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17 May 2024 - 17 May 2024

9:00AM - 3:30PM

Online via Zoom

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This symposium, hosted by CNCS-I, will feature a series of talks exploring the role, influence and impact of Dickens’s use of non-realist features in his fiction. It will bring together specialists to delineate new trajectories in the study of Dickens’s engagement with non-realism in his work.

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illus/photo from scan of book "In Dickens's London" (1914) , written and illustrated by F. Hopkinson Smith. [Caption: London Bridge—Over which Nancy crossed, followed by Noah Claypole] Date 1914

Dickens’s fiction is celebrated for its vivid realism, luring the reader into the mist and fog of Victorian London’s streets and revealing the profound injustice of day to day life. We find realism in his depictions of place, and his detailed description of characters: it’s certainly a crucial part of his prose. But what are the limitations of his realism, and what can looking beyond its confines tell us about Dickens’s work?  Dickens often wrote about the supernatural and invited spirits and ghosts into his stories. His fiction is driven by coincidences and repetition. His sceptical flirtation with spiritualism, his interest in the human mind, in experience, and memory, in the Gothic, and the uncanny or macabre, reveal a ‘shadowy world’, as he puts it in his preface to the 1850 edition of David Copperfield,  in which the boundaries between the real and the imagined, the familiar and the feared, are fluidly challenged and explored. Dickens might paint vivid and realistic images of the external world, but they’re accompanied by forays into the mysteries of the internal world of memory and subjectivity. Beyond realism then, Dickens presents a rich world where reality and imagination, the material and the immaterial, past and present, and life and death are intertwined. In many ways, Dickens’s use of non-realist elements is precisely what enables him to create a fictional representation of human existence that is paradoxically more effective and realistic than what strict realism would limit him to.


9am Welcome by Emily Vincent (University of Birmingham), Emma Merkling (Durham University)

9.15-10.00 Kirstin Mills (Macquarie University), Dickens and Ghosts from the Nineteenth Century to Now

Chair: Emily Vincent (University of Birmingham)

10-10.45 John Bowen (University of York), Dickens’s Theatres of Cruelty

Chair: Jonathan Wild (University of Edinburgh)

10.45-11.00  Break

11.00-11.45 Céleste Callen (University of Edinburgh), Metaphysical Dickens: Time, Memory and Heterogeneity

Chair: Lara Virrey (University of Edinburgh)

11.45-13.00  Lunch break

13.00-13.45 Chris Louttit (Radboud University), Reading Dickens through the Adaptive Lens of Dystopian Science Fiction

Chair: Amy Coles (University of Buckingham)

13.45-14.30 Claire Wood (University of Leicester), Imagining Death

Chair: Amy Waterson (University of Edinburgh)

14.35- 15.20 Andrew Smith (University of Sheffield), Seeing through the fog: Dickens and the Gothic

Chair: Madeline Potter (University of Edinburgh)

15.20 Closing Remarks

Download the full programme including abstracts here Beyond Realism programme