Happy end of semester, and congratulations to all our graduates!

We’re pleased to announce that the end of the semester brings the launch of a new event, one that promises to be a lot of fun:  The Dickens Reading Group!

The Dickens Reading Group proposes to do something very unique:  read David Copperfield in the manner its original readers would have experienced it…in serial form, waiting breathlessly for each new installment.  (The experience recalls trying to get through a show on TV in the days of cliffhangers, before binge watching!)

To find out more, I interviewed one of the student leaders of this project, Kimberlee Roberts.  In addition to being one of the group’s leaders, Kim is also the Project Manager for a major new edition of the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge, in preparation by Dr. Daniel Robinson with the assistance of students in ENGL 401: Textual Scholarship.

Here’s Kim…

Tell us about the Dickens Reading Group. How did the idea come about? 

The Dickens Reading Group is a bit of a social experiment combining literature and anticipation [the anticipation of waiting for the next installment or “episode”–Ed.]. The excitement lies in the response of a modern audience reading Victorian literature in a very old-school way. You can’t binge read Copperfield in this group, and I have a gut feeling the absence of control over deciding how far ahead we as readers can peek will change the way we read. Taylor Brown [the other student leader], Dr. Robinson, and myself are always looking for ways to excite people about literature (the really good stuff that gets you thinking and sort of stays with you forever), and DR wasn’t sure if he would get the chance to teach Dickens before Taylor and I graduated, so we decided the best way to learn was to learn for fun! Taylor picked Copperfield for our group. It’s a great beginning novel for Dickens (his favorite child apparently) and it’s easily digestible and entertaining.

“We are disturbed in our cookery,” illustration by Phiz for Chapter 28 of David Copperfield (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Why did you choose this particular novel?

To get our readership hooked we had to start with a bang and Copperfield is it. I’ve heard that in 1849-50 people were losing their minds for this installment series and we kind of wanted to lose ours in the same way too.

What’s special about this reading group? How are you looking to replicate the experience Dickens’ first readers would have had, and why did you decide to do it this way?

The magic is in the response of the audience. There isn’t a book or a television series that you can’t binge on and society has been spoiled in that respect when it comes to consuming art. But with monthly installments, the readers cannot look forward, they do not know how much further they have to go, they cannot peek at the chapter titles; they are forced to consume only what is provided and to devour every aspect of it. The most interesting concept is that the modern reader has so much foresight–they are always looking forward to what is to come–but with this group, they can only see the present and the past installments and that’s gotta make them more interested in the smaller details and really develop a relationship with the characters.

What have you been doing to prepare?

A group of students, Taylor, Josh Meo, and myself (with the assistance of DR of course) went to the Free Library of Philadelphia to view the 1849-50 published installments (THE ORIGINALS!!!) and from those texts, we are creating a reading text that replicates them exactly, including all errors and typos. Later we will be creating a textual apparatus to compare the differences from the 1850 complete book publication and the 1849-50 installment publications.

In addition to helping to facilitate the Dickens Reading Group, you are also the Project Manager for the edition Dr. Robinson is working on, of the work of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as part of your summer research and experience in Textual Scholarship. How do you see these endeavors informing each other or being connected?

Sketch of Dickens during a visit to America (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Sketch of Dickens during a visit to America (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Simple, without being given the chance to examine Wordsworth’s manuscripts and learn the ins-and-outs of textual scholarship, the idea to create our own textual installment of Dickens may never have been thought of. Both projects involve an observation on my behalf of the progression of the author’s revision and growth. Like a tiny window into their personalities almost, and I get to recreate it just as they originally did.

Are there other books you might like to try this with?

I think it would be super fun to split up a modern novel and present it in a very out of date way. I really feel like, at both ends, reading a novel front to back all at once, or only reading what is given in serial form, have their pluses and minuses, but since I too am a modern reader I’m most interested in the delaying of information and chapters. Perhaps a great novel to try would be Harper Lee’s newest novel coming out soon. That way the anticipation is synonymous to the anticipation of the Victorian readers.

What else are you planning to read this summer?

I’m nearly positive I’m going to re-read The Prelude (it’s good for the soul), and I’m hooked on Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure right now. Either way, there will be tears.

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