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Cutting up Dickens' letters for handbags is vandalism, fumes professor at Queen's

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Auctioned letters: Charles Dickens

Auctioned letters: Charles Dickens

Auctioned letters: Charles Dickens

A Queen's University academic has accused a manufacturer of committing "cultural vandalism" by creating a limited edition collection of handbags containing writings by Charles Dickens.

The Charles Dickens leather handbag bears a tiny scrap from a brief note by the Victorian author declining a speaking engagement.

It has been produced by manufacturer Sekre, which is selling the handbags - that have been partly tanned with Champagne - for £2,700 each. Other handbags include letters from Queen Victoria, aviator Charles Lindburgh and actresses Brigitte Bardot and Marlene Dietrich.

Sekre said the writings are authenticated by experts before being carefully cut up and the pieces concealed in a compartment of their limited edition bags, the Times reported at the weekend.

Professor Leon Litvack, a Dickens expert who made headlines recently when he published research which claimed the remains of the famous Victorian author were effectively "body-snatched" in 1870 by two men for their own selfish gain, said he believed the handbags are nothing more than "cultural vandalism".

"I think this is the destruction of an important cultural artefact," the Professor of Victorian Studies said.

"(This manufacturer) is getting letters at auction, belonging to Dickens as well as others - cutting up 1 x 3cms sections and putting each one into a handbag. This is a piece of history."

Professor Litvack said his research methods ensure the original sources remain intact, whereas in this case, the letters are effectively destroyed. "(Sikre) has ensured these letters are never in circulation again," he said.

He said the handbag-maker had "cannibalised and carnivalised" the famous writer's legacy, which the academic insisted made "no sense" to him.

The manufacturer has defended the use of Dickens' letter, with its chief executive, Thomas Huber, stressing he avoids using artefacts which appear on official lists of cultural assets worthy of protection.

"We focus on everyday topics, such as thank-you letters, private appointments, chats or other mainly private aspects that do not involve any creative or artistic input," he told the Times.

However, Professor Litvack insisted each letter written by Dickens has great merit, regardless of its subject matter, for academics researching Dickens or the Victorian era. "Every letter contains something which adds a little bit of information," he said.

The criticism comes as unpublished letters penned by Dickens are to go on display for the first time in London over the next two years. Unpublished letters to be shown at the Charles Dickens Museum include one written on November 9, 1843, as Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.

Belfast Telegraph