Dickens on the Move

Travels and Transformations

by Stefan Welz (Volume editor) Elmar Schenkel (Volume editor)
©2014 Monographs XII, 182 Pages


From today’s perspective, Charles Dickens seems to continue a British tradition in which dynamism and movement are central. This serves as a starting point for a bicentenary conference held by the English Department of Leipzig University in October 2012. The contributions united in this volume cover the three categories of geography, adaptation and reception of Dickens’ works. Whether in a physical, imaginary or virtual sense, notions of space, time and change are fundamental to all of these fields. They inform both Dickens’ narrative and his biography, in which acts of movement, exchange and transformation are perpetually performed. Articles discuss Dickens’ travels in London and abroad, but also Chesterton’s Dickens or his reception in Australia and New Zealand.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Content
  • Preface
  • Geography
  • Moving through the Night: Dickens’s Walks in Nocturnal London
  • Bibliography
  • American Notes and Dickens’s Projects of Reform
  • Introduction – Dickens the Reformer
  • America – The Republic of Imagination
  • Asylums – Education of Heart and Mind?
  • Prisons – Between the Best and Worst
  • Outlook – Beyond America
  • Bibliography
  • Multilayered Identity and Palimpsest in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit
  • The Struggle of Identity
  • Architecture as an Indicator of Character
  • From Rags to Riches – Society and Identity Loss
  • Bibliography
  • Dickens Goes South: A Gentleman’s Perspective
  • The Personal Challenge: Education and Respectability
  • The Challenge of the Genre: Style and Intentions
  • The Cultural challenge: America and Italy
  • Bibliography
  • Adaptation
  • Charles Dickens: A Disney Carol Disney’s Adaptations of Dickens’s Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol
  • Dickens and the Victorian Street Arab Tale
  • The Disneyfication of Dickens
  • Oliver & Company
  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol
  • Bibliography
  • Back to the Future: The Time Traveller’s Traumatic Jetlag in A Christmas Carol
  • Dickens, Christmas and the invention of tradition
  • Haunting Memories and Daunting Futures: The Transcendental Nature of Christmas and Dickensian Time Travel
  • Victorian scientific thought and Dickens's use of the Supernatural
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • “The world warped to his fancy”: Charles Dickens in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting
  • Dickens in Wanting
  • Dickens as Novel Writer
  • Dickens as Journalist
  • Dickens as Actor
  • Bibliography
  • Reception
  • “Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted.” G.K. Chesterton’s Charles Dickens as character and critique
  • Bibliography
  • “Please, sir, I want some more”: Representations of Poverty on the Move
  • Introduction
  • Poverty Legislation in Dickens’s Day
  • Poor Dickens
  • The How of Narrating Low Life
  • Educating Middle-Class Feeling
  • Oliver Twist Goes Postcolonial: Vikas Swarup’s Q and A
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • The Lost Leipzig Letters: Charles Dickens, Bernhard Tauchnitz and the German Connection
  • Introduction
  • The Lost Letters
  • Bernhard Tauchnitz and the Collection of British Authors
  • Tauchnitz and Dickens
  • Dickens in Leipzig
  • Conclusion: Dickens and Germany
  • Bibliography
  • Charles Dickens and New Zealand: A Long-Distance Relationship with a Future
  • Historical Background
  • New Zealand in Household Words and All the Year Round
  • New Zealand in The Letters of Charles Dickens
  • A.H. Reed
  • Charles Dickens and New Zealand Today
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

| VII →


„I have read the Pickwickians by Dickens“, Flaubert wrote to George Sand on 12th July 1872. “Do you know it? There are wonderful parts in it, but what a deficient sort of composition! It’s like that with all English writers, except for Walter Scott, they don’t have any idea of structure. For us Romans, this is insupportable.”

It is exactly this, however, which interests us today in Dickens: his apparent lack of form and elusiveness in terms of fixing characters, plots and settings. Or, to put it more positively, his flexibility (responding to both commercial needs and those of the readership), his sense of movement, is decisive, whether in his fictional characters or in himself. Ignoring the classical unities that had already been undermined by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Dickens seems to continue a British tradition in which dynamism and movement are central.

