The research context at Tübingen links literary studies with linguistics. Hence, for 2018 we invite papers on Dickens and Language, which may include (but is not limited to): Dickens and dialect, Dickens and figurative language, Dickens and body language, Dickens and genre, Dickens and the slipping signifier, Dickens and cultural linguistics, Dickens and foreign language, Dickens and dissonance, Dickens and rhetoric, Dickens in translation, Dickens and onomastics, Dickens and orality, Dickens and the language of emotion. In the traditional spirit of the Symposium, proposals for any topic related to Dickens’s life or work are also welcome. Please plan to submit a 300-word abstract (for papers deliverable in 20 minutes) and 150-word biographical statement between 1 September and 1 November, 2017, through a link at dickenssociety.org. For more information about proposals and the program, please contact Program Committee Chair Sean Grass firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details can be found here, and the submission website will open in September.
As an Allied Organization officially affiliated with the MLA, the Dickens Society sponsors panels and social occasions at the annual MLA convention and at regional MLA conferences such as Northeast MLA (NeMLA) and South Atlantic MLA (SAMLA).
This year’s conference is taking place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 12 to 15 April 2018. See the call for papers below:
Charles Dickens: Lessons Imparted and Lessons Learned (Dickens Society Panel)
Chair: Kristin Le Veness (SUNY Nassau Community College)
Richard Carstone in Bleak House declares, “I have learned a lesson now, sir. It was a hard one, but you shall be assured, indeed, that I have learned it.” Dickens characters still resonate with the modern reader, and their struggles and lessons learned reach readers on both an emotional and practical level. This panel invites abstracts exploring the various lessons Dickens tries to impart through his novels. How are these lessons situated in their contemporary historic/socio-economic milieu? Are they still valuable today, and if so, how do they translate to our modern concerns, values and sensitivities? Papers are invited to examine the expected and unexpected lessons in Charles Dickens’ works. Submit your proposal here.
This year’s MLA is taking place in New York, from January 4-7. See the call for proposals below:
Dickens and Resistance (Dickens Society Panel)
Chair: Diana C. Archibald (University of Massachusetts Lowell)
Papers are invited on any type of resistance in or to Dickens (his literature or his life): physical, emotional, political, linguistic, pedagogical, etc. A 250-word abstract and short CV should be sent by 15 March 2017 to Diana C. Archibald (email@example.com).
This year’s MMLA is taking place in Cincinnati, November 9-12 2017. The topic for the Dickens Society sponsored panel is “Itinerant Dickens: travel and travelers in Dickens’s life and works.” Proposals (250 words) should be emailed to the panel organizer Jerome Meckier at jmeckier[at]outlook.com by April 5, 2017.
This year’s NeMLA is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, from March 23-26. See the call for proposals below:
Dickens, Race, Empire (Dickens Society Panel)
Chair: Iain Crawford (University of Delaware)
Dickens, race, and empire. This session will explore the many facets of Dickens’s engagement with Victorian debates around race and empire. Open to proposals that examine any aspect of these issues and explore all parts of Dickens’s career, it seeks to consider Dickens within the context of both contemporary and current critical conversations around these key elements of Victorian culture and society.
View the conference site here. Anyone who wishes to submit an abstract should create an account with NeMLA and then search for panel #16337, “Dickens, Race, Empire.” Deadline for submissions is September 30, 2016.
MLA 2017 Session Sponsored by the Dickens Society
Dickens and Family?
Co-Presiders: Natalie McKnight, Boston University
Lillian Nayder, Bates College
“Broken Families as (Post)Colonial Doubles: Dickens’ Returned Convicts”, Christie Harner, Dartmouth College
Between 1836 and 1861, Charles Dickens published three tales of returned convicts. It is critical commonplace to read these stories—of Young Edmunds (The Pickwick Papers), Alice Brown (Dombey and Son), and Magwitch (Great Expectations)—as condemnations of failed social institutions. In a Freudian sense, what had been repressed (poverty, poor education, violence against the weak) would return to haunt British society. What has received far less attention is the fact that each of these characters is the product of a dysfunctional home. Edmunds is raised by a family riddled with domestic violence, Alice is born out of wedlock, and Magwitch is an orphan led to believe that his daughter has died. These domestic fractures, however, are more than origin narratives for criminal characters. Rather, each of the convicts functions as a spectral double for iterative acts of familial violence—violence that is mapped onto 19th c. British-Australian relations. Edmunds causes his father’s grisly death by choking; Alice is the cousin of Edith Dombey, who absconds with Alice’s seducer and divides yet another family; and Magwitch’s daughter Estella uses the language of her father to justify her weaknesses. Violence begets violence, and families fragment, but in representing these repeated divisions, Dickens’ texts upend linear causality and prescribed binaries (home/colony, citizen/convict, parent/child, etc.). This paper analyzes the doublings of domestic violence to argue that broken families in these stories function as metaphors for unraveling imperial bonds—and as challenges to our literary-historical conceptions of (post)colonial literature in the early Victorian period.
