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Mixing It Up: A Study of Dickens Re-Mixes

There have been countless “re-mixes” inspired by the work of Charles Dickens. These re-mixes come in many forms: books, television shows, movies, and even musicals. Our group was tasked with finding and analyzing several of these different re-mixes. We wanted to compare these new adaptations to the original works by Dickens to try to find and explain any common trends and changes. Due to the incredibly large number of Dickens re-mixes that exist, we decided to focus on two of the most commonly re-made Dickens stories. Each member of our group researched one re-mix of Oliver Twist and one re-mix of A Christmas Carol. We then created a Tumblr page in order to post our findings.

When studying our chosen re-mixes, we looked at a variety of topics. For example, we analyzed the medium that was used to create the re-mix (whether it was a book, film, etc.) and then discussed possibilities of why the creators made this choice and how effective it was. By looking at re-mixes that covered a wide range of media, we were able to examine several different ways that the novels of Charles Dickens could be changed by the addition of pictures or music and the effect that these changes had on the story. We also analyzed the differences and similarities in plot and dialogue between the re-mix and the original text. Then, using Tumblr, we were able to divide our discoveries into easily-absorbed snippets presented in a visually intuitive manner. The use of the hashtag system allows a visitor to the page to search for and easily find information relevant to their interests. Choosing to create a Tumblr page also gave us the ability to intersperse images, video, and audio in with the text to give quick, sensory context to the information we present. The Tumblr format also lets us break up the analytic posts with humorous diversions, keeping the reader’s attention and giving a greater sense of Dickens’ continuing influence on the modern world.

For Oliver Twist, we looked at a 2005 movie adaptation by the same name, as well as Oliver! The Musical, Oliver and Company from Disney, a “Cozy Classics” book version of Oliver Twist, a silent film from 1922, and a film titled Twisted. These re-mixes provide a sample that represents multiple media and covers a wide span of time. While each of these adaptations was unique in its own way, there were some recurring patterns that appeared in most of these works. The first is that the plot line of these re-mixes was, for the most part, simpler than the original Oliver Twist. Characters would often be left out (such as Monks and the Maylies) in order to simplify the story. This is understandable, as the original novel has a lot of content that is difficult to communicate through the medium of these re-mixes. Another common change was that which was made to the character Fagin. In several of these re-mixes, Fagin provides a source of humor and is a much more sympathetic character than he is in Dickens’s novel. This could be because of the sheer amount of “bad guys” in Oliver Twist. Changing Fagin’s character allows more emphasis to be put on a different, more appropriate antagonist (such as Sikes) while also adding humor to the story. A more thorough analysis of the Oliver Twist re-mixes we studied can be found on our Tumblr page.

Unlike Oliver Twist, most of the re-mixes we looked at for A Christmas Carol stayed fairly true to the original story. These re-mixes were The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, a movie adaptation from 1951 originally titled Scrooge, an 1844 dramatization of A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol graphic novels, and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Nearly all of these versions were fairly accurate portrayals of Dickens’s story. While changes for definitely made (such as including muppets as main characters), the storyline itself remained consistent. This is likely because the story is so simplistic that it is able to be adapted a multitude of ways and still work. A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic for a reason, and the story has endured for years without undergoing any prominent changes. It is difficult to improve the story, and clearly most (successful) re-mixes did not try.


For more information, here’s the link to our Tumblr page!


Contributors: Courtney Cavallo, Klarisa Loft, John Panus, Rachel Campbell, and Michael Adams


Group Members: Erin Duffy, Nivedita Rajan, Max Garnaat, Matt Spitzer, & Alexis Donahue


The purpose of this project was to research the correlation between Charles Dickens’ writings and personal life. In order to examine these two aspects in a coherent manner, we utilized the Timeline JS software to create two separate timelines: one detailing his publication history, the other detailing his personal one. Along with some basic preliminary research, we were able to find some strong parallels between the two and determined that the events of Dickens’ personal life were unusually influential on his writing in that nearly every work featured a person, place or event that occurred in reality.



