Seminar Overview

“Performing Dickens” will run for four weeks, meeting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 9:30-12:30, plus some Tuesday mornings. Your individual research presentations will take place on Wednesday afternoons; we will respond, having read your pre-circulated papers describing your projects in the weeks before the seminar begins. We will also arrive having already read both novels (Oliver Twist and Great Expectations). Many of you will have previously viewed the films and television adaptations we will discuss, but screenings will be arranged for your convenience several evenings per week during the seminar. Many of you may also wish to read the secondary materials ahead; most of the stage adaptations, criticism, and theory not in the Norton Critical editions of the novels will be posted on a secure website. Many afternoons will be set aside for one-on-one consultations with me and with guest scholars. Thursdays, some Tuesdays, and weekends are reserved for your own research and for collaboration.

The first half of the seminar will center on Oliver Twist (1836-37), the second on Great Expectations (1860-61). In each two-week segment, the first week’s discussions will primarily examine the novel’s text and contexts, readings in salient criticism and theory, the novel’s Victorian stage adaptations and Dickens’s reaction to them, relevant theater history, and the earliest film adaptations. The second week in each segment generally will focus on twentieth- and twenty-first-century stage, film, and media adaptations, to their relation to a prior genealogy of adaptation, and to continued discussion of each novel’s literary techniques and narrative practices as they illuminate or are illuminated by theories of performance and adaptation.

Four guest scholars will enhance the experience. Distinguished Victorian theater and performance studies expert Tracy Davis (Northwestern) will come to us first, on Tuesday, July 8, helping to set the stage for the theoretical and historical issues we will discuss throughout the seminar. The eminent Victorianist Carolyn Williams (Rutgers) will visit on Friday, July 11, to address our seminar on the topic of Victorian melodrama, the genre most identified with adaptations of Dickens. Distinguished theater historian Jacky Bratton (London-Royal Holloway) will speak on Wednesday, July 23, focusing on Victorian theatrical adaptations of Dickens and his direct involvement with them. Playwright and scholar of film adaptations of Dickens, John Glavin (Georgetown) will be our final visitor; on Tuesday, July 29, he will workshop an adaptation of Oliver Twist to be developed and set in one day, bringing an experiential element to our study of performing Dickens.

We are very fortunate that the Friends of the Dickens Project will host several social occasions, inviting both us and the other NEH summer seminar running concurrently with ours on the UCSC campus, “Great Adaptations,” the Summer Seminar for School Teachers.

I anticipate a vibrant, generative, collegial exploration of Dickens and performance.