EVER since she was handed the classic novel David Copperfield to read as a child, Larne woman Kathleen Gillan has been captivated by the works of Charles Dickens and the Victorian imagery they conjure up.
Over the years, her love of all things Dickensian grew stronger and led her to become heavily involved with the Dickens Fellowship, a charitable organisation dedicated to preserving and promoting the life and works of one of England’s best-loved novelists.
And for the past 15 years, Kathleen has taken this passion and used it to help improve the reading ability of young people in the Larne area.
At her literacy centre at the Roddens, the 55-year-old tutor uses Dickens as a educational tool to help develop her pupils’ language skills.
She told the Times: “It is not just the novels that I love, it is the whole culture associated with them. These stories transported me into a different world, which I instantly fell in love with.”
Kathleen’s passion for Dickens and the Victorian era spills over into her day to day life in many other ways. Her sitting room is adorned with an array of Dickens memorabilia and Christmas at Kathleen’s house is like taking a step back in time, as she strives to make it as authentically Victorian as possible.
“Christmas in Victorian times involved decorating the living room with a lot of greenery and fruit such as apples and oranges, and Christmas trees were decorated with candles and toys rather than tinsel and baubles,” she added.
A member of the Friends of the Dickens Museum, Kathleen makes regular trips to the London venue to enjoy the company of others who share her passion.
“I first visited the museum about 25 years ago and it was one of the best days I have ever had in London. I identified with the work being done there and was mesmerised by it, and still am to this day. There was a great sense of fellowship and community and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.
As well as getting together with other members to help plan some of the exhibitions, Kathleen also takes part in range of projects to help promote the museum - she has even been known to play the role of Charles Dickens’s wife, Catherine on more than one occasion.
With it being the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birthday this year, Kathleen will be returning to London to attend the wreath laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey in February.
And she was delighted to learn that Larne is also joining in the celebrations, having been selected as the only venue in Northern Ireland to host a worldwide exhibition looking back at the life and works of Dickens.
“The exhibition at Larne Museum is a wonderful opportunity for local people to have access to the life and works of this unique writer. It is a great jumping off point for young people who know little or nothing about the subject. I hope it will open up the world of Dickens to children the way David Copperfield did for me all those years ago,” she concluded.
For more information on the Charles Dickens exhibition at Larne Museum and Arts Centre, contact 028 2827 9482.