Dickens fans sought to celebrate author's bicentenary

The University of Leicester is announcing a series of events this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens - and members of the public are being asked to participate in the celebrations.

The University’s School of English is marking the bicentennial with a host of Dickens-themed projects and talks for the public as well as academic circles.

Dickens, who was born on 7 February 1812, is one of the greatest authors of the Victorian period.

He wrote 15 major novels, many of which have been adapted for film, television and radio in recent years.

The School’s Dickens experts are hoping to find readers who will be willing to read one of Dickens’ novels serially – as it was first published – and blog about their experience.

They also hope to collate readers’ selections of their favourite extracts from Dickens’ work.

The calendar of events kicks off with “A Tale of Four Cities”, a travelling conference which will go to four important places in Dickens’ life, from 2 to 8 February.

Dr Holly Furneaux, a Dickens specialist in the School of English who edited the latest edition of John Forster’s The Life of Charles Dickens, helped to organise the week-long event.

The conference will be held in Paris, where Dickens finished Little Dorrit, Condette near Boulogne, Rochester and Chatham where he grew up, and finish in London on his birthday itself.

The School’s Victorian Studies Centre will hold a joint conference with the University of Buckingham from 28 to 31 March to mark the launch of the Dickens Journals Online project.

The project will exhibit archive material from Household Words and All the Year Round, two mid-nineteenth century weekly journals which were founded and owned by Dickens.

A panel will discuss Dr Furneaux’s recent book Queer Dickens during the Dickens Universe conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz, held 27 July to 3 August.

The School will also be helping to organise Dickens Day in London on 13 October, which will focus on the theme of “Dickens and Popular Culture”.

Professor Gail Marshall, Director of the University’s Victorian Studies Centre said: “There has been a massive outpouring of enthusiasm for Dickens recently that attests to his ongoing popularity. He has always been able to appeal to a wide range of audiences.

“It is important for us at the University of Leicester to mark Dickens’s bicentenary because we have an excellent heritage of Dickens scholars at the Victorian Studies Centre.”

Professor Marshall has recently completed a paper on Dickens’ attitudes towards capital punishment, which is due to be published in the literary journal 19.

She added: “The School of English is committed to bringing literature to more people. Because of that we want to celebrate Dickens and involve the public in those celebrations.”

“We hope our year of events will benefit to the relationship between the city, county and the university. Dickens is a figure who integrated audiences. We want to appeal to both public and academic interests.”

Professor Martin Halliwell, Head of the School of English, said that “this year provides a great opportunity for the Victorian Studies Centre to showcase its innovative range of research, and particularly Dr Furneaux’s exciting work on Charles Dickens.

“The widespread interest in the Dickens bicentenary is testament to the ongoing importance of Dickens’ fiction in the twenty-first century. It also links centrally to wider research in the School of English in the areas of biography, the history of the book, social reform, and the city.”

Readers interested in being involved with the Dickens celebration should email Dr Furneaux on hf35@le.ac.uk