This is why we decided to celebrate Dickens’s bicentenary in 2012 with lectures and essays on aspects relating to the author (and his characters and fictions) ‘on the move’. Obviously, we also wanted to point out his enormous topicality. Simply – the fact that he has reached the 21st century without the loss in stature of many other classic authors – implies that he is still (maybe even more so today than ever), speaks to us, whether we discuss the financial crises, pollution or, indeed, travel.

We asked our contributors to shed light on Dickens’s own movements in geographical terms. Where and how did he travel? Does this enrich our understanding of his works? How are France, the United States of America, or Italy represented? But Dickens is much more than a tourist; he also travels between the social classes and is able to do this due to his extreme empathy. In his works, the classes come into contact with each other and this makes ‘travel’ between them necessary, especially if the Victorian compromise is to be achieved. This kind of imaginary movement crosses fossils and stratifications produced by neglect and ignorance or hardheartedness. Legal systems collide with the needs of life and emotions, as in Bleak House. Commercialism and philanthropy are juxtaposed and clash with simplicity and innocence. And this movement also holds true for genres: Fairy tales permeate the city, the essay starts walking or reflects on its own nature, journalism informs the imagination and vice versa. And, everywhere, there is movement, motion between characters and readers, as they are appalled or mesmerised. In this sense, we should like to explore a fundamental aspect of Dickens’s work – the idea of movement – across classes and countries, characters and texts. ← VII | VIII →

The present volume unites the contributions provided for a conferenceheld by the English Department of Leipzig University in October 2012. The articles areseparated into thethree categories of Geography, Adaptation and Reception. Be it in a physical, imaginary or virtual sense, notions of space and time and change are fundamental to all of these categories. This provides the link to the narrative stage of Dickens’s texts and biography where acts of movement, exchange, and transformation are perpetually performed. The first section, under the heading ‘Geography’, unites articles in which aspects of travel in Dickens’s work and life provide central themes. The fields of the contributors’ interest stretch out from the streets of London to the Mediterranean city of Marseilles, from Italy across the Atlantic Ocean to America, thus encompassing most of the scope of Dickens’s actual travels.

In his article, Elmar Schenkel discovers London as the ‘capital of walking’ with famous practitioners and writers, such as John Gray, William Hazlitt, Robert Louis Stevenson, G.K. Chesterton and, most relevant in this context, Charles Dickens. Dickens walked along nocturnal streets, visited cemeteries and experienced the contradictory relationship of creativity and threat in the emerging English metropolis. Although an involuntary night bird, Dickens’s insomnia fed his literary curiosity. The article draws on passages from texts such as Sketches by Boz (1836), The Uncommercial Traveller (1860) and uncollected texts in Household Words. Schenkel situates Dickens, his reflections and sources within a broader cultural context of night and sleep, the city and the journey, of walking and literary reflections on these topics.

Stefan Lampadius retraces Dickens’s experiences of his first American journey from the controversial American Notes (1842). He is particularly interested in the genesis of Dickens’s reformist ideals which increasingly came into conflict with the writer’s first-hand experience of the New World. Dickens, who did not tire of visiting prisons and asylums, saw, in the beginning of his travel, America as a utopia. Over the course of the journey, contradictions and controversy gained the upper hand and the positive notion gave way to a dystopian view which dominates the travel account. Lampadius points out that Dickens’s American travelogueshows the narrative transformation of his long-standing interest in reforming institutions and administration through a very opinionated form of travel writing. The article is enriched with much contextual information and draws on examples from contemporary cultural history.

Maria Fleischhack’s scrutiny of Little Dorrit (1857) with its setting in England and the South reveals a link between architecture and character construction in this Dickensian novel. She convincingly proves that, in the text, geography is ← VIII | IX → used to reflect and define characters and that certain buildings correspond to mind sets andbehaviours. This narrative practice bestows several layers of meaning to places and consequently to characters too. Since there are many more instances in which Dickens creates palimpsestic localities and identities it is justified to speak of it as a special narrative technique in his novels.