Timeline [x]

A free open-source tool, TimelineJS, sends users a simple Google Drive Excel spreadsheet, and this is all that is needed for the construction of the timeline. While it is easy enough to enter the data in the self-explanatory columns (Start Date, Text, Media, etc.), some have nifty features that require a bit of tinkering. Tags, for example, allow a timeliner to stack multiple lines on top of each other, thus not only advancing in time, but showing different aspects or types of events separated from each other. Type allows for “eras” to be shown as a span of time, encompassing the individual events within that range.

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Beyond the simple input of dated items, a user needs a little bit of encoding knowledge in order to actually be able to embed their timelines on websites–, for example, does not allow the plug-in required to add it (though does). The reason for this is that JS stands for Javascript, and Javascript is not considered secure enough by To get around the issue of presenting the timelines in a viewable format for the class to be able to view, and to display our work, we researched and located a website generator that allows Javascript to be embedded in the construction of the site. The section of code that the TimelineJS generator provides cannot be simply copy-pasted. It is not a link. We found that is the most suitable method for displaying the timeline in a reasonable manner.

Another cool feature, Hash Bookmarks, allows individual items in the timeline to be linked to, as each item adds to the URL.



It became clear as our research proceeded that Dickens was highly inspired by his own experiences and trials in life when writing his works. One would be hard-pressed to find a significant moment from his life that did not bleed through into his writing in some form, from his professional careers to his romantic leanings to his time at home. One of the earliest examples was his experience with child labor: at the age of ten, Dickens moved to a poor neighborhood in London with his family, and two years later his father was sent to a debtor’s prison, forcing the young Dickens into a blacking factory to support his family. The neighborhood and workhouse in question later came to influence the writing of Oliver Twist, one of his earliest novels.

After his poor experience in the workhouse during his youth, Dickens attended a poorly run academy (inspiring portrayals of similar schools in Nicholas Nickelby and David Copperfield) for two years, before dropping out to work as an office by in a law firm. His work with legal clerks and professionals would help inspire characters like Jaggers and Wemmick from Great Expectations, Mr. Guppy from Bleak House, and Uriah Heep from David Copperfield as well. Another interesting tie to Dickens’ professional life lies in his zeal for acting and performance: he strongly considered becoming a professional actor in his youth, and only decided against it after missing an audition due to illness. Not only would this love of public speaking and mimicry return with his wildly successful speaking tours, but in several of his novels as well, with characters like Nicholas Nickelby or Mr. Wopsle showing his enduring fondness for the stage.

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At a young age, Dickens fell in love with a beautiful but cold and distant woman, Maria Beadnell, whose parents forbade any relationship between the two and who had little interest in Dickens regardless. The idea of seemingly hopeless or unrequited love that is interrupted by circumstance or economic standing is visited in several Dickens works, including Great Expectations with the character of Estella and David Copperfield with Dora. Another intriguing woman that found her way into Dickens’ writing was his young sister-in-law, Mary Scott Horgarth, whose early death was frequently idealized by the writer. She was his inspiration for the characters of Rose from Oliver Twist and Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop whose death was based on Mary’s early demise. Though those were two of the most specific examples, the idea of the young, beautiful, unfailingly polite lady that often dies suddenly repeats frequently in Dickens’ work, forming the basis of dozens of his characters.

Not only did parts of Dickens’ past repeat in his fiction, but certain aspects of his writing seem to have come through to his real life. He went so far as to name his daughter Dora after his character Dora Spenlow, the child bride of David Copperfield, and he nicknamed his son Francis “the Chickenstalker” after the character of Mrs. Chickenstalker from “The Chimes.” His son, Henry Fielding Dickens, was obviously named after Henry Fielding, who was one of Dickens’ favourite authors. Interestingly enough, Dickens’ almost named little Henry ‘Oliver’ after the author Oliver Goldsmith, but refrained from doing so since he thought that his son would be teased as “Oliver asking for more” – clearly the sign of a thoughtful father!