“Marriage Contracts, Slavery Cases, and the Legal History of Oliver Twist”, Lucy Sheehan, Columbia University
At the conclusion of Oliver Twist (1837), Brownlow explains that Oliver’s father had been “solemnly contracted” (Penguin, 411) to marry Oliver’s mother, but was thwarted by an important legal snafu: Oliver’s father was already married to another woman. When Oliver’s father attempts to break this earlier marriage contract, its true character as a sorrowful bond rather than a binding promise becomes apparent: “I know how listlessly and wearily each of that wretched pair dragged on their heavy chain through a world that was poison to them both…until at last they wrenched the clanking bond asunder” (410). As a “heavy chain” and a “clanking bond,” marriage comes to seem not merely a source of misery, but also a form of civilly-sanctioned slavery that threatens to follow the individuals caught up in its fetters across time and space. In this paper, I will argue that if Dickens portrayed slavery and marriage as forms of bondage, it was perhaps because family law and slavery law were intertwined in this period. British slavery cases cited marriage as a model for a slave-slaveholder bond, while Scottish divorce suits cited slavery cases as an instance where the courts agreed that bond could be “wrenched… asunder.” Reading Dickens’s novel alongside this history allows us to understand anew why Dickens pairs Oliver’s English abjection with allusions to Caribbean slavery. Although the novel offers up many potential villains, it is the indissolubility of the marital contract that renders Oliver not only illegitimate, but also at risk of turning into a chattel object. Dickens thus suggests that once a legal system has been endowed with the power to enslave others, it has a strange way of re-deploying that power to constrict the intimate lives of its own citizens.
“Embodied Maternity, Bildung, and the Dickensian Home”, Livia Arndal Woods, Queens College (CUNY)
In the novels of Charles Dickens, happier homes veil female characters during periods of embodied maternity (pregnancy, childbirth, and early post-partum) and unhappier homes dangerously expose them. Think, for example, of Oliver Twist and the unhappy home of revealed male vice that drives the pregnant Agnes Fleming out into the world, of Martin Chuzzlewit’s Mrs. Gamp, bringing disorder into the homes of the dying and the birthing alike, of David Copperfield and the unhappy home that kills both David’s mother and infant half-brother. Unhappy homes in Dickens drive reproductive female bodies toward the irreparable break of death. Compare these deadly exposures with the swaddling narration of, for example, Bella Harmon’s pregnancy in Our Mututal Friend: “I think,” Bella hints to her husband in their happy home, “[that] there is a ship upon the ocean…bringing…to you and me…a little baby.” This “ship,” perhaps also this “ocean,” are euphemisms for Bella’s maternal body, euphemisms that remain the only veiled references to that body’s vulnerability until a baby appears on the scene. These patterns of exposure and veiling position the reproductive female body as a metaphor for the home itself, the biological site of early development reverse-transubstantiated into a central conceptual site of individual bildung. In this paper, I offer readings of these patterns of maternal exposure and veiling in Dickens to demonstrate the ways in which explicit somatic experiences, particularly explicit somatic experiences of reproductive or potentially reproductive female bodies, are forces that both drive and disrupt the character of the home and the momentum of bildung.
“David Copperfield, the Ideal Family and Blood Relations”, Rosetta Young, UC-Berkeley
In this paper, I will argue that, in David Copperfield (1849), Dickens stages an argument for biologically unrelated individuals as constituting the ideal members of a nuclear unit for family life. With Uriah Heep and his mother, the siblings Murdstone and the dysfunctional Micawbers, Dickens figures immediate family blood relation as hazardous to social life; he positions the biologically related nuclear family as socially stagnant and (literally and metaphorically) unproductive. While glorifying the domesticity of family life, Dickens displays a deep skepticism towards blood relation, particularly when compounded by domestic life. Indeed, throughout Dickens’s writing, he figures the structure of the nuclear family as the ideal incubator for romantic, conjugal relationships—see, for example, his early writing “Christmas Festivities” (1835), in which he writes the “grown-up cousins flirt with each other, and so do the little cousins too for that matter” as completing the ideal family Christmas scene—and this is nowhere more true than in David Copperfield, where Agnes is first regarded as “dearest sister.” I will consider Dickens’s theory of the ideal nuclear family alongside Emile Durkheim’s work on the family and put this argument in discussion with the work of scholars on Dickens and the family (Barry McCrea, Charles Hatten, Catherine Waters). Rather than look at Dickens as pre-figuring Modernist and twentieth-century conceptions of the family, I argue that Dickens had a particularly nineteenth-century, Darwinian conception of family and its ideal societal function—and that this conception was intimately tied to what types of kinship networks suited the plot of his narratives.
