Dickens’s Extraordinary Traveller: Immersive Media Forms and the World as Panorama

Of all of Dickens’s prose non-fiction, the one piece that has consistently troubled me the most since I started thinking about Dickens’s journalism and its bearing on the prehistory of immersive media spectacles is “Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller,” published in Household Words in April, 1850. A typical Dickensian flight of Fancy, this notice introduces readers to the figure of Mr. Booley, who at the age of 65, “left England for the first time” (511) on a series of trips around the world. “Mr. Booley’s powers of endurance are wonderful,” Dickens writes: “All climates are alike to him. Nothing exhausts him; no alterations of heat and cold appear to have the least effect upon his hardy frame. His capacity for travelling, day and night, for thousands of miles, has never been approached by any traveller of whom we have any knowledge through the help of books […] Though remarkable for personal cleanliness, he has carried no luggage; and his diet has been of the simplest kind” (511-12). Readers follow this account of Mr. Booley’s travels, which take him to such far-off locales as New Orleans in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, India, and the Arctic regions of the World, before reading in Booley’s own words the inspiration for his “roving spirit” (515): Continue reading “Dickens’s Extraordinary Traveller: Immersive Media Forms and the World as Panorama”

Drood, Ghost-Dickens, and the Fourth Dimension

* The following is a guest post by Beth Seltzer, who holds a PhD from Temple University and is an Educational Technology Specialist at Bryn Mawr College. She can be found at bethseltzer.info or on Twitter at @beth_seltzer.*

Want to know what happened at the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Why not ask the author?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) was only about half completed at Dickens’s death, its many mysteries still unresolved. What’s happened to the missing Edwin Drood? Has he been murdered by his uncle John Jasper (an opium addict obsessed with crypts and with Edwin’s fiancée)? And who is Datchery—the shadowy detective figure who might be another character in disguise? Victorian and modern reading audiences have speculated on the answers through hundreds of theories and completions, often seeking authority through careful close-reading or reports from the author’s friends and family. Continue reading “Drood, Ghost-Dickens, and the Fourth Dimension”

Close Reading Christmas Comedy

Mr. Fezziwig's Ball by John Leech. Image courtesy of  Philip V. Allingham and the Victorian Web http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/carol/1.html
Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball by John Leech. Image courtesy of Philip V. Allingham and the Victorian Web http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/carol/1.html

One of my Digital Humanities classes is working on a digital archive of A Christmas Carol. In addition to encoding and annotating each stave, they will be creating introductions to the text, to John Leech’s illustrations, and to a few key early 20th-century adaptations (from the first film version (1901), to Edison’s adaptation (1910), and Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore’s radio play (1939) to a TV version narrated by Vincent Price (1949). I will spare you the rationale for these particular choices (“why no Victorian theatre adaptations?” you ask, to which I say “is there no copyright? Are there no license fees?”) and will zip right along).

I have given many Victorian Studies lectures in Digital Humanities classes. I am a Victorianist by training and passion, and while Digital Humanities classes tend to focus on digital methods and building as a methodology, they rely on a deeply humanist engagement with the material and cultural past. In short, the humanities part of Digital Humanities mandates that DH projects, while D, must be about and through H. This time ‘round, I decided to give the students a contextual lecture about class, the workhouse, and early Victorian childhood, with a little excursus on early-Victorian Christmas traditions (or lack of them—Cratchit and his daughter Martha only get to pick their employers’ pockets, as Scrooge put it, on the 25th of December and not on the day before or after, as they might have 100 years on). Not all my students have a background in Victorian literature and culture, or even in English, but the child Dickens, Tiny Tim, and indeed, even junior Scrooge, make for very sympathetic lecture material, so all went well. Continue reading “Close Reading Christmas Comedy”

Portrait of a Novel: Great Expectations, Page One

As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones…

Pip at gravestone, from David Lean’s 1946 film adaptation of Great Expectations

Dickens’ Great Expectations opens with a poignant consideration of the limits of a medium, then shows us how a keen imagination can vault over these bounds. Young Pip has already a sense that the images he’s produced are “unreasonably derived” from these letterforms, but his act of creative misinterpretation allows him, in his childish and charming way, to mitigate the absolute loss of his parents. The “engraved” names appear to him as imprints of his parent’s bodies upon the stone: Pip explains that the “shape of the letters on my father’s” stone “gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.” From his mother’s inscription, he “drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.” Continue reading “Portrait of a Novel: Great Expectations, Page One”

Victorian “Text Message Poetry” at the British Library’s site

"Emblematic Poetry" (British Library's English Timeline)

The British Library’s Interactive English Timeline presents fascinating glimpses of important moments in the evolution of the English language. I think this could be a really interesting teaching tool for a Victorian literature course and I would especially want to point my students to what the BL has called “Nineteenth-century Text Message Poetry” from 1867: Continue reading “Victorian “Text Message Poetry” at the British Library’s site”

Dickens’s 200th Birthday!

I woke up this morning, opened up my browser to Google, and asked myself if it was Walt Disney’s birthday.  Yes, the sketch on the Google letters that indicates that it’s somebody’s birthday looked like a Disneyfied version of A Christmas Carol, complete with ladies in bonnets with large ribbons and street urchins hanging around gas lamps.  Actually, come to think of it my first exposure to Dickens was probably through Mickey Mouse, so this may be quite fitting!

In celebration of Dickens’s 200th Birthday, here is a round up of links to some of the festivities!

