Some readers of my blog will know that I also blog over at Researcher Life: the early career researcher experience, where a group of Warwick ECRs discuss various aspects of our research life. I don’t usually cross-post given the different nature to this blog, but my latest post is about blogging as an academic and reflects on my research blogging activity here, so do pop over if you’re interested in my thoughts on this blog or are an ECR/Victorianist blogger yourself!
“So, 4 years until Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary”
I was only half-joking as I made this my first tweet on the 8th February, the day after the Dickens bicentenary – as I mentioned in a post on Researcher Life, I’ve realised over the past couple of months that it really is worth looking ahead for any commemorative dates or other celebrations related to your research, and thinking about timing some relevant work accordingly. And thus it was that, fearing Dickens fever would soon die down (even I’m a little Dickens-fatigued), I found myself having a quick look to see which of authors are next up for the big 2-0-0: four years for Charlotte Brontë, a whole seven years until George Eliot, and Gaskell quietly came of bicentenary age in 2010. Which raises the question of whether Dickens 2012 will change the way we “do” bicentenaries; will Brontë or Eliot, arguably equally as “great” as Dickens, receive anywhere near the amount of fuss that Dickens’s birthday has created?
Dickens 2012 has, understandably, wearied a lot of Victorian scholars; whilst you could easily think that Dickens was the only man born in 1812, many have been quick to point out that Robert Browning, Edward Lear and the lesser-known Geraldine Jewsbury are also 200 this year. This has prompted some interesting reflections on the literary politics of bicentenaries and even wider questions about genre preferences in our contemporary ideas about the Victorian period: Alison Chapman raised an interesting discussion about poetry vs prose on the Victorian Poetry Network, reminding us that whilst poetry doesn’t hold such a strong place in our idea of the Victorian period today, there was an intrinsic relationship between poetry and prose in the period; she also points out that Dickens should be remembered not just as novelist, but also for his role in the evolving culture of Victorian poetry.
Whilst individual poets are, unfortunately, unlikely to ever get such sustained media attention as novelists (I’d suggest the potential of novels to be adapted for film and tv, and the particular adaptability of Dickens’s writing, goes a long way towards the general preference for novelists in general, and Dickens in particular, today), the upcoming bicentenary of another novelist raises the question of whether Dickens 2012 will prove to be a unique event in celebrating Victorian authors, or if this will instead set a precedence for future commemorations. Charlotte Brontë is especially pertinent to this discussion, as she remains one of the most popular nineteenth-century authors today: Jane Eyre is widely read and regarded as one of the Greats, and only last year yet another film adaptation was made, suggesting its enduring popularity.
But Jane Eyre is Brontë’s only really popular work, and her wonderful Villette and Shirley remain much less widely read despite containing much of what is loved about Jane Eyre: the psychological depths and mysteries of Villette are much darker, whilst Shirley‘s feminist heroines are problematic but the novel much more overtly and bravely probes into “the woman question”. As a result, I suspect that Brontë’s birthday will be a rather quieter affair, with a number of conferences and a small amount of media attention. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing: Dickens’s vast corpus of writing presents a rich opportunity for multiple reflections and responses, and the familiarity of many of his works has provided a springboard for opening up such wide interest in the bicentenary; the opportunity for “celebrating Dickens” is there itself in the sheer variety and volume of his works.
Charlotte Brontë presents us with a rather different legacy, and thus the need for a rather different response; what I hope is that her bicentenary will provide an opportunity to go beyond Jane Eyre and encourage wider recognition and enjoyment of her other works. Dickens 2012 has suggested the potential for not just for celebrating what we already know but discovering the new, forgotten, or neglected works; whilst the model of Dickens 2012 might not be appropriate for other celebrated authors, it has opened up a value in bicentenary (or similar) celebrations. It’ll be worth tracing the on-going impact of the projects and learning from this how other bicentenaries can best be used to encourage new forms of engagement with Victorian literature.
Now, will someone please write a screenplay of Villette…?!
My blog “‘Can you show me the places’? Dickens 2012 and literary tourism” has been published on The Journal of Victorian Culture’s “Victorians Beyond the Academy” blog – if the title sounds familiar, it’s a re-write of a post I wrote here a while back, updated to include some further reflections after re-reading Nicola Watson’s The Literary Tourist and some more thoughts about the politics of national culture that emerge around the bicentenary celebrations… Do go and have a read!
And if you haven’t seen it already, take a look around Victorians Beyond the Academy- it’s a really interesting initiative by the journal to encourage Victorians to discuss “the presence and treatment of the Victorian in our contemporary world”.
Today marks 200 years of Dickens’s birth.
There are plenty of celebratory websites and blogs reflecting on Dickens’s life and works, and I’ve already written my piece on why Dickens remains so popular and important today. So by way of a celebratory birthday post, I thought I’d take the opportunity to focus on some of Dickens’s local connections.
Dickens visited Leamington Spa several times, including one visit in 1838 which included Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Kenilworth. A letter from November 1st 1838 notes:
We found a roaring fire, an elegant dinner, a snug room, and capital beds all ready for us at Leamington, after a very agreeable (but very cold) ride. We started in a postchaise next morning for Kenilworth, with which we were both enraptured, and where I really think we MUST have lodgings next summer, please God that we are in good health and all goes well. You cannot conceive how delightful it is. To read among the ruins in fine weather would be perfect luxury. From here we went on to Warwick Castle, which is an ancient building, newly restored, and possessing no very great attraction beyond a fine view and some beautiful pictures; and thence to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we sat down in the room where Shakespeare was born, and left our autographs and read those of other people and so forth.
Ten years later in the novel Dombey and Son we see a similar visit undertaken by the main characters: in one of the novel’s most well-known passages Mr Dombey travels on the train (the London-Birmingham railway line, as Leamington wasn’t connected to London by railway until 1852) and then stays in the town at “the Royal Hotel”; Mrs Skewton and her daughter stay “in lodgings that were fashionable enough, but rather limited in point of space and conveniences” (323). They visit the Pump-room several times (in the image below, you can see a sign pointing “to the Pump Room”), and make an excursion to Warwick which takes the party over a landscape of “smooth undulations, wind-mills, corn-grass, bean fields, wild-flowers, farmyards, hayricks” (423) before visiting the Castle where “grim knights and warriors looked scowling on them”. Having exhausted the Castle, they ride “to several admired points of view in the neighbourhood” to sketch the views, and then take “a stroll among the haunted ruins of Kenilworth”.
In a later visit to Leamington in 1858, Dickens notes his travel on the railway line between Leamington and Wolverhampton, saying
We came through a part of the Black Country that you. know., and it looked at its blackest. All the furnaces seemed in full blast, and all the coal-pits to be working
Less well known, however, is that Dickens also visited Coventry in 1857 and 1858; on the first visit he gave a reading of A Christmas Carol in the city and on the second visit in December 1858, he was thanked by the city with the presentation of a gold watch. In his speech to mark the occassion he stated:
the memory of to-night, and of your picturesque and interesting city, will never be absent from my mind, and I can never more hear the lightest mention of the name of Coventry without having inspired in my breast sentiments of unusual emotion and unusual attachment.
“Charles Dickens was fascinated with travel, and this is reflected in Little Dorrit which features continental locations such as Marseilles, Rome and the Alps. Yet why did he represent Europe as a hostile place in this novel, and what can we glean from him about British tourists of the period”