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Dickens and Modernity

Dickens and Modernity

Edited by Juliet John
Volume: 65
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Dickens and Modernity
    Book Description:

    The scale of the 2012 bicentenary celebrations of Dickens's birth is testimony to his status as one of the most globally popular literary authors the world has ever seen. Yet Dickens has also become associated in the public imagination with a particular version of the Victorian past and with respectability. His continued cultural prominence and the "brand recognition" achieved by his image and images suggest that his vision reaches out beyond the Victorian period. Yet what is the relationship between Dickens and the modern world? Do his works offer a consoling version of the past or are they attuned to that state of uncertainty and instability we associate with the nebulous but resonant concept of modernity? This volume positions Dickens as both a literary and a cultural icon with a complex relationship to the cultural landscape in his own period and since. It seeks to demonstrate that oppositions which have pervaded approaches to Dickens - Victorian vs modern, artist vs entertainer, culture vs commerce - are false, by exploring the diversity and multiplicity of Dickens's textual and extra-textual lives. A specially commissioned Afterword by Florian Schweizer, Director of the Dickens 2012 celebrations, offers a fascinating insight into the shaping of this year-long public programme of commemoration of Dickens. Like the volume as a whole, it asks us to consider the nature of our connection with "this quintessentially Victorian writer" and what it is about Dickens that still appeals to people around the world. Professor Juliet John holds the Hildred Carlile Chair of English Literature, Royal Holloway, University of London. Contributors: Jay Clayton, Holly Furneaux, John Drew, Michaela Mahlberg, Juliet John, Michael Hollington, Joss Marsh, Carrie Sickmann, Kim Edwardes Keates, Dominic Rainsford, Florian Schweizer.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-026-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Juliet John

    On the centenary in 1970 of Dickens’s death, his image appeared on the postage stamps of thirteen British Commonwealth countries. For over a decade (1992–2003), Dickens was the face of the British ten-pound note and the image of a cricket match at Dingley Dell from The Pickwick Papers formed its background. As I write this Introduction in 2011 on the eve of the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth, new Dickens adaptations, biographies, press stories, events, conferences and exhibitions are already announcing themselves all over the world. Dickens’s continued cultural prominence and the ‘brand recognition’ achieved by his image and images...

  7. 1. The Dickens tape: affect and sound reproduction in The Chimes
    (pp. 19-40)

    What would you give for a recording of Dickens reading? Who would not treasure a scrap of the Inimitable’s voice? Dickens himself wanted people to hear him. He revelled in public readings where his voice brought to life Micawber and Pickwick, the death of Little Nell and the hanging of Sikes. Recordings of other nineteenth-century voices exist-Tennyson, Browning and Whitman, among writers–and the tenuous thread of their words reaches toward us as from another world. The crackle of static is like the noise of time itself. Dickens, who was interested in sound technology, would have been one of the...

  8. 2. Dickens, sexuality and the body; or, clock loving: Master Humphrey’s queer objects of desire
    (pp. 41-60)

    This essay comes out of Dickens’s fascination with stuff: specifically his interrelated interests in strange bodies and strange things. It brings together lines of enquiry inspired by thing theory, queer theory and gender studies to explore Dickens’s investment in the imaginative, emotional and erotic appeal of objects. I suggest that in conjunction these approaches reveal the centrality of the material to Dickens’s queer imagination, as his thinking on human/object relations participates in his wider scrutiny of the naturalness and inevitability of gender roles, heterosexuality, and, indeed, the human. In this I am particularly inspired by William Cohen’s recent treatment of...

  9. 3. Texts, paratexts and ‘e-texts’: the poetics of communication in Dickens’s journalism
    (pp. 61-93)

    The first stanza of Walt Whitman’s extraordinary poem, with its inspired bathos and confident ‘poetics of ad-libbing’ (Donald Davie’s phrase: 59), proclaims its aim to fuse, on both personal and public planes, a sense of the trajectory linking past with present, and today’s technology with tomorrow’s new possibilities. It also announces the public occasions for this rhapsodic outburst (which actually gets more uncertain the longer it lasts): namely the successful laying of a transatlantic submarine cable allowing telegraphic communication across the Atlantic (July 1865);¹ the junction of the Union and Pacific railroads (May 1869), and the completion of the Suez...