We’re pleased to announce the line up for the the Dickens Society-sponsored panel for the Midwest MLA, ‘Border States’ (St. Louis, Missouri, November 10-13, 2016):
– Alistair Robinson (University College London) “Magwitch’s Muzzle: Dividing Men from Beasts in Great Expectations”
– Kristen Starkowski (Princeton University) “(Un)anxious Worlds: Taking Stock of Minor Characters in Dickens’s Fictions”
– Brenda Welch (independent scholar) “Bleak House: Legal Advocacy and Professional Responsibility”
This year’s NeMLA conference was held March 17-20, 2016 in Hartford, CT, and our Dickens Society Affiliated Organizations Panel was organized by Diana Archibald. The panel, ‘Digital Dickens’, included three papers on the theme:
– “Digital Dickens: Virtual Travel and Tourism” by Diana Archibald, University of Massachusetts Lowell
– “Tweeting Tippins: Using Digital Media to Recreate Our Mutual Friend’s Serializations” by Lydia Craig, Loyola University
– “Digital Dickenses: Family Drama in the Digital Archive” by Lillian Nayder, Bates College
The annual MLA convention was held in Austin, Texas, January 5-8, 2016. The Dickens Society hosted two sessions in partnership with The Dickens Project of UC Santa Cruz: “Dickens and Disability” was organized by Talia Schaffer, and “’The Dickens Jukebox’: Music at Work and Play in Narrative Form” was organized by Carolyn Williams.
2017, Boston, US
The 22nd Annual Dickens Symposium, Interdisciplinary Dickens, was held from July 14-16, 2017, co-sponsored by the Dickens Society and The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at the College of General Studies, Boston University. View the event schedule here.
Charles Dickens was the ultimate interdisciplinary thinker. The encyclopedic quality of his writing, his incorporation of characters from all classes and walks of life, his genius at being “a special correspondent for posterity,” and his interest in reforms in prisons, the treatment of the insane and urban design all result in works that reflect on a wide range of disciplines and that can be effectively illuminated by interdisciplinary approaches. Yet these approaches are complicated by the fact that Dickens’s career coincided with the emergence of modern disciplines of knowledge, and the nature and definitions of these disciplines has shifted. The organizers of this conference invited one-page abstracts that explore some aspect of Dickens’s oeuvre in light of another discipline: e.g. Dickens and art, Dickens and biology, Dickens and law, Dickens and medicine, Dickens and philosophy, Dickens and political science, Dickens and religion, etc. How does Dickens shed light on these disciplines, and/or how do their epistemological perspectives illuminate his works?
2016, Reykjavík, Iceland
The 21st Annual Dickens Symposium Adapting Dickens was held at Harpa, Reykjavík, from 11-13 July 2016.
No sooner had Dickens made a name for himself by writing novels than the London theatres began to adapt them to the stage. Indeed, both The Pickwick Papers (April 1836–November 1837) and Oliver Twist (February 1837–March–1838) underwent such adaptations before the serial run of either had come to an end, and the latter was staged in one form or another no fewer than forty times before 1850! Just over half a century later, “The Death of Poor Joe,” a short silent film from 1901 initiated a long series of adaptations of his works for cinema, and in 1959, BBC television broadcast adaptations of Great Expectations and Bleak House that proved how well suited his works were to either type of screen. Over four hundred adaptations later, there is no sign that the public’s enthusiasm for adapting Dickens is on the wane. Quite the contrary, audio versions of his works, a mode that can be traced directly to Dickens’s own dramatizations and his celebrated (and much imitated) readings can now be downloaded in a matter of minutes in MP3 format from a large number of internet sources. By the 1840s, his novels had been translated in Dutch, French, German, Italian and Russian, influencing a host of European writers over the following three decades. If we add the visual arts, musicals, graphic novels, video games, and a multitude of objects from Christmas decorations to cigarette cards and figurines, there seems to be no limits to the adaptability of Dickens’s works.
The symposium explored various facets of Dickens and adaptation – view the programme here.
2015, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
The 20th Annual Dickens Symposium bore the title Liquid Dickens and was held at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia from July 8-10, 2015.