Dickens’ writing and personal life were intrinsically connected, almost to the point of being difficult to separate one from the other. Though he did not start seriously writing until adulthood, his childhood was hugely formative in the direction his novels would take throughout his career. Clearly Dickens’ experiences in the slums had a massive effect on him, perhaps to the point of being traumatic, as “the plight of the poor” became an ongoing motif in his writing.

However, In spite of this discovery, the bulk of our research centered around Dickens as a husband and father, as we found many pieces of evidence contrary to the common perception of Dickens being an absent family man. His attention to his writing was unparalleled, and so his devotion to his family was rather limited by modern standards. Yet when he did focus on his family, his children in particular, he proved to be a strict disciplinarian and firm taskmaster who did not tolerate any sort of tomfoolery. That is not to say, however, that he was an uncaring father. His daughter Mary “Mamie” Dickens recalled a number of happy memories about her father in the posthumous biography she wrote, and Dickens took sole custody of the children after his divorce from Catherine Hogarth, believing that it was in the children’s best interests. Though this might be viewed as a controversial decision, it is clear that Dickens did genuinely believe that he was doing right by his children.

As we have seen from the timeline, many of his literary characters were based off of his children and other members of his extended family. In addition, many of his children were named after some of the literary giants of the century, a few of whom, such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, were named godparents to the Dickens children. Though it is clear that the literary world was a huge factor in the lives of the Dickens family, we found that Dickens himself often allowed his personal feelings – namely romantic love and grief – to interfere with his writing. When his beloved sister-in-law Mary died, Dickens canceled that month’s installments of both The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist out of grief; he was similarly affected when his infant daughter Dora passed away.

While we believe it is fair to say that Dickens was not a model family man, he obviously cared deeply for his loved ones and was not quite the cold, stern father many perceive him to be. Dickens used his personal life as inspiration for his always growing literary career, which meant that he payed a great deal of attention to his family even though he wasn’t always present in their daily lives.


Works Cited

Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion. London: BBC Worldwide Ltd, 2002. Print.

Dickens, Mary. My Father as I Recall Him. London: Roxburghe Press, 1886. Print.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. London: Cambridge University Press., 1874. Print.

The Life and Times of Charles Dickens

Group Members: Lizzie Messana, Kristen Druse, Kelsey Teglash, Mike Stoianoff, Nikkel Gohel

Project Description:

For our semester long project, we aimed to create a variety of Explainers that covered different topics related to the Dickens canon we read in this class. To start, we worked together to establish what topics we should be addressing with our Explainers. We decided that we wanted to know more about the time period within which Dickens wrote, as that directly and significantly impacts his writing and our understanding of it. Our aim with these explainers was to provide potential Dickens’ readers with a good foundation about the era in which he lived, which will facilitate their understanding of the content and goals of his writings.

With this concept in mind, we faced the challenge of creating explainers that explored avenues of Victorian society different than those presented by each group weekly; we also needed ideas that weren’t too specific or broad and related to both Dickens and the Victorian era as a whole. Thus, during the class time designated for projects, we brainstormed in class and came up with a variety of topics that we wanted to explore and narrowed them down based on our personal interests. After deciding on our individual topics, we researched together in class and compiled a list of related resources concerning both the topics of our Explainers and different types of potential formatting. Finally, we individually pursued our chosen topics, collaborating with one another to create a number of Explainers. Once each explainer was finished, we convened a final time to discuss, critique, and compare our findings.


We used a variety of tools and formats to create our Explainers, including Prezi, Easelly, Piktochart, and Bitstrips. We also combed through the literature for relevant and poignant information. In this way, we thought we could better demonstrate the variety of potential formatting for Explainers and the different approaches available.

What we learned:

Through this project, not only did we learn more about Dickens and the time period in which he lived, wrote, and reformed, but we also learned how to more effectively find and utilize a variety of online tools, which help diversify the dissemination of information and more actively engage audiences in the material at hand. As for the content of our explainers, we learned about a variety of aspects of Victorian England.

