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Charles Dickens's reading copy of The Bastille Prisoner



Object number (per part)

[lib]6689, 1971.1.96

Object name (per part)



The Bastille Prisoner

Production person

Dickens, Charles

Production organisation

W.Clowes & Son

Production date



Dickens’s text for the Bastille Prisoner is based on Book One from A Tale of Two Cities. Despite the fact he carefully adapted, edited and underlined the text in 1861, Dickens never publicly performed the work. He must have put a great deal of thought into the decision not to perform it, because the numerous stage directions included indicate he planned the public reading in great detail.

Other number

2589 (2009 DH object access database number)

Acqusition history

The book was originally part of Dickens's library at Gad's Hill, and appears on Henry Southeran's 1878 valuation of Dickens's library.
It contains the book plate of Courtlandt Bishop.
It was purchased by the Comte de Suzannet at the Bishop sale in April 1938.
It forms part of the Suzannet Collection, and was donated to the Museum by the Comtesse de Suzannet in 1971.

Physical description

8vo 45 pages, including title red half morocco gilt, in a cloth slip-case, olive green morocco gilt back

Object history note

A Reading Copy is a book which has been highlighted and or annotated by the reader. In Charles Dickens’s case, he edited, annotated and physically altered copies of his own works to assist him in performing his public readings. He would include stage directions for himself, and often used different coloured inks to indicate deletions or other kinds of information. Some volumes also have pages purposefully stuck together, where they were to be omitted from the performance. Dickens would eventually get select passages of his works reprinted with large margins to better allow for his notes and annotations, which he would later sell or gift to friends.

The Bastille Prisoner is a reading from 'A Tale of Two Cities' in three chapters which was privately printed. Dickens divised this reading (derived from Book One of the novel) in 1861 but it was apparently never performed. The text has, however, been carefully worked over by Dickens and there are several deletions, underlinings for emphasis and manuscript additions, as well as numerous stage-directions written into the margins ("kissing hand", "knocking", "beckoning", "sigh", "moan", etc.) The book contains Charles Dickens’s bookplate, the Gad’s Hill bookplate and the Comte de Suzannet book plate.
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