10.3 Bell and Wood Intro.docx (45.04 kB)
Dickens, Death, and Afterlives: Introduction
journal contributionposted on 2020-09-23, 09:26 authored by Claire Wood, Emily Bell
How do you commemorate the anniversary of an author’s death? What is and is not appropriate? While natal anniversaries are by nature upbeat, with greater scope for playful celebration, death anniversaries negotiate a need for reverence, reassessment, and an engaging cultural campaign. A 150th anniversary further has to contend with its status as a lessimpressive mid-point: not yet a bicentenary and still somehow less of a milestone than a centenary. In our introduction to this special issue on ‘Dickens, Death, and Afterlives’ we explore a range of responses to Charles Dickens’s sesquicentenary in 2020. Coming just eightyears after wide-ranging international celebrations for the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth, plans for Dickens150 were noticeably smaller in scale. While face-to-face activities have been understandably curtailed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ingenuity of the Dickens community has come to the fore in creating alternative opportunities to mark the anniversary. Within academia, the pandemic context combined with worldwide demonstrations for Black Lives Matter has given a new urgency to questions typically prompted by author anniversaries: how is Dickens relevant now? Why do we continue to readand study his works? What is his legacy 150 years on? It would be premature to proffer comprehensive answers at this stage, before the far-reaching impacts on arts organisations, cultural institutions, and universities can be assessed. Nonetheless, we note several emerging trends.In what follows, we provide a selective overview of anniversary celebrations for Dickens in 1970 and 2012, identifying themes and issues that continue to resonate in 2020, including who ‘owns’ Dickens, what it means to celebrate him ‘authentically’, and the importance of place. Thereafter, two case studies focalise these issues in a sesquicentenary context: the successful fundraising campaign to bring the ‘Lost Portrait’ by Margaret Gillies to the Dickens Museum in 2019 and a controversial line of luxury handbags advertised in late2019, which incorporate part of a genuine Dickens letter. Finally, we introduce the contributions made by this issue to an understanding of Dickens’s literary representation of death, Dickens’s own death, and Dickensian afterlives.
CitationVictoriographies, 10 (3), 2020, pp. 213-227
Author affiliationSchool of English
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