'Should I feel a moment with you?': Queering Dickensian Feeling

Ben Winyard
2012 19 : Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century  
Let's queer the pitch slightly and consider how the bicentenary engenders negative feelings in people. Aside from the impassioned acclaim, the effusive eulogies, and the dazzling range of good-spirited festivities, what negative feelings about Dickens, his work and the bicentenary are perceptible underneath, alongside, and intermeshed with the more celebratory ones? From indifference, boredom, irritation, and exhaustion, to jadedness, anger, and shame, there are certainly undercurrents pushing
more » ... ercurrents pushing against the tide of obligatory festivity, many of which express, recycle, and intersect with negative feelings about Dickens that have been circulating since his lifetime. Among some scholars, we might detect, alongside enthusiasm and excitement, fatigue, boredom, and uneasiness about nostalgic representations of Dickens. The packed schedule of conferences, exhibitions, and celebrations is wonderfully overwhelming, and only the most energetic -and wealthy -can do more than cherry-pick. Alongside this is the (even more) ubiquitous presence of Dickens in popular culture, as the BBC screens lavish new adaptations of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 1 Journalists pen fulsome eulogies whilst poring over insalubrious aspects of Dickens's personality; thus, a hilarious Sun exposé characterizes Dickens as a drunken, wife-hating, adolescent-girl-chasing hell-raiser. 2 Similarly, an irreverent BBC documentary -Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas -poked fun at Dickens and presented his treatment of Catherine as a startling revelation that tarnishes his reputation. 3 In the prominence given to Dickens's marital troubles, we perhaps detect a gleeful cutting-down-to-size of this cultural giant, this literary Father Christmas. The bicentenary also induces feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy in some people. Many of my bicentennial conversations with non-academics will feature embarrassed confessions that the other person hasn't 'read much' or doesn't 'know much about' Dickens ('I'm ashamed to confess ...'). Others uncomfortably -or proudlyadmit to finding Dickens's work boring or difficult. If the bicentenary encourages new people to read and enjoy Dickens, it also makes others feel overwhelmed and humiliated, particularly as Dickens is elevated alongside Shakespeare to cultural colossus. The bicentennial emphasis on Dickens's universality perhaps downplays the historical specificity of his work and elides moments of disjuncture, incoherence, and oddness that
doi:10.16995/ntn.638 fatcat:j4spjk2wmvdqflcxqka76d3w4i