Monday, 14 November 2011
The Dickens Reading Project
The William Morris Society is not, as far as I know, planning any particular event to celebrate the Charles Dickens bi-centenary next year; and yet given both Morris’s personal enthusiasm for Dickens’s novels and their appearance in some of our most memorable utopias, you would think it certainly ought to. So here is a Swiftian ‘modest proposal’ in that direction.
I suggest that the Society embark upon a long-term ‘Dickens Reading Project’ starting next autumn. It would devote one of its meetings per year to a particular Dickens novel, drafting in a Dickens specialist to lecture on it on that occasion, but also doing all it can to encourage widespread reading of the book among Society members by discussion across the year in the Newsletter. To pluck a novel out of the air as a starting point, let us take Barnaby Rudge, which Morris used to read aloud to Jane Burden as a significant part of his wooing of her in his Oxford days (not a tactic many of us would be inclined to use in our own relationships, perhaps).
Several years into this Reading Project, we would be reaching that happy position evoked in News from Nowhere where, in relation to Dickensian nicknames, Dick Hammond cheerfully observes to William Guest, ‘I see you take the allusion’ (ch.III); and perhaps a good few years further on we might even collectively rival that ‘exceptional familiarity with Dickens’ which Julian West claims in Edward Bellamy’s utopia (ch.XIII).