For years, the four-storey brick terrace house where Charles Dickens lived with his young family was a dusty and slightly neglected museum. Now it's gone from Bleak House to Great Expectations.

After a NZ$5.86 million) makeover, the Dickens museum has been restored to bring the writer's world to life - and its director says it aims to look "as if Dickens had just stepped out.''

"The Dickens Museum felt for many years a bit like Miss Havisham, covered in dust,'' said museum director Florian Schweizer, who slips references to Dickens' work seamlessly into his speech. Miss Havisham is the reclusive character central to the plot of Great Expectations.

Now, after a revamp code-named - inevitably - Great Expectations, the house is transformed.

Dickens lived in the house between 1837 and 1839, a short but fruitful period that saw the birth of his first two children. It's the site where he wrote Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist, going in the process from jobbing journalist to rising author whose serialised stories were gobbled up by a growing fan base.


Dickens leased the simple but elegant Georgian house, built in 1807, for $157 a year.

The restored museum has all the modern trappings, including audio-guides, a "learning centre'' and a cafe. There also is a temporary exhibition of costumes from Mike Newell's new film adaptation of Great Expectations, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

But at its heart it is a house - the home of a proud young family man. Visitors can see the blue-walled dining room where Dickens entertained his friends, complete with original sideboard and a portrait of the 25-year-old author looking, it has to be said, pretty pleased with himself.

"It's rather Byronic,'' Schweizer said. "Not the Victorian sage with a beard that we think of.''

The museum's directors have been criticised for shutting the facility during most of the bicentenary of Dickens' birth - and during the tourism bonanza that accompanied the London Olympics.

It reopens on Monday, just in time for a Dickensian Christmas, complete with readings, performances of A Christmas Carol, mulled wine and mince pies.

The museum hopes to draw 45,000 visitors a year, a 50 per cent rise on pre-refurbishment levels.