To begin, we studied the religious landscape of Victorian era England, which allowed us to more deeply understand the audience to which Dickens was writing. Dickens’ time was marked by the influence of four major religious sects: the Church of England (Anglicanism), Evangelicalism, the Broad Church Party, and High Church Tractarianism. Our familiarity with the ideological characteristics of the mostly Anglicanized society enabled us to gain a fuller understanding of how his works would be received.

Next, we looked at the court system. Better understanding of the divisions in and the inequality of the Victorian court system is helpful when reading Bleak House as it explains the confines that the characters were functioning within. Bleak House is, more than anything else, an exploration of the flaws in the Court of Chancery, and understanding the structure of said court compared to the Courts of Common Law is helpful when attempting to dissect the very involved plot of this expansive novel.

We then moved to the social class system of Victorian society. The stringent social class system in Victorian England is a topic that Dickens addresses in all of his works. By further researching the demographics and class stratification of this period, it allowed us to better understand the context of each of the four novels we discussed this semester.

Looking more into the literature, we next researched the serialization of literature. Various technological and social progressions in Victorian times allowed serialization of literature to grow. The success of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers incited the serial literature market, inspiring other authors to write serial literature. The results of the spread of serialization helped incite reform across England.

Finally, we ended with a look into Dickens. The autobiographical nature of Dickens’ Great Expectations shows us that the greatest works are often drawn from our own personal struggles. We see that Pip is able to be a believable character with relatable problems because these are the very same problems that Dickens faced in some way or form.

Below are the explainers:

Religion in Victorian England

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Demographics of Victorian England  

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Dickens at a Distance Using Voyant

Voyant is an internet based tool that analyzes text in a numerical and graphical sense. Though it is fairly simple to use, Voyant offers endless number of ways to analyze one text. In our own analysis of Bleak House, we were able to input the text as a whole as well as by individual chapters and Esther’s narratives to give different perspectives to analyze the work from.

Thought, Light, Dark, Fog throughout novel

Graph 1

We discovered an interesting correlation amongst the words “thought”, “light”, “dark”, and “fog”, which then provided an avenue through which we as a group could thereby generate questions in regards to why these word frequencies are related in the way they are and what these relationships could potentially mean. While the novel opens with an influx of the word “fog” it sharply declines in its use after the first couple of chapters and is rarely present afterwards throughout the novel. In pages 5-6, Dickens opens the novel in an eerie, ominous, sort of manner by using the fog as a technique to symbolize the confusion and misery that has penetrated straight from the heart of Chancery and branched outwards into the streets of London. At the peak of the word “fog” plotted on the graph is the following excerpt:

“The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden- headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery. Never

can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth” (Dickens, 5-6).

Present in this imagery, beyond the “mud”, “mire”, and “fog”, is Chancery, which the fog appears to symbolize in regards to the institutional oppression of the court system and the misery it evokes, but also the confusion of the reader as they are being suddenly thrust into the story and the world of Bleak House “slipping and sliding” like the foot passengers on the streets of London as they try to get their bearings and find their grounding. In contrast to the word “fog”, the words “light” and “thought” appear to run relatively parallel to frequency and form of the other as the novel progresses and become prevalent at higher frequencies than that of the words “dark” and/or “fog”. Because of this, we interpreted the decline of fog and darkness to be related to the end of the Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce court case and the increase of light and thought to represent greater clarity and the lucidity that the end of the novel brings to the reader and the story.

Jarndyce, Good throughout Esther's narratives

Graph 2

Another option of looking at Bleak House using Voyant is by just selecting Esther’s narratives. By choosing the words “good” and “jarndyce” within the selected chapters, Voyant will produce a visual graph that can aid in the interpretation of how Esther perceives Jarndyce with good. The chart illustrates the inverse relationship between how Esther relates good to Jarndyce. We as readers were confused by this outcome, as Esther certainly is grateful for Jarndyce’s generosity and enjoys his company. However, we also know that even though Esther cares for Jarndyce, she is not in love with him and views him more as a guardian, as she often describes him as, than an equal. Though she is a very complaint character, this inverse relationship could possibly be interpreted as a very passive form of Esther’s frustration towards her relationship with Jarndyce as she falls in love with Allan Woodcourt. As the graph illustrates, the usage of “jarndyce” and “good” transform into a direct correlative relationship by the end of the nove.. This we associate with the change in Jarndyce and Esther’s engagement, as he releases her from their agreement to go be with Allan Woodcourt.

