Celebrity British-Australian actor Miriam Margoyles (Professor Sprout in Harry Potter, Madame Horrible in Wicked) lent her voice talents to South LA teens’ unprecedented five-hour marathon reading of George Eliot’s 900 page, 8-part, 1872 masterpiece of realism, Middlemarch. "Book 1, Miss Brooke," is set to be the “finishing line” for the run, with timed snack breaks, relay readers including USC alumni, students and staff, and “commercials” from volunteer reading buddies to catch up, rally and send the read-runners on to the end of the event. Social media users and alumni, USC students and faculty, parents and peers, cheered on this feat of long-distance reading.
Margolyes mesmerized her teen audience with her magnetic voice and asides about the characters: “I see Mr. Cassaubon as the villain of the piece. Dorothea is kidding herself that she’s in love with him. She really wants him, she fancies him (that’s the English word for having the hots for someone),” she said to general laughter. The room quieted when Margolyes tuned students into the achievement of the novel, marveling “that someone in the Victorian times could write of that passion and that destructiveness so coolly,” she said. “She writes coolly, but burns hot, George Eliot,” said Margolyes. “She was one of the bravest women that ever lived, doing that, and this novel is not a million miles away from what she had to experience.”
Margolyes is a long-time attendee at the Dickens Universe, and is a part of a growing network between the Dickens Project and USC NAI. Participants from both communities pitched in to read, record video messages, scrawl well-wishes on a marathon banner and spread the word on social media.
College students, professors, alumni, staff, the general public and the students’ peers and families all dove into the event's ambition to arrive at end of "Book 1," which they did to rousing cheers at 8:32PM.
Middlemarch is the crux of a year long study of literature, featuring innovative collaborations between the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) and the Dickens Project, including partnerships with USC faculty and students, classroom swaps, field trips, visual and performing arts adaptations, visiting guest lectures and advanced literary intensives. The seniors will culminate their learning with a series of projects and an evening theatrical adaptation bringing the work to life for their community. They will also pen essays for submission to the Dickens Project scholarship contest in the spring.
Winners of the contest will earn an all-expense paid week at the Dickens Universe in 2017 to continue this intense, communal look at the novel. The Dickens Universe is a week long conference at UC Santa Cruz where the winning seniors will join scholars, university faculty and general public—over 200 participants—in one of the largest, and oldest, humanities multi-campus research consortiums in the world. These scholarships, a book grant gifting each student their own personal copy of the novel to annotate, and the ongoing series of events, are a result of continuing innovations for the study of literature imagined by the DP-NAI network. The partnership is a laboratory for new pedagogy and collaborations to connect the resources of the Dickens Universe and the first generation scholars in the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative program (NAI), in order to energize the teaching of literature to students of our communities, and to address the wider implications of the partnership in terms of equity and the future of the study of humanities as a whole.
Margolyes encouraged the students before she departed, saying “I wish you luck in reading it. I wish you joy. It’s not easy. But don’t give up. Because if you can get through it, if you can get through to the end, that novel, and all the other novels I hope you read, will truly enrich your lives. Although your lives are very different from that life, everything that happens in literature feeds into your soul. It did for me. So take that with you when you read that book, and all the other books that you will read. You are the future, that is past, but you can join it, and make it work.”