"Your own feelings will enable you to imagine”: sustaining the Dickensian reader

Oulton, C. (2014) "Your own feelings will enable you to imagine”: sustaining the Dickensian reader. In: BAVS conference 2014, 4-6 September 2014, University of Kent.

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Since his death in 1870, Dickens’s popularity has been sustained most obviously by the ubiquity of his characters and through continued use of the instantly recognisable and media-friendly term ‘Dickensian’ to characterise a spectrum of ideas and values.

But at the start of his career, Dickens established literary status through ‘limited intimacy’, a trademark technique through which he constructed an imagined reader in letters and within the fictional text itself. In his early novels he consistently invites active reading practices, through the construction of 'good and bad' readers who must correctly identify textual value in his work in order for it to be written at all.

Reading the relationship between fiction and letters as complex and co-dependent, the paper explores the ways in which authorial status is sustained through an adroit negotiation of readers’ expectations and assumptions about authorship. A number of Dickens’s letters involves the planning, testing or revision of fictional work, or analyses the impact of different reading practices (from serial or volume publication, to the shared experience of reading aloud). Correspondence also enables the writer to respond to readers who approach him with comments on the course of a particular novel, during the actual process of serialisation. Meanwhile paratextual material such as revisionary prefaces to later editions is itself informed by readers' letters and reviews.

The permeability of these boundaries ultimately contributes to the impact of Dickensian ‘character’ as a form of cultural exchange, most obviously through the projection of fictional lives beyond the texts in which they first appeared. A shared responsiveness to Dickens was instrumental in the self-definition of late century writers who continued to use his characters (or even fictionalised versions of Dickens himself) as a form of moral or cultural shorthand, which they in turn expected readers to understand.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Victorian Sustainability conference programme
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English Literature > PR0001 Literary history and criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English Literature > PR0161 By period
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English and Language Studies
Depositing User: Prof Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2014 16:46
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2014 14:12
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/12934

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00