Chancery, Death throughout novel

Graph 3

By comparing the use of the words “Chancery” and “death” we found another interesting correlation.  For the majority of the novel, the relationship is directly proportional because the Court is stagnant and often lifeless.  Naturally, the beginning of the novel contains the most uses of “Chancery,” mostly due the first chapter’s focus on the court’s machinations, or lack thereof.  Both words are used fairly consistently through the “middle” of the novel, with small peaks and valleys occurring simultaneously.  During this interim, interpersonal relationships take the fore, and the suit is mentioned sparingly.  When the the suit finally ends and Richard dies, the correlation becomes inversely proportional; “Chancery” bottoms out and the usage of “death” increases.

Dedlock, Fashionable, Intelligence throughout novel

Graph 4


This chart details the relationship between the words “dedlock”, “fashionable”, and “intelligence” in the second chapter entitled “In Fashion.” The frequency of the words have an interesting pattern; we can see the data plateau for each of the words at some point in the chapter, and it occasionally correlates. In the beginning of the chapter, the Dedlocks are described alongside both fashion and intelligence fairly consistently. We can see that the curves for all three words have a positive correlation. At around the fourth segment of the chapter, both fashionable and intelligence plateau (the are used continuously and consistently), but Dedlock descends to the same level as intelligence. This leads the observer to wonder “why?” Is there a reason why the name Dedlock has the relationship with intelligence and fashionable that it does? At the parts of the chapter in which these plateaus and dips occur, Dickens uses words that refer to retention. At segment four in particular, the passage reads, “My Lady Dedlock, having conquered her world, fell not into the melting, but rather into the freezing, mood. An exhausted composure, a worn-out placidity, an equanimity of fatigue not to be ruffled by interest or satisfaction, are the trophies of her victory. She is perfectly well-bred” (Dickens). In light of both the graph and the text, one might conclude that the pattern of word usage is a reflection of the description of Lady Dedlock herself.

Dickens’ Maps Group

Project presented by Joseph Fennie, Hannah Glaser, Jacob Trost, Hannah Sugarman, and Kevin O’Connor

The maps engine group was tasked with creating a map or maps that showed information regarding Dickens and his works. We decided to create two separate maps, one focusing on Dickens’ actual life and another map that presented the important locations within the novels that we read. For the “Dickens’ Life Map” we added all important events from the time of Dickens’ birth to his death. In-between are important landmarks in his life such as his first job working for a London newspaper, the publication of his first work, and his reading tours in the United States. For the “Dickens’ Works Map” we included all the key locations in the four Dickens’ novels that we read this semester. Each location has a specific color corresponding to which novel it is from with a short description of the importance of the location to the novel.

To construct our maps we used a program called Google Maps Engine. This program allows the user to take a map of the world and pinpoint specific locations which can then be edited with text, photos, or video. The map markers can be colored so that they can be grouped together. For the Dickens’ Life Map we took information from biographies about his life and selected the most pertinent events to add to the map. We went in chronological order starting with his birth in England and traveling through his life from schooling to early work to ultimately becoming a successful writer who was able to travel to different countries. We showed the order of certain events by connecting them with a line that shows the direction in which Dickens’ life went (this can be seen in the map markers for his early life which are connected by a line showing which event occurred after the previous one). For the Dickens’ Works Map we selected the locations we found to be most important from each novel and added them to the map attributing a color to each one based on which novel it came from. For the most part, these locations are almost all around London or the surrounding area. Since most locations are visited several times we did not include lines to connect them for chronological order. We did, however, add information and sometimes photos about each location so that viewers can understand the importance of each location.