Stefan Welz reads Dickens’s atypical travel book Pictures from Italy (1846) as an important step in the biography and literary career of the great Victorian writer. A contextualized evaluation of this long-neglected text elucidates three challenges which Dickens had to face when travelling south. A personal challenge resulted from shortcomings in his education and he had to cope with lingering elitist notions of the traditional Grand Tour. A more literary challenge can be seen in Dickens’s dealing with the conventions of the literary genre of travel literature. Last but not least, in comparing Dickens’s earlier American travel account with the Italian one, a cultural challenge becomes evident. Dickens returned from Italy as a gentleman-traveller who was ready to pursue his literary career in a self-assured way freed from some of his former complexes.

Thesecond section, under the heading ‘Adaptation’, deals with recent transformations and re-writings of Dickens’s texts – or material (as we might say these days). Such new texts, films or other media products are proof of Dickens’s continued popularity and fascination. These qualities are deeply rooted in Dickens’s practice of blending mass entertainment and moralistic claims. The gap between the original and the new product appears most often as a dimension of conflict and contradiction.

Franziska Burstyn analyzes Dickens’s adaptations within the conflicting contexts of classic and mass media products. She examines two animated Disney filmswhich are loosely adapted from Dickens’s Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol respectively. The emphasis in her article is placed on the question of how these literary sources have been made accessible to a younger audience. Therefore, Burstyn explores the relationship between Dickens’s work and nineteenth century children’s literature, which share similarities with regardto their portrayal of the Victorian child. She points out that the publication practices of Dickens’s timeless classics were very attractive to a child audience and, later on, allowed for their integration into the expected conventions of Disney family entertainment. This perspective helps to explain Dickens’s attractiveness for publishers of children’s literature although he only rarely contributed to this genre in his time.

Franziska Kohlt dedicates her article to Dickens‘s fascination with Christmas –most popularly expressed in his Christmas Carol in Prose (1843). Her highly original reading relates this text to the Victorian scientific discourse on ← IX | X → other worlds and dimensions, theories of vision and cognition. The character of Scrooge undertaking a self-reflective journey through time serves as a central focus. The protagonist’s relocation in time acts as a narrative device to trigger the process of self-exploration and reflection. In this way a re-evaluation of the traveller’s relationship to his environment facilitates the self-improvement, which is the journey's ultimate goal. Scrooge is seen alongside other Victorian fantastic travellers to strangetimes and dimensions – such as those in Wells's Time Machine, Abbott's Flatland or Carroll's Alice novels – and within the literary tradition of cathartic dream-voyages. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens forges a link between the past and modernity, not only on a narrative and historical level, but also between the novel and its readers.

Luise Wolf investigates Richard Flanagan’s novel Wanting (2009) in order to highlight postcolonial and Neo-Victorian issues. The Australian author sees Dickens as a problematic personality troubled by personal unhappiness and blows of destiny. All this becomes manifest in Dickens’s acting in the Wilkie Collins play The Frozen Deep, which serves as a valve for his emotions. Over the course of the events depicted, Dickens becomes dangerously involved in his own narratives. Flanagan’s novel confidentlymixes fact and fiction. In telling Dickens’s story alongside that of Mathinna, an Aborigine girl from Tasmania, Wanting follows a strategy of juxtaposition that can be found in many postcolonial novels. Such a parallelingreminds us of the deep interconnection of Britain and its former colonies and highlights the inequality inherent in this relationship. Linking Mathinna’s fate with the biographies of George Augustus Robinson and governor Sir John Franklin, the Franklin Arctic expedition and Dickens’s acting in a play about it, readersare invited to reconstruct a different course of history.


XII, 182
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (February)
Travel Film adaptation Rezeption Dickens's travel experience Adaptionen re-writings
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XII, 182 pp.

Biographical notes

Stefan Welz (Volume editor) Elmar Schenkel (Volume editor)

Stefan Welz teaches English Literature and New English Literatures at Leipzig University and has translated literary works of various English and American authors. Elmar Schenkel is Professor of English at Leipzig University. He is the director of the studium universale, a writer and a translator.


Title: Dickens on the Move
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