Highlights of the twelfth part of the ‘Our Mutual Friend Tweets’ project can now be found on Storify! Click here to catch up on the latest developments.
And don’t forget to bookmark ‘Our Mutual Feed‘ to keep up with the story day-to-day.
The family are busy. The corps dramatic are all anxiety. The scenery is all completing rapidly, the machinery is finished, the curtain hemmed, the orchestra complete, and the manager grimy.
So wrote Charles Dickens in 1833, concerning his anxious preparations for a private theatrical that he was staging with friends. Yet this was more than light entertainment. Even though this production took place in Dickens’s father’s house, its scale was lavish. But then Dickens was never known for doing anything by halves. Just a few years later his fiction had propelled him into a public spotlight, and this also gave him the opportunity to write for a larger, and professional, stage. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm for amateur drama endured.
Although not usually remembered as a dramatist, Dickens wrote several plays, including the one-act comedy Is She His Wife? or, Something Singular! In staging this diverting play, we aim to recreate the style, music and performance techniques of Dickens’s early private theatricals. This ‘practice as research’ project will promote public awareness of Dickens’s more obscure works, and provoke questions about Dickensian theatricals and Victorian drama more widely.
Do you privately harbour a wish to tread the boards? Are you interested by Victorian theatre or studying Dickens? Would you like to be involved in this exciting project? If so, we are looking for actors.
This project will result in two performances. The first will be held at King’s College London, and will be open to a public audience. The second will follow a small afternoon symposium, and will be held at the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street – where Dickens was living when Is She His Wife? premiered at the St James’s Theatre.
Actors will be expected to commit to these performances (in the evening on 17th and 18th September), as well as to three rehearsals in the week commencing 14th September, and a readthrough in the week commencing 31st August.
The play has a run-time of approximately one hour: you can read the full text online here.
Reading is a powerful thing in Dickens’s novels. David Copperfield says of his childhood that ‘reading was my only and my constant comfort’. He goes on, ‘when I think of it the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life’. If the lonely and unhappy David found reading life-saving, Oliver Twist experiences its deathly associations. He is so disturbed by reading the Newgate Calendar that its pages seem to turn red with gore and he hears its words sounding in his ears.
Contemporaries of Dickens were also keenly aware of the power of literature and they worried about Dickens’s own influence over his vast numbers of readers, particularly the ‘impressionable’ ones – women, younger readers and the lower classes. Despite such concerns, Dickens’s popularity remained undimmed throughout his life and in his last years he reached a new audience with his public readings of his own works. Reading Dickens had a profound effect on many other writers too and we will seek to explore the echoes, referencing and rewriting of Dickens – both celebratory and critical – in later works.
Jointly run by Birkbeck, the University of Leicester, the Dickens Fellowship and the Institute of English Studies, this one-day conference will explore Dickens’s reading, his readers and reading in his work. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of the theme and warmly encourage Dickensians and scholars of all backgrounds and career stages to apply.
Topics could include but are not limited to:
Reading and readers of Dickens’s work
Please send proposals (maximum 500 words) to Bethan Carney, Holly Furneaux and Ben Winyard at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. The deadline for paper proposals is 31st May 2015.
This guest post was contributed by Dr Bethan Stevens, Lecturer in English and Creative & Critical Writing at the University of Sussex.
Throughout our reading of Our Mutual Friend, its illustrations have punctuated our experience; in each part, they precede the text, focusing anticipation on what’s to come. If the text of this novel is emphatically single-authored (as Pete Orford said in his post, we’re expecting ‘something Dickensian’), illustration was a fundamentally collaborative process. The illustrations in the wrappers of Our Mutual Friend had input from Dickens as author, Chapman and Hall as publishers, Marcus Stone as designer, and the Dalziel Brothers and W. T. Green as wood engravers (by the 1860s, recent technical advances had made wood engraving the only really viable commercial medium).
Short deadlines meant that the whole process had to be completed fast, even though wood engraving was an extremely laborious process; this may have been one reason why each month’s illustrations were equally divided between two engraving firms; you’ll notice, in almost all the month’s illustrations, that one is signed ‘Dalziel’ and the other ‘W. T. Green’. Speed and short deadlines were as crucial to the style of the illustrations as they were to Dickens’s text, resulting in a selective and impressionistic approach. The intense physical labour of working on boxwood meant that the engravers would never have been able to mimic the intricate style of the work they had both done for the Moxon Tennyson (1857), for example, with its famous Pre-Raphaelite detail.
This guest post was contributed by Dr Pete Orford, Lecturer in English at the University of Buckingham, stalwart online serial reader of Dickens, and Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com).
Well, here we at part 12, and a whole year in to our reading of Our Mutual Friend (and still barely half way through!) – Happy Anniversary everybody. There’s much to enjoy this month with Boffin getting mean and moody, Bella getting doubtful and reflective, and Silas just generally getting Weggy with it, and I’m happy to chat over specifics in the comments section below, but given that it has been a year, I feel a little reflective on the story as a whole so far, as well as what is yet to come. By far what interests me most about trying to recreate the original reading experience of a Dickens novel is that sense of anticipation and speculation that falls between instalments; indeed in the first paragraph of this week’s instalment Dickens directly challenges us to look ahead to what might come: ‘Were Bella Wilfer’s bright and ready little wits at fault, or was the Golden Dustman passing through the furnace of proof and coming out dross? Ill news travels fast. We shall know full soon.’ Trying to imagine what a reader might feel and think as they await the next part is simultaneously one of the most elusive and appealing considerations when embarking on a reading project like this. Occasionally we get some insight, such as Dickens’ somewhat sniffy (and to this day unconvincing) remark that he always meant for everyone to guess John Rokesmith was actually Harmon in disguise:
When I devised this story, I foresaw the likelihood that a class of readers and commentators would suppose that I was at great pains to conceal exactly what I was at great pains to suggest: namely, that Mr John Harmon was not slain, and that Mr John Rokesmith was he. Pleasing myself with the idea that the supposition might in part arise out of some ingenuity in the story, and thinking it worthwhile, in the interests of art, to hint to an audience that an artist (of whatever denomination) may perhaps be trusted to know what he is about in his vocation, if they will concede him a little patience, I was not alarmed by the anticipation.