When creating the Dickens’ Works Map our group noticed a pattern that almost every important location is placed in or very near to London. We inferred three interesting things from this observation. First, although Dickens wrote about a very selective and specific location his influence was very far reaching. Secondly, the locations represent the social issues Dickens was trying to tackle during his lifetime. It shows the disparity between the lower and upper classes. The lower class characters generally reside in the center of London, the dirty, cheap areas. The upper class characters tend to reside outside of London, which represents a geographic phenomenon where one’s residency can reflect their socioeconomic status. Thirdly, a lot of locations in Dickens’ novels are important to his life. For example, one of his boyhood homes is the inspiration for the Cratchit’s home in A Christmas Carol, and the house Jarndyce from Bleak House lives in is based off of a home Dickens resided in while writing some of his novels. The creation of the maps in the Google Maps Engine allowed us to recognize the patterns that exist through the locations used in the novels and in Dickens’ life. The locations are just another manifestation of Dickens’ beliefs and personality. His criticism of society is apparent in them and his own personal attachment to them is apparent as well.

Here are the links to the two maps:

Charles Dickens’ Life Map:

Charles Dickens’ Works Map:



Colin Peartree, Cassandra Ballini, McKenna Miller, Alyssa Knott

The premise of this project was to add meaningful information to various Wikipedia pages of characters seen in Dickens novels. Our goal was to extend the online discussion of characters to promote deeper understanding of the characters through a more analytic lens. We hoped to spark more discussion on the character’s talk pages by providing a more analytic view of Dickens characters.

It was suggested that a good starting place for blog posts would be to consider some of the text from the ‘Talk’ page and begin to draft posts based on some points of interest the other Wiki users brought up. In general, the characters we chose to focus on did not have much information on their talk pages, which lead us to derive much of the focus from class discussion. Furthermore, most of the information found on each page was descriptive rather than analytic. The lack of analysis prompted us to attempt to include some deeper understanding of the characters in each edit. Since each edit was expected to prompt discussion, and potentially re-edits of our original additions, we made to sure to track the changes and regularly check for edits or discussion resulting from new information on the pages.

The things we learned in editing each Wikipedia page tended to mirror what we learned in reading each text, and what came up in class discussion. That is, each individual Wiki post served to extend findings discussed in class to the world at large. In order to add meaningful information to each character’s Wikipedia page, we had to understand each character in enough depth to accurately portray their roles in each of the novels. This deepened understanding of each character provided valuable insight into the topics discussed in class. The posts were beneficial because potential subsequent edits from other users could solidify the nature of our discussion as reputable contributions to the greater general understanding of Dickens’ literature relative to the context of the 19th century, and the texts per se.


Character Pages that we Edited:


Oliver Twist:


Artful Dodger:


Ebenezer Scrooge:


Tiny Tim:


Esther Summerson:


Lady Dedlock:


How to Edit Wikipedia Pages:


Link To Prezi:

Modern Critics’ Assessment of Pip in the Dual Role of the Narrator & Protagonist

Written by Kelsey Teglash and co-written by Rachel Campbell

Group members: Kelsey Teglash, Rachel Campbell, Peter Cala, John Panus, and Nikkel Gohel

David Parossiens essay “’If You Knew all My Story’… The Rhetoric of Pip’s Tale” discusses how Dickens cleverly uses Pip’s first person narration to tell his story with a perspective that is “detached and generally distanced from the matter he tells”. As both the novel’s protagonist and narrator Pip takes on the dual responsibility of moving the plot forward through his actions as well as shaping the perception of the reader through his narration. With this in mind, Pip can be seen as two separate entities; character Pip who the reader can see react to the events surrounding him, and narrator Pip who reflects upon these events with perspective and a greater sense of maturity. Parossiens argues that the skill of Dickens in Great Expectations is in his ability to easily move from one perspective to another and bring the periods of the characters together in order to provide the reader with a more comprehensive outlook. The shadow of the narrating Pip can easily be seen throughout the entire book, but is seen for the first time in Chapter 4 on Christmas day when Pip and Joe are on their way to church. Language like ‘vicariously’, ‘Sunday penitentials’’, and ‘reformatory’, are terms and concepts far beyond that of a six year old, particularly one that cannot properly pronounce his full name. The older, narrating Pip uses this language to infuse the passage with a sense of greater insight.

