Great Expectations at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

I very much enjoyed giving the pre-show talk on Great Expectations at the Cambridge Arts Theatre last Tuesday. I have since been asked for details about the material I discussed, so I thought I would share some links and further references here.

I began the talk by discussing the initial publication context of Great Expectations. It was published in weekly parts between October 1861 and January 1862 in Dickens’s Journal All the Year Round. You can browse through the journal on Dickens Journals Online. This site also includes a film about the London of Great Expectations and details of the online community who are reading the novel week-by-week, as the novel’s first readers did. In my module on Victorian Literature and Culture at Anglia Ruskin University, I ask students to read a novel in weekly parts over the course of a semester in order that they might get a taste of the experience of the early readers who were engaged with a novel over months and sometimes even years. It is always really interesting and exciting to reflect on how reading a novel in this way affects our experience of the plot and the characterisation.

After outlining the initial context of publication, I moved on in the talk to discuss issues relating to adaptations of Dickens’s novels and to highlight the theatrical elements in Great Expectations. If you would like to read more about Dickens’s own experiences with the theatre then I would recommend this piece by Simon Callow on the British Library website. These are the details of some of the three cinematic adaptations of Great Expectations which  I discussed:

David Lean (dir), 1946

Alfonso Cuaron (dir) 1998

Mike Newell (dir), 2012

In the Q&A time, I brought up the mini-series Dickensian. I would strongly recommend it and am very pleased to see the whole series is now available on Netflix. An earlier post by unit member Valerie Purton offers some reflections on the production.

Finally, my thoughts on Dickens and adaptation have been shaped by the following books:

  • Linda H. Hutcheon. A Theory of Adaptation (Routledge, 2012)
  • Karen E. Laird. The Art of Adapting Victorian Literature, 1848-1920 (Ashgate, 2016)
  • James, Naremore (ed). Film Adaptation (Althone, 2000)

Elizabeth Ludlow

The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Legacy of Romanticism.

Thank you so much to all of you who came to our conference ‘The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Legacy of Romanticism’ on the 1st June. It was wonderful to see so many of you in Cambridge. It is widely acknowledged that the Brontës and Gaskell were enormously inspired by the generation of Romantic writers who preceded them, but this conference set out to explore the manifestation of these Romantic legacies in depth. Gaskell and the Brontës’ lives intersect so closely, and yet politically and theologically they differ significantly, making a comparison between their internalisation, re-fashioning and resisting of Romantic tropes such a rich ground for discussion.

Simon Avery set the tone for the conference with his fantastic keynote lecture on the Brontës’ 1846 collection of poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, drawing out a variety of Romantic legacies within these poems and teasing out many themes that were unravelled by our panellists throughout the day.

In our first panel, Clare Walker Gore and Lucy Hanks tackled Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, scrutinising Gaskell’s attempts to comprehend Charlotte’s position as a post-Romantic female writer.

After a continued discussion over tea and coffee, Marie Moxon began our next panel with an analysis of Gaskell’s Ruth and the influence of Wordsworthian poetics of nature, before Ann-Marie Richardson introduced us to the Romantic poet Henry Kirke White and his impact on Emily Brontë’s poetry. Elena Violaris rounded off the panel with an invigorating paper on imagining imagination in Villette, Shirley and Jane Eyre.

In our final panel, Edwin Marr placed Branwell Brontë’s poetry in the tradition of proto-Romantic graveyard writing, before Lucy Sheerman closed the day with a deeply nuanced paper on the Byronic hero.

Reflections from unit member Abderrezzaq Ghafsi on the 56th anniversary of Algiers’s University Library fire and on the burning of Dickens’s novels

As good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God’s Image; but he who destroys a good Book, kills reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

― John Milton, Areopagitica

This blog post recounts the bombing of the Algerian library and the burning of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and Bleak House in Algiers’s University Library 56 years ago. In 2015 the Algerian Newspaper El-Massa published a column entitled ‘The Burning of Algiers’s University Library: A Forgotten French Tragedy’ which described how, on 7th June 1962 at around 12:40 pm, three phosphorous bombs exploded, leading to a disastrous fire in the Library which destroyed about 600,000 rare transcripts and books. Many observers considered this event as a terrorist attack intended to destroy Algerians’ cultural memory. Some Algerian politicians attributed the fire to the French policy known in Algeria as ‘The Scorched Earth’. Others argued that the fire had been planned by a terrorist group known in Algerian history as OAS (French Secret Army Organisation). For more details, please click here.

The fire at Algiers’s University Library increases the challenge of tracking the reception history of Charles Dickens’s works in Algeria. In September 2016, I conducted fieldwork to look at the holdings of Dickens’s novels at Algiers University Library during colonial Algeria. The early novels the library held were in two languages: French and English. As a researcher in the publication history of Dickens in Algeria, I encountered many difficulties in locating the archives and pinning down the dates of the acquisition of the novels by the library. There are two main reasons for this. First, the systematic organization of archives in Algeria did not begin until the early twentieth century. Second, the huge fire in Algiers University Library shortly before Independence in 1962 meant that copies of The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House were included in the many volumes that were destroyed or partially burnt.

 The Burning of The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House at Algiers University Library in 1962