Performing Dickens

Monday, July 7, 2014 to Friday, August 1, 2014 — University of California Santa Cruz 

Seminar Director:  Sharon Aronofsky Weltman (Louisiana State University)
Visiting Faculty:    Tracy Davis (Northwestern University)
                               Carolyn Williams (Rutgers University)
                               Jacky Bratton (University of London-Royal Holloway)
                               John Glavin (Georgetown University) 
Deadline to Apply:  March 4, 2014 (we are no longer accepting applications)
Notification date: March 31, 2014 
Stipend:  $3,300.00 

“Performing Dickens: Oliver Twist and Great Expectations on Page Stage, and Screen” is a four-week NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers sponsored by the Dickens Project at the University of California Santa Cruz. We will examine Oliver Twist (1837-1839) and Great Expectations (1860-1861), two of Dickens’s most taught and most adapted novels, along with a range of important film, television, and stage adaptations from 1837 to 2012. Many of these film and stage adaptations—such as David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations or Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical Oliver!—have become classics in their own right.  The seminar will place the novels in their theatrical context, discussing Dickens’s own many connections to drama. These include both the theater’s profound effect on his art (something of an actor and playwright himself, he wrote while acting out his characters in front of a mirror) and Dickens’s dynamic effect on Victorian performance practice (through collaboration with other playwrights, his wildly successful reading tours, and the vast number of successful Victorian plays based on the novels).  The seminar will also ask more broadly how adaptations and performances interpret their source texts and affect their meaning. Sixteen college and university teachers of diverse subjects such as literature, theater, film, performance, and adaptations studies will benefit from this seminar on performing Dickens as they work on their own related projects. Two of these sixteen spots are available for graduate students in the Humanities.

While many literary scholars are familiar with film history and film theory, most are not as well versed in theater history or how Victorian drama functioned. Researchers depending on current definitions of melodrama or burlesque risk an anachronistic interpretation of Dickens and his earliest adapters. The seminar will provide vital information about Victorian dramatic conventions that affected Dickens’s writing and the first performances of his fiction, which in turn inaugurated a genealogy of adaptations that has had direct impact on new iterations of Dickens’s story-telling in a wide variety of formats. Likewise, although criticism has largely moved beyond judging an adaptation primarily on its faithfulness to the original novel, few critics link adaptation theory to performance theory. As we explore “performing Dickens” in several senses, we will also tackle current work on performance, theatricality, and adaptation in tandem.  This rich intellectual landscape will prove fruitful as seminar participants cultivate their own research or pedagogical projects, accommodating a wide variety of topics and approaches. 

Serendipitously, the Dickens Project is hosting another NEH Summer Seminar (for High School Teachers) concurrently with ours, also at UC Santa Cruz. “Great Adaptations,” led by Professor Marty Gould of University of Southern Florida, will focus on adaptations of A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations and their usefulness as pedagogical tools. Though the two seminars will meet separately and follow their own schedules and reading lists, participants will have opportunities meet and socialize with members of both seminars. 

Please explore this website for information about the “Performing Dickens” seminar, including an overview, the location, eligibility, and the Summer Scholar’s stipend, as well as a link to instructions on how to apply.  

Disclaimer: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.