dickens (photo by Ryan Brandenberg)

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth this coming February, the Free Library of Philadelphia is proud to present the Year of Dickens 2012, featuring special events, literary salons, and many creative ways to celebrate “The Inimitable,” as he liked to call himself. 

Although we'll have an official birthday bash in February, special activities are beginning this November and will run throughout 2012. We're gearing up  with our first two Dickens exhibitions in just a few weeks: “From the Desk of Charles Dickens” runs in the Rare Book Department from November 28, 2011 through May 25, 2012 and “Character Sketches from the World of Charles Dickens” runs in the Parkway Central Library’s West Gallery from December 2, 2011 through March 23, 2012.

The Rare Book Department at Parkway Central Library is home to one of the finest collections of Dickens’s first editions, personal letters, original artwork, and theater ephemera in the world, largely gifted to the Library by two generous benefactors, William M. Elkins and D. Jacques Benoliel. Unique highlights of the Library’s Dickens Collection include Dickens’s writing desk and his pet raven, Grip—the same bird that is said to be the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem!

To find out more about the Rare Book Department's Charles Dickens Collection as well as details about the Year of Dickens 2012, click here!

Tags: Year of Dickens


In honor of Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday and to celebrate the Free Library’s large Dickens collection, we are bringing Charles Dickens back to life through the first ever, American Idol-inspired, Dickens Idol Contest! The Contest is an open call audition to find an actor who best portrays Charles Dickens. Actors will be judged by a panel of Dickens experts and local celebrities on their ability to look, act, speak, and perform like Dickens. The winner of Dickens Idol will take on the role of this legendary author, bringing him back to life in a series of Dickens-sponsored events at the Free Library and win $1,500! For the audition, actors will be asked to:

Part 1: Present a brief monologue as Charles Dickens
To begin the audition, we will ask that each contestant presents to the panel a brief monologue as Charles Dickens. The monologue can be invented or taken directly from his personal commentary and reflections, and should last no more than two minutes. The Free Library will provide a monologue if the contenstant does not wish to bring his/her own.

Part 2: Act out a scene as one of Charles Dickens’s well-known literary characters
An avid performer, Dickens undertook a series of dramatic public readings where he assumed the roles of his characters. Each contestant will be asked to perform a brief scene from one of Dickens’s works as he would have. The Free Library will provide a scene if the contestant does not wish to bring his/her own.

Part 3: Q&A from celebrity panel of Judges
Each contestant will go through a fast-paced Q&A session conducted by celebrity judges. Questions will range from general information on Dickens’s life and works, to ways in which he will make literature exciting for new audiences and generations to come. Contestants should come armed with a working knowledge of Dickens facts and information.

The contest will be held on Monday, November 14, at 10:30 a.m. in the Montgomery Auditorium (ground floor) of Parkway Central Library at 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Those entering the contest must meet or agree to the following rules and regulations. Contestants should:
• Register in advance with name and contact information by November 9 at
• Be between the ages of 18-70
• Come prepared to bring Dickens to life through appearance, personality, and mannerisms
• Limit monologue and scene presentation to 2 minutes each
• Have a general knowledge of literature and Dickens’s life and works
• Be comfortable with improvisation and a quick learner
• Be available for blocks of time throughout the coming months (for participation in events)
• Feel comfortable dressing, acting, and speaking like Charles Dickens
• Agree to be photographed/videotaped as part of the audition process
• Arrive for the contest in Montgomery Auditorium half-an-hour early, at 10:00 a.m.


Click here for complete official rules.

Tags: Year of Dickens