  10. 4. Corpus stylistics – Dickens, text-drivenness and the fictional world
    (pp. 94-114)

    Accounts of Dickens’s language highlight the variety of stylistic devices that can be found in his writings (cf. e.g. Stewart, Plummer). Ingham observes that Dickens ‘deploys every available linguistic resource’ (126). However, relatively little attention seems to have been given to specific patterns and the functions they fulfil in the creation of fictional worlds. This article sets out to illustrate how computer-assisted methods can support the analysis of linguistic devices and the effects they create in the text. The focus will be on two resources in particular: repeated sequences of words and suspended quotations. The strength of computer-assisted approaches is...

  11. 5. Things, words and the meanings of art
    (pp. 115-132)

    We next went to the School of Language, where three Professors sate in Consultation upon improving that of their country.

    The first Project was to shorten discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verbs and Participles, because in reality all things imaginable are but Nouns.

    The other Project was a Scheme for entirely abolishing all Words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great Advantage in point of Health as well as Brevity. [. . .] An Expedient was therefore offered, that since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for all Men to...

  12. 6. Dickens and the circus of modernity
    (pp. 133-149)

    It is widely acknowledged that, on the basis above all of A Christmas Carol, Dickens had a hand in the invention of modern Christmas. I want here to put forward a lesser but not unconnected claim, the exploration of which brings into focus an equally rich and international cultural context. During my childhood in London in the years immediately following the Second World War, Christmas meant a great deal to me, as a time of then uncharacteristic cornucopia, of plentiful food and drink, present-giving and entertainment. Two Dickensian forms of the latter were de rigueur in my family: a visit...

  13. 7. The Oliver! phenomenon; or, ‘Please, sir, we want more and more!’
    (pp. 150-170)

    On Thursday 30 June 1960, a hummable musical ‘freely adapted’ from Oliver Twist (though also inspired by a chocolate bar)¹ ‘sizzled’ onto the stage of the New Theatre, London, launching the star careers of standup comedian and cabaret artist Ron Moody (Fagin), night-club singer Georgia Brown (Nancy), and a string of musical Artful Dodgers, including Davy Jones (later one of the pop group the Monkees, who performed as the Dodger on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ the same night the Beatles made their American TV debut), the rock star Phil Collins (‘the loudest Dodger’, his child-actor-agent mother proudly recalled),² the Small...

  14. 8. ‘Wow! She’s a lesbian. Got to be!’: re-reading/re-viewing Dickens and neo-Victorianism on the BBC
    (pp. 171-192)

    ‘I’m a big Dickens fan’, confessed Sarah Waters in an interview; ‘His preoccupations [. . .] with class, with desire, with guilt, and with the gothic traumas of maturation and love – still seem enormously resonant to me’ (Waters, quoted by Pete Bailey). Speaking as a neo-Victorian novelist, the ‘resonance’ that Waters has in mind invokes a reverberating movement, a conceptual shifting backwards and forwards between Victorian and post-modern periods and values that engenders a proximity of feeling to the frustrated and unresolved intimacies of Dickens’s fiction. It has been in her re-readings of Dickens and rewritings of the Victorian past...

  15. 9. Out of place: David Copperfield’s irresolvable geographies
    (pp. 193-208)

    Centredness, presence, being – these elusive categories are always at risk in Dickens. They may be threatened by self-doubt; insanity; the burden of the past (expressed as guilt or debt); foreignness and savagery; vanity and deceit; even metaphysics. A proverbial celebrant of domesticity and tradition who nevertheless needed to be perpetually in motion, both mentally and physically, Dickens was acutely aware of the difference it may make to live on one spot on the earth’s surface rather than another, and the problems involved in conforming our ideas of self and duty to geographical space. Do we try to extend our ideas...

  16. 10. Afterword: The 2012 bicentenary
    (pp. 209-222)

    In the context of the bicentennial celebrations for the author of The Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol, William Makepeace Thackeray’s immediate observations on the longevity and impact of Charles Dickens’s stories take on a prophetic quality: Dickens’s works are far from being considered frivolous, A Christmas Carol has proved to be an international benefit (not least in a commercial sense), and it would seem that no other Victorian writer was able to take on the challenge to ‘write against’ Boz.

    Writing this essay in 2011 – the bicentenary year of Thackeray’s birth – I should be astonished at the lack of...

  17. Index
    (pp. 223-232)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)