In 1842, Charles Dickens visited several prominent cities in the United States and British North America. He subsequently published a travelogue, titled American Notes, detailing his experience in North American society. Of his arrival in Halifax Harbour in January of 1842, Dickens had this to say of the fledgling garrison town, which would be incorporated as the City of Halifax in the same year:
We came to a wharf, paved with uplifted faces; got alongside, and were made fast, after some shouting and straining of cables; darted, a score of us along the gangway, almost as soon as it was thrust out to meet us, and before it had reached the ship – and leaped upon the firm glad earth again! I suppose Halifax would have appeared an Elysium, though it had been a curiosity of ugly dullness. But I carried away with me a most pleasant impression of the town and its inhabitants, and have preserved it to this hour. Nor was it without regret that I came home, without having found an opportunity of returning thither, and once more shaking hands with the friends I made that day.
2014 Béziers, France
The 19th Annual Dickens Society Symposium was held 8-10 July 2014 at Domaine de Sagnes, Béziers (Languedoc-Roussillon), France. The location was one of the wine regions of Southern France, Languedoc-Roussillon, at a privately-owned country estate called Sagnes, located on the outskirts of Béziers and surrounded by the vineyards and olive trees that make the charm of this area. The Dickens Dinner took place on site, and delegates enjoyed two optional evenings: one on board of a barge along the Canal du Midi, one of the greatest engineering achievements under the reign of Louis XIV, and another meal at the Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide, following the visit of the Abbey and also of nearby Narbonne, one of the main cities of Gaul during the Roman Empire.
Papers were delivered on a range of topics about Dickens and his works, with some engaging ideas on the proposed theme, “Dickensian Landscapes,” a timely topic given the distinctive setting of the venue. Further, the very notion of landscape is not only still prevalent today, but seems to have morphed into multiple new derivatives such as ideoscapes, ethnoscapes, technoscapes, financescapes or mediascapes. How powerful a tool the notion of landscapes and its declensions could be to understand the self and the world is precisely what Dickens had already realized and shown in his work.
The organizers were Marie-Amélie Coste (Lycée Jules Ferry), Christine Huguet (Université Lille III), Nathalie Vanfasse (Aix-Marseille Université), and Paul Vita (Saint Louis University, Madrid).
2013 Toronto, Canada
In late April 1842 Charles Dickens made what he called a “run into Canada.” He considered it a country where “public feeling and private enterprise” were “in a sound and wholesome state,” and he found “health and vigor throbbing in its steady pulse.” Of Toronto he said, “the town itself is full of life and motion, bustle, business, and improvement. The streets are well paved and lighted with gas. . . the shops excellent.” It is here that we gathered from 4-8 July 2013 to reunite with old friends and make many new ones.
As well as a fine run of academic presentations and Dickensian discussion, delegates were treated to several special events: a gala Dickens concert, with music provided by the Toronto Chamber Choir; a visit to historic Fort York (a strategic location in the War of 1812); and an excursion to Niagara Falls (which Dickens visited) and Ontario’s wine country.
The symposium organizer was Dr. Leon Litvack (Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland).
2012 Lowell, Massachusetts, US & Canterbury, Kent, UK
In the bicentennial year, the Dickens Society was particularly fortunate in having the opportunity to host two symposia—one on each side of the Atlantic.
The first of the two bicentennial symposia was held on July 13-15, 2012, in Massachusetts at the Lowell National Historical Park. Hotel accommodation in downtown Lowell at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center provided easy access to a major exhibition at the National Park — Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation. The exhibition included several rare artifacts, including the 1842 portrait of Dickens by Boston painter Francis Alexander and the Boston Line Type edition of The Old Curiosity Shop donated by Dickens to the Perkins School for the Blind in 1868. Interactive elements such as an electronically sensored skull model enabled visitors to try a phrenological “reading” of Dickens. The popular Dickens walking tour of Lowell (first offered at the Dickens and America conference in 2002) and interactive sessions at the Tsongas Industrial History Center were also featured offerings of the symposium, along with several other special events. The Conference was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and was hosted by Diana C Archibald (UMass Lowell) and Joel J. Brattin (Worcester Polytechnic Institute).
From September 13-15, 2012, delegates were welcomed to Kent. Southeast of London and the Thames, the county maintains distinctive connections with the novelist and his work. Kent was Dickens’s childhood home for a short but intensive period, a retreat and then his home later in life, and the setting for episodes in several of his novels. The principal social event was the Dickens Dinner, held in Darwin College. On Saturday afternoon there was also an optional coach trip to Rochester and Chatham, and an opportunity to explore the location described by Dickens both as “the birthplace of his fancy” and also as “Dullborough.” Among the sites are Restoration House, the supposed original of “Satis House,” and the Bull Hotel, where the Pickwickians began their Perambulations, Perils etc. The Symposium was hosted by Malcolm Andrews (University of Kent), Catherine Waters(University of Kent), and David Paroissien (University of Massachusetts Amherst), and took place on the campus of the University of Kent in Canterbury