Juliet John will be presenting her paper, ‘Dickens, Mass Culture and the Machine’ at 5.15pm on Tuesday, 15 March 2011. The talk will take place in the Cardiff Humanities Building, Room 2.48.
That the idea of Dickens and the adjective ‘Dickensian’ continue to have a cultural resonance which extends beyond the book-buying public almost two centuries after Dickens’s birth is testimony to his sense of himself as a mass cultural artist.
This paper contends that Dickens’s popularity is unique, different even from that of Shakespeare because, writing in ‘the first age of mass culture’, Dickens was instinctively aware of the changed context of art, or of the need for popular art to find its place in an age of mechanical reproduction. It examines Dickens’s attitudes to Culture and the machine, looking forward to the importance of machines to Dickens’s afterlives, and back to the real and symbolic importance of machines in his own day.
The first part contends that at the heart of the ambivalence about Dickens in literary criticism from his own day to ours is an association between Dickens’s fictional work and the machine, informed by the opposition between the machine and the idea of Culture influential in Victorian and subsequent cultural theory. John’s contention is that Dickens occupies a threshold position in cultural history, his aesthetics and philosophies informed by both a mechanical and an organicist conception of art.
The second part discusses prominent aspects of Dickens’s posthumous cultural legacy (film, heritage, and the so-called theme park ‘Dickens World’), demonstrating the importance of this threshold between the machinic and the organic to Dickens’s influence, and to cultural perceptions of Dickens.
About the speaker
Juliet John is Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool and Director of The Gladstone Centre for Victorian Studies. Her research interests include Dickens, Victorian literature and theatre, popular culture, film, heritage and neo-Victorianism. She is the author of numerous articles and books on Dickens and Victorian literature, including Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture (2001) and Dickens and Mass Culture (2010), as well as editing Cult Criminals: The Newgate Novels, a six-volume scholarly edition (1998), Charles Dickens: A Literary Sourcebook (2006) and The Oxford (Online) Bibliography of Victorian Literature (2011). She is currently working on a number of projects, among them Essays and Studies on Dickens and Modernity (2012) and The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture (2013).