Dickens and the Idea of 'The Dickensian': A Tale of Four Cities, 2-8 February 2012

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Jointly sponsored by: University of Paris-Diderot; Centre Culturel de l’Entente Cordiale, Château d’Hardelot at Condette and Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3; Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent; Dickens Museum and the

The aim of this week-long travelling conference is to celebrate the bicentenary of Dickens's birth, which falls on 7 February 2012, in a manner befitting a writer who has given so much to so many around the globe. It takes the form of a kind of pilgrimage - festive, of course, rather than solemn - joining four cardinal places central to Dickens's life and art. This journey of critical discovery takes us from Paris, where he finished Little Dorrit, to Condette near Boulogne where he spent time with Ellen Ternan, to Rochester and Chatham where he grew up, to end up in London, the city with which he is so often associated (rightly or wrongly), on the birthday itself. It is envisaged that some participants (like all members of the organizing committee) will want to enjoy the whole week-long experience, whereas others will drop in and out as they please.

The conference theme is designed to explore the manifold meanings of the word 'Dickensian.' This adjective has entered the English language, and is used everywhere in speech and print to designate a miscellany of conditions and types of experience, social and individual. We shall ask what is meant when we talk (for instance) of 'Dickensian' humour, or say that such and such a person (man, woman, child) or character type is 'Dickensian,' or refer to various kinds of suffering or poverty or squalor or deprivation as 'Dickensian,' and most especially, what is meant by the word today.

To give this theme as much coherence as possible we have divided it into the four segments outlined below. We now invite paper proposals (fitting any one or more of these categories) and expressions of interest from anyone with an interest in Dickens, whether they intend to give a paper or merely attend all or part of the proceedings.

1. Paris (Feb 2-3): Dickens and the idea of the 'Dickensian' City
(University of Paris-Diderot)
Dickens created visions of London and of Paris that have continued to occupy the collective imaginary and could be said to be the blueprint for a certain fantasy of urban space. Whether the Dickensian city is seen as hostile, inefficient or convivial and organic, it haunted Victorian governments and reformers alike and continues to haunt urban histories, urban planning, literature, image and film. The idea of the 'Dickensian city' can be taken in its largest sense of the polis, a structure of power, a collectivity, a society, or a community. It may imply the topography of the city space, or the sensations and experiences it offers. Papers may also engage with comparative views of city (the cities of Dickens, Hugo, Balzac and Dostoevsky, for example), with film images, the Graphic Novel, painting or illustration. The conference welcomes historical as well as cultural and literary analysis.

2. Boulogne-sur-Mer/Condette (4-6 February): Travel, Crossing, Threshold and the idea of 'the Dickensian'
(Co-hosted by the Centre Culturel de l'Entente Cordiale, Château d'Hardelot at Condette and Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3)
To this day, most Boulogne people treasure the memory of Charles Dickens, gratefully remembering how much he grew to like his "French watering-place", where he and his family spent many a leisurely holiday in the mid-1850s, often entertaining visitors from England. Because the venue is more precisely Condette, the village south-west of Boulogne with a distinct whiff of the illicit about it – whether it did offer an ideal "love nest" to the Dickens-Ternan couple does not seem to matter – this leg of the conference will interrogate the explanatory power of the adjective "Dickensian" when it is related to such concepts as movement, travel, and a (possibly transgressive) yearning to cross thresholds – a major characteristic of Dickens's characters as much as of the writer himself, from a very early stage of his career.
With this in mind, papers are invited that address the conference theme, including, but not exclusively, the following topics:
Cross-Channel adventures: "Le citoyen Dickens" in Northern France & Belgium; holidaymaking; guilty secrets, transgressiveness and secrecy; spiritual quest; the restless self: wandering, meandering, separateness; paralysis and entrapment; echoing footsteps; negotiating the Other: the defamiliarized self; Dickens as a leading exponent of Victorian culture across the Channel.

3. Chatham/Rochester (6-7 February): Childhood, 'great expectations' and the idea of the 'Dickensian'

(Co-hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent at the Medway campus of CCCU)

This leg of the conference will explore the meaning of the word 'Dickensian' in the context of the concepts of childhood and/or development in the very place where Dickens himself was a child. Chatham, as he informed Forster, 'was the birthplace of his fancy'. Papers are invited that address this aspect of the conference theme, including, but not exclusively, the following topics:
(Re)conceptualising children and childhood; education; discipline and punishment; 'Naterally wicious'; fairy tale; 'Old-fashioned' children; play; toys; juvenilia; Christmas; sowing, reaping and garnering; orphans; sexing the child; auto/biography.

4. London (8 February) The global meaning of Dickens and 'Dickensian' today

(Co-hosted by the Charles Dickens Museum and the University of Leicester)
This final instalment of the conference examines global understandings of the term 'Dickensian', investigating how that term is inflected, used and understood across the world. It focuses on how responses to Dickens are shaped by a sense of national and cultural identity and explores the extent to which Dickens participated in creating the sense of 'Englishness' so often associated (rightly or wrongly) with his works. This event will look broadly at different forms of critical and imaginative engagement with Dickens's work across the world, and we invite proposals from scholars, authors, artists and film-makers.

Proposals for (20 minute) papers should be sent by 7 February 2011, using the online form available at the following address: http://dickens2012.org/TaleofFourCitiesConference.html Please indicate which section(s) of the conference your proposal pertains to and which parts (all of it, or one or more parts of it) that you expect to be able to attend.

Paper proposals will be considered and grouped by a selection panel. We will provide our answer by 1 April 2011. We hope this will give sufficient time for all those who wish to apply for funding to attend the conference from their home institution or any other source, but if you need an earlier acceptance, please signal this.

The conference website is at http://dickens2012.org/TaleofFourCitiesConference.html and regular postings will keep prospective participants up to date with the most recent developments as they occur.
The organising committee:
Joan Dicks, Holly Furneaux, Michael Hollington, Christine Huguet, Pierric Maelstaf, Peter Merchant, Florian Schweizer, Sara Thornton, Paul Vita, Catherine Waters