Diana Archibald (University of Massachusetts Lowell)
This panel addresses the relevance of Dickens's fiction, which engaged many social reform movements of its day, with the most vocal reform movements and social concerns of the present. Many of the problems we now recognize and fight result from Victorian institutions (empire, limited liability corporations, advertising, among others) or became visible as problems during the Victorian era (opioid addiction, pollution, extraction). Partly, then, we will be concerned with how Dickens's attention to these issues resonates with them into the present. But Dickens was, like so many of the writers we study, also living "in the wake" of slavery and complicit in many injustices and offenses that have only become recognizable as such after the fact. How do we reconcile our investments in Dickens with his casual racism and chauvinism, among other things? We seek to discuss how we can love Dickens’s novels even as they grate against modern values. Ultimately, then, the panel will engage not only Dickens's relevance to the present but also the broader question of why and how we invest in literature embedded with values resistant to our own, especially as that mode of literature (long fiction) seems to be eclipsed by other mediums.
How do we teach Dickens now? What do Dickens’s works have to do with the #MeToo movement; with social media; with the Anthropocene, extinction rebellion, and climate change; with racism and living, as Christina Sharpe has put it, “in the wake” of slavery; with technological rupture, the gig economy, and radical job transformation; and with other questions of modern life? What do we do with Dickens’s long prose and today’s allegedly shorter attention spans and alternative narrative forms? This panel invites scholars to address what Dickens’s fiction offers the present and why Dickens matters now.