Erin O'Connor

English 254

Spring 2004
TR 9-10:30
202 Williams
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).

Required Texts (available at Penn Book Center)

Peter Ackroyd, Dickens
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Charles Dickens, Hard Times
Charles Dickens, Old Curiosity Shop
Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers

Course Requirements

One short paper (5-7 pages) due March 4
One longer paper (10-12 pages) due May 3
Weekly postings to course weblog
An in-class presentation

Be sure to read the course policies carefully.

Schedule of Readings

Jan. 15 Sketches by Boz:
A Christmas Dinner
The New Year
Gin Shops
Seven Dials
The Pawnbroker's Shop
A Visit to Newgate
The Hospital Patient

Jan. 20 Sketches, contd.
Jan. 22 Pickwick Papers

Jan. 27 Pickwick Papers
Jan. 29 Pickwick Papers

Feb. 3 G.K. Chesterton on Pickwick
Feb. 5 Old Curiosity Shop

Feb. 10 Old Curiosity Shop
Presentation: Dickens' Raven, by Katie Tarbox
Feb. 12 Old Curiosity Shop
Presentation: Dickens and Forster, by Nicole Stein

Feb. 17 Dickens in America, including reviews of American Notes
Feb. 19 Bleak House
Presentation: The Courts of Victorian London, by Katie Gunderson

Feb. 24 Bleak House
Feb. 26 Selections from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor
Presentation: Dickens' Editing Career, by Ian Duncan

Mar. 2 Bleak House
Mar. 4 Victorian journalism


Mar. 16 George Eliot, "Natural History of German Life"
Presentation: Dickens' London, by Becky Dalzell
Mar. 18 Anthony Trollope, "Tom Towers, Dr. Anticant, and Mr. Sentiment"
Presentation: Victorian Poorhouses, by Eugenia Salvo

Mar. 23 Hard Times
Presentation: Victorian Education, by Caroline Elkin
Mar. 25 Hard Times
Presentation: Boys' Schools, by Kate Napalkova
Presentation: Daily Life in Victorian England, by Nancy Tyminski

Mar. 30 Hard Times
Presentation: Dickens and theater, by Allison Gutknecht
Presentation: More on Victorian theater, by Ben Marrone
Apr. 1 Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"
Presentation: England's Culture of Costume, by Daniel Watson
Presentation: Victorian Religion, by Jon Hendrix

Apr. 6 Our Mutual Friend
Presentation: Dickens and Ellen Ternan, by Patria Alvelo
Apr. 8 Our Mutual Friend
Presentation: The Photography of Dickens' London, by Amanda Fenster

Apr. 13 OMF: Writing, reception, reviews
Presentation: Dickens and his Illustrators, by Julie Adelizzi
Apr. 15 Our Mutual Friend
Presentation: Victorian Cuisine, by Rebecca Rosner

Apr. 20 Selections from George Gissing, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, Edmund Wilson