Office Hours: I am available continuously by email and by scheduled appointment.
In 1836, the London publishing firm Chapman and Hall hired the twenty-four-year-old hack writer and journalist Charles Dickens to write extended narrative captions for a series of woodcuts depicting humorous scenes of English sporting life. The woodcuts were to be done by Robert Seymour, a celebrated illustrator, and the series was intended to jumpstart Seymour's flagging career--but instead it marked the birth of the sensational publishing phenomenon that was Charles Dickens. Seymour shot himself shortly after the series began publication. Dickens took full advantage of this grisly opportunity, hiring another illustrator and turning what was once a picture-centered project that placed him firmly in the background into a text-centered enterprise centered on himself.
Almost overnight, the Pickwick Papers became a huge sensation. Everyone read it, and everyone advised everyone else to read it. Early numbers had only sold about 500 copies per month; by the end of the book's serial run, it was selling 40,000 copies per month. Those who wanted to extend the Pickwick experience beyond the book could buy Pickwick products. There were Pickwick cigars, canes, hats, and coats; there were Pickwick songbooks and china figurines. Dickens could not have known this at the time, but with the happy accident of the Pickwick Papers, he was effectively inventing the Victorian novel.
From the moment of Pickwick until his sudden death in 1870, Dickens essentially owned the Victorian novel on both sides of the Atlantic. "The Inimitable,"; as he styled himself, was alternately imitated, pirated, loved, and reviled. Aspiring authors copied him, criticized him, revered him, and mocked him. Anthony Trollope labeled him "Mr. Popular Sentiment,"; while George Eliot and Henry James both devised their conceptions of plot, character, and artistic purpose from careful--and highly critical--study of Dickens' work. Today, the adjective "Dickensian" has come to be a complicated literary compliment, a word that simultaneously declares an author to have a great gift and insinuates that he or she has yet to get that gift under control (the epithet "Dickensian" has been applied to writers as diverse as Peter Carey, Zadie Smith, and Salman Rushdie).
This course will be devoted to intensive, thoughtful study of the life, work, and legacy of the man who is often held to be the nineteenth century's greatest novelist. We will read widely in Dickens' fiction, and we will also examine his journalism, his theatrical ventures, his letters, and his critics.
Required Texts: (available at the Penn Book Center)
Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations
Dickens, Charles, Oliver Twist
Dickens, Charles, Our Mutual Friend
Fielding, Henry, Joseph Andrews
Kaplan, Fred, Dickens
One short paper (5-7 pages), due October 24
One longer paper (10-12 pages), due December 12
One historical web posting (250-300 words, plus links), due October 12
Weekly weblog postings
An in-class presentation
Be sure to read the course policies carefully.
Schedule of Readings
9/7 First day of class
9/12 In class: Sketches by Boz; out of class: Fielding, Joseph
9/14 Sketches, contd.; Fielding contd.
9/19 Fielding, Joseph Andrews; outside of class: Pickwick
9/21 Joseph Andrews, contd.; Pickwick Papers, contd.
9/26 Pickwick Papers
9/28 Pickwick Papers
10/3 Pickwick Papers
10/5 Pickwick Papers
PRESENTATION: Brian Levy
10/10 Oliver Twist
PRESENTATION: Rose Halligan
10/12 Interlude: Historical web postings due
10/17 FALL BREAK
10/19 Oliver Twist; outside of class: read Bleak House
PRESENTATION: Natalie Hamilton
10/24 American Notes; outside of class: read Bleak House
FIRST ESSAY DUE
10/26 Bleak House
10/31 Bleak House
11/2 Bleak House
PRESENTATION: Brooke Palmieri
11/7 Dickens criticism of the 1850s; outside of class: read Tale of
11/9 Tale of Two Cities
11/14 Tale of Two Cities
PRESENTATION: Marija Gudauskas
11/16 Tale of Two Cities
11/21 Our Mutual Friend
PRESENTATION: Maureen England
PRESENTATION: Penina Braffman
11/23 Our Mutual Friend
11/28 Our Mutual Friend
PRESENTATION: Lauren Sloss
PRESENTATION: Annabelle Lyons
11/30 Our Mutual Friend
PRESENTATION: Birgit Doak
12/5 Our Mutual Friend
12/7 Last day of class
PRESENTATION: Kaarina Romero
12/12 FINAL ESSAY DUE