The World of Charles Dickens July 6-11, 2014

The first half of the 19th century in England can justly be called the Age of Dickens. Along with Jane Austen, Charles Dickens virtually created the British novel as we know it today. When his first important work of fiction, The Pickwick Papers, appeared in serial form in 1836-37, the enthusiastic response by the reading public was extraordinary. Combining a masterful ability to tell a story with an uncanny skill at creating memorable characters, Dickens appealed to all classes of readers—all could see something of themselves in his range of portrayals.

Part of Dickens' genius consists in his ability to bring his readers simultaneously to laughter and to tears: the heart-wrenching death of Little Nell alongside such uproarious comic figures as Mr. Micawber and the Artful Dodger. But through these memorable characters, Dickens also paints the canvas of his society: the corruption of the law and the courts, the absurdities of the school and prison systems, the plight of the orphans and the poor in 19th-century London, and the hopeful efforts of young people to come together in love and marriage.

While he was chronicling his world through fiction, Dickens was also exploring his own consciousness and his own struggles through such classics as Great Expectations and David Copperfield. As Dickens grew older and suffered losses and disappointments, his novels reflect what scholars have called his "Dark Period." The discontent in such great novels as Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit reveal Dickens' own frustration with his personal life and the world around him. Yet he also created his five memorable "Christmas Books," including the beloved A Christmas Carol.

From whence did such a prodigious and complex talent emerge, and how do Dickens' novels comment on his world? We'll focus on three of Dickens' greatest works: David Copperfield (which he called his own "favourite child"), A Tale of Two Cities (one of the great historical novels of the age), and A Christmas Carol. We'll consider not just Dickens' fiction, but also his relation to travel writing, journalism, and the visual arts of the period.

Lecturers will include Marc Conner, associate provost; art historian and biographer Lucinda Hawksley (author of Charles Dickens and Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens' Artist Daughter—and Dickens's great-great-great-granddaughter); and Lamar Cecil, noted W&L historian.