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”

Bodily Sympathy, Imitation, and Victorian Literature

Disdain and disgust from Darwin's Expression of Emotions...
From Darwin’s Expression of Emotions… From: Wellcome Library, London.

Sympathy is perhaps the most frequently discussed emotion among scholars working in Victorian literature and culture. Many have argued how important notions of sympathy and later empathy were to the development of nineteenth-century subjects and the novel as a genre. Most of these critics understand sympathy as cognitive, or as a kind of mental feeling. In Scenes of Sympathy, for instance, Audrey Jaffe draws from Adam Smith’s 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments when she explains that “sympathy ‘does away’ with bodies in order to produce representations, replacing persons with mental pictures, generalized images of ease and of suffering” (11). Yet for many Victorian thinkers, sympathy did not ‘do away’ with the body. In fact, in Victorian scientific and philosophical writing, as well as in much literature of the period, sympathy was often understood as an affective response that was deeply physiological and embodied. Henry George Atkinson, writing to Harriet Martineau in their collaborative text Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development in 1851 called sympathies between individuals, “the influences of one organized body upon another” (117-18). If scholars working on nineteenth-century literature have been so invested in notions of sympathy as a cognitive and ultimately ethical response to reading, how might we read literary texts alongside a more embodied and potentially more ambiguous understanding of sympathy?

Continue reading “Bodily Sympathy, Imitation, and Victorian Literature”

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!