Lydia Craig is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Nineteenth-Century Studies program at Loyola University Chicago, co-chair of the Dickens Society communications committee, and founding member of the Loyola University Chicago Victorian Society (LUCVS). A forthcoming article, “‘A Horrid Female Waterman’: The Contentious Legacy of Grace Darling in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend” will appear in the collection Dickens and Women ReObserved in March 2020. Twitter: @lydiaecraig Website: www.lydiacraig.com
Over the last weekend of July, Dickensians and other Victorian scholars and enthusiasts attended the 24th Dickens Society symposium, held at the Hotel Monaco in majestic Salt Lake City, Utah, and organized and hosted by Leslie Simon (Utah Valley University). Hot and dry as the weather was for the majority of the time, compounded by an altitude much higher than some were used to, water was the unquestionable drink of choice at this event. While devouring hors d’oeuvres at local favorite Eva’s Boulangerie on Thursday night, members of the Dickens Society informally discussed and debated the latest developments in the world of Dickensian academia, especially the recent exploration of controversial love-it-or-hate-it novel Barnaby Rudge (1841) at the 2019 Dickens Universe! Throughout the event, graduate bursary recipients tweeted updates from the @Dickens_Society Twitter account and posted highlights on its Facebook page. Other attendees tweeted from their personal accounts using the hashtag #Dickens2019; searching for it on Twitter under “Latest” will bring up all the informative and often hilarious tweets that officially and unofficially covered conference proceedings.
During the delectable Dickens Dinner at the stately and ornate McCune Mansion, David Paroissien’s thirty-six-year service to the Dickens Society as editor of The Dickens Quarterly was recognized and honored, prior to his retirement from performing that office. Also, outgoing communications co-chair Emily Bell received gratitude from the Dickens Society for originating and establishing their social media channels. Led by DS President Natalie McKnight, the annual toast to Dickens as the “Founder of the Feast” followed to great applause. Following the meal and lively conversation, guests were regaled by several dramatic readings from novels such as Bleak House (1853) and Oliver Twist (1839), performed by self-expressed Dickens fan, Kim Abunuwara (Assistant Professor, UVU). Among other special events were two workshops for undergraduates and graduates that took place during lunch breaks on Friday and Saturday, at which various students presented their papers on subjects in Dickens studies ranging from his authorship and literary themes of corruption and transnationalism, queer repressions and borders to Darwinism, Musicality, and questions of identity.
There was no official theme for the 2019 symposium. Subjects of the panels ranged from discussions of Dickens’s textual apparatuses, use of nicknames for characters, and narrative strategies to how he found inspiration through travel, and fictionalized his often-fraught sibling relationships. Andre DeCuir (Muskingum University) investigated Dickens’s interest in all things American, from his gradually improved opinion of immigrant Mormons, while Diana C. Archibald (University of Massachusetts-Lowell) shared Dickens’s observations of the cruel and unfair imprisonment of prisoners in American jails as detailed in American Notes (1842) and made connections to present-day incarceration rates. Katherine Kim (Boston College) showed that Dickens linked madness to femininity in his unfair treatment of writer Catherine Crowe when she underwent a possible mental breakdown in 1854. Goldie Morgantaler (University of Lethbridge, Canada), demonstrated how apocalyptic scenes of chaos appear in Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities (1859), hinting at his fear of revolt similar to that witnessed during the French Revolution (1789-99).
Several papers provoked laughter, as when Emily Bell (Loughborough University) in a graphic PowerPoint compared the competing mustaches of the young men who used to frequent Gads Hill Place hoping for the author’s literary patronage, along with their differing recollections of Dickens after his death in 1870. Another amusing presentation involved Dano Cammarota (Parsons School of Design) describing legal poppy-growing as an educational tool for teaching the legacy of the drug trade in Great Britain and the Opium Wars in China (1839-60). Leslie Simon (Utah Valley University) made a compelling argument that Dickens evokes both the debates surrounding the rite of Indian sati and the insufficiency of English divorce laws with the figure of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (1861).
As a special treat at the conclusion of the last symposium panel, writer Carl Wilson (pseudonym Christopher Lord) outlined his fascinating murder mystery series, which is set in a Dickens-theme town known as “Dickens Junction.” To see more topics and speakers, access the conference program at this link or on the Events page of the Dickens Society website.
In July 2020, the 25th Annual Dickens Society Symposium will take place in Bloomsbury, London on the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s death. In partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, The Dickens Museum, and the Dickens Fellowship, the Dickens Society will present the symposium “Our Dickens: Dickens and his Publics,” as well as a variety of connected events and local excursions. Details for abstract submission can be viewed at this link. We hope you can join us to discuss all things Dickens-related at the next symposium!