Tag Archives: David Copperfield

Upcoming talk: Texts in Place/ Place in Texts symposium at Royal Holloway, 21st May 2015

I’m very much looking to speaking at the symposium Texts in Place/ Place in Texts at Royal Holloway on 21st May 2015, which brings together geographers and literary scholars to discuss their understandings of the relationship between texts and places.

My talk is titled “’The distance is quite imaginary’: locating the nation and the world in Dickens’s David Copperfield” and is drawn from a section of my forthcoming monograph which explores the representation of national and global spaces/places in the Victorian novel. Full abstract as follows:

“It is merely crossing,” said Mr. Micawber, trifling with his eye-glass, “merely crossing. The distance is quite imaginary.”

Mr Micawber’s humorous denial of the distance between Britain and Australia provides a comic strain to the emigration story of Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–50), but its comedy belies an important point about the representation of place, and especially the national-global politics of representation, in the Victorian novel. In this paper, I will use David Copperfield to think about the representation of place in terms of narrative structure: how much narrative space is afforded to different places, how places are made more or less present through various representational modes, and how structures of nation and world intersect. I will suggest that David Copperfieldprovides an exemplary model of the structural delineation of place in the Victorian novel: a tight yet protracted core of the nation-space is set against an absent, often “imaginary”, world at large. Yet David Copperfield also calls for a closer reading of this structure, and I identify a paralleling of national and global places in the narrative to suggest how we might read for more subtle inferences of global resonances in the spaces of the Victorian novel.

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Dickens and google maps

I’ve been using Google maps in preparing a paper for this weekend’s Dickens Day conference, I’ve been playing around with the “my places” function – I only discovered the other day that you can save places to create different maps. It’s been fun creating maps of the locations in a couple of novels I’m writing about (I’ve just been drawing on print-out maps until now); here are my maps of the places of Bleak House and David Copperfield.

BH

(Click to enlarge. Yes, my graphics skills need a little work!)

Of course this is just a more hi-tech form of what Morretti does in Atlas of the European Novel, and a starting-point for ideas rather than an end in itself; but it’s nonetheless a useful way for stimulating ideas about location and place in individual novels, and indeed for re-thinking, revising, or even complicating initial readings of place.

In Bleak House, for example, it’s notable that the significant locations fall upon this linear North-South axis: from London, to Bleak House in Hertfordshire, and up again to Chesney Wold in Lincolnshire; and then directly(ish) down to Paris. A brief excursion to Deal breaks this, but predominantly it’s this movement up and down the country that forms the basis of the novel. In David Copperfield, this visualises what I’ve written about before about the tight, restricted geography of the text.

And in Little Dorrit, this is even more noticeable:

LD

London (and the “suburb” Twickenham) is the only English location in the text; this is accompanied by a European narrative, but limiting the text to London locations opens up more questions about the relationship between those two parts of the narrative and how “Englishness” is represented in the text.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll be using these maps in the talk itself as my focus is on the movements between these locations; but as I’m looking at how mobility reshapes the space of the nation, these maps provide a useful and concise visualisations of some of the key ideas I’m presenting. This might also feed in nicely to my teaching on the English C19th novel, where we’re thinking a lot about place and nation, and (as Moretti’s work shows), mapping the places of texts such as Austen’s works provides a useful way into thinking about these ideas for the first time.