Click here to read free articles on Dickens from Routledge until May.

Click here to see places in the novels in London.  (So sorry I haven’t got the map of where Dickens stayed in Toronto!  I think it was University Ave.)

Click here to sign up for an online conference on Dickens in March.

Click here to search for Dickens in the British Newspaper Archive on a seven day free trial.

Happy Celebrating!

Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Charles Dickens beat out Keira Knightley for the lead story in the entertainment section of the Toronto Star today, with an article featured here on a local collector of his works.  The paper also had a cool map of places in Toronto that Dickens visited on his 1842 visit to North America, which I don’t see reproduced online.

We are still a couple of weeks away from Dickens’s 200th birthday, on February 7th.  It will be interesting to see what kind of mainstream media coverage the big event gets, in addition to the academic conferences and special publications being planned.  Seems like the Victorians have enough cachet to trump starlets.

Writing the Disaster: Babbage and the Black Box

Photograph of the 1895 train wreck at the Montparnasse train station in Paris. Photo by Studio Lévy & fils.

I’m teaching a course in Victorian culture this summer, and planning to open the class with a chapter from Charles Babbage’s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (on “Natural Theology”). His mathematical speculations in this text seem to me perfectly representative of the anxious and industrious Victorian desire to apprehend every incident and accident of the physical world. In his chapter  “On the Permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we Inhabit,” Babbage theorizes that an exhaustive and precise archive of past events would give us an exact vision of our future (to the extent that the latter unfolds as the accumulated consequence of the former). Continue reading “Writing the Disaster: Babbage and the Black Box”

The Other Dickens

I’ve just finished my holiday reading, and not a moment too soon since classes start tomorrow.  In addition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the new Jonathan Franzen novel, which I read while travelling, I read Lillian Nayder’s new biography of Catherine Dickens, The Other Dickens (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010), which was  too fat to take on the plane.

I was completely compelled by Nayder’s portrait of Catherine as a competent wife and loving mother, counter to Dickens’s accusations that she was so far incapable of raising her children and managing a household that her sister Georgina had to take over.  One challenge of writing this biography seems to have been how many of Catherine’s letters were destroyed.  Nayder inventively solves this problem by drawing on banking records and legal documents–showing that Catherine, not Georgina, was running the  household until very near her separation from Dickens in 1858, as the large cheques drawn in her name suggest, and extrapolating Catherine’s tender feelings about her family from the sentimental objects she bequeathed them in her will.  Continue reading “The Other Dickens”

Where is the Text in Textual Materialism?

"It's a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!" Image from Harper's weekly serialization of Great Expectations. (Scanned by Philip V. Allingham).

As a scholar working in the field of Deaf Studies who thinks daily about the fraught triangulation of written language, signed language and spoken language, I was intrigued by Bill Brown’s recent call to “extend textual materialism beyond the manuscript and the book and to expand the ways of locating physical detail in a sign system, which is how we make matter mean” (25). Brown issues this call in an introduction to a series of articles on textual materialism in the January 2010 issue of PMLA in which he traces the complementary and contradictory ways that book history, “theory,” digitality, and thing theory/material culture studies combine. Continue reading “Where is the Text in Textual Materialism?”

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops: Dickens Reprised

Two years before his death, in 1868, Charles Dickens famously toured the United States, giving public readings of his work. Mark Twain was in the audience in New York and admitted to being “a great deal disappointed” at Dickens’s performance. He records, “what a bright, intelligent audience he had! He ought to have made them laugh, or cry, or shout, at his own good will or pleasure — but he did not. They were very much tamer than they should have been.” Continue reading “Dr Marigold and Mr Chops: Dickens Reprised”

Muffin, anyone?

A Guest Post by Emily Simmons

At the recent VSAWC/VISAWUS conference I heard a fascinating paper on the cultural signification of the muffin in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby. The presenter, Susan Cook, offered a nuanced account of the muffin’s origins, its ingredients (I had no idea they were made using potatoes), and, of course, the dubious connotations of the muffin man’s residence on Drury Lane (very much an area of mixed social repute in the 1830s).  In Nicholas Nickleby the muffin is on an upward social trajectory, yet it still speaks to an economic disconnect between the muffin sellers and their own product, which they cannot afford.  After the paper I began thinking about another Victorian novel that is a favourite of mine for its food —  Cranford. Continue reading “Muffin, anyone?”

Writing Serially

In the first chapter of his book Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves, Malcolm Andrews attends to the particular relationship that Charles Dickens had with his readers – both in his imagination and in theirs. Andrews discusses the influence of serialization on the relationship between writer and reader, drawing heavily on Hughes and Lund’s The Victorian Serial, to argue that “Dickens could use serialization as a means of intervening regularly in the lives of his readers, thereby creating in them a degree of reliance on himself…that matched his reliance on their affection and attention” (16). For Andrews, this particular and intimate reader-writer relationship set the stage for the remarkable popularity of Dickens’s public readings. Continue reading “Writing Serially”

I Dream of Luggage

Since the end of April, I’ve been houseless and thus not as productive as I was hoping I would be this summer. I won’t bore you with all of the details or complaints, but suffice it to say that my seemingly perpetual state of transition over the last few months (which has now come to a halt, thankfully, in Calgary) has been both incredibly annoying and somewhat insightful, at least regarding what I want to blog about today. Continue reading “I Dream of Luggage”