In her essay “Early Stream-of-Consciousness Writing: Great Expectations” Ann B. Dobie adds support to Parossiens argument by noting the difference between surrealist writing and stream-of-consciousness writing. She asserts that Great Expectations should be viewed as a stream-of-consciousness novel rather than a surrealistic novel. Going on to explain that as a memoir the older Pip is doing all at once, it accurately fits the template of the stream-of-consciousness writer. This is one who attempts to re-create the subconscious mental state of the character whereas the surrealists use automatic writing to obtain the suggestions of the subconscious mental states (Dobie 407). The shadowing narrator reflects on his past with a different viewpoint than his younger self because he was awakened to the reality of the world. Dobie argues that “For a child there is no clean-cut separation between his imagination and his surroundings. Instead, there is a fusion of the two which is comparable to the fusion by the artist of the individual and the world around him, the internal and the external. Thus there is an inevitable blending of the two in an individual consciousness” (Dobie 408). This easily explains the largest contrast between character and narrator Pip in the beginning of the novel. Six year old Pip is a developing character who is constantly being “molded and remolded” by the events and people in his life (Dobie 409). Reading the events of younger Pips life and his “molding” while the older Pip provides insight into the lasting effect of these events invites the reader into his world completely. However, as a narrator we are only seeing Pip’s world from his perspective. Unlike in Bleak House, the narration is only provided by the elderly Pip who is recalling decades of information in one retelling.

A different perspective is taken when our group came across  Rupert Christiansen’s article “What are we Meant to Think of Pip?” While not completely negating Parossiens and Dobie’s argument he mentions that while Pip seems to be a reliable narrator he leaves a lot out. Christiansen notes that the critical information about why he is telling his story his circumstances after with Estella in his mid-30s is absent. In Chapter 14 he refers to his present as ‘occasions in my later life” leaving the reader to constantly question the true effect of the conclusion of his days as young Pip the character.

Christiansen then goes on to examine Pip the narrator from an outside perspective in an attempt to do away with the bias of the first person point-of-view.  He argues that Pip the narrator is being unnecessarily harsh and critical of his former self without any real reason.  When Pip receives his “great expectations” and desires to leave the forge and become part of a higher class of society, this, the critic argues, is the natural reaction “…anyone in his position would have done when offered a golden opportunity to escape the humdrum, and his subsequent embarrassment and discomfort at Joe’s awkward manners is entirely natural”.  Even Pip’s discovery that Magwitch is (Don’t look Peter) the benefactor and his initial disgust and dread of this new discovery that he later beats himself up for is what would be expected of anyone else in the same situation.  Magwitch is a convict–possibly a very dangerous one–who scared the crap out of Pip when he was a little boy in the graveyard.  It is only logical, the critic contends, for Pip to have had the reaction he did.  Thus, the older Pip’s commentary on his younger self is overly self-deprecating, and Christiansen leaves us with a question to contemplate: “Pip seems to think everything is his fault, but what does he actually have to be ashamed about?”

Potential Ideas for an Interpretive Question:

  • What does the adult Pip believe he has reason to be ashamed of and how does that compare to what the young Pip was ashamed of as a child?
    • Is older Pip being too hard on himself as the last critic argues?
    • Is there validity to young Pip’s shame in older Pip’s eyes?

Works Cited

Christiansen, Rupert. “Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.” ‘Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations’ N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Dobie, Ann B. “Early Stream-of-Consciousness Writing: Great Expectations.”Nineteenth-Century Fiction 25.4 (1971): 405-16. Web.

Paroissien, David. “‘if You Knew all My Story…’: The Rhetoric of Pip’s Tale.” The Dickensian 106.482 (2010): 227,234,196.ProQuest. Web.

Progression of Ideas of Consciousness in Victorian England

The mid-1800’s were snarled with varying ideas on neurological science, with the beginnings of what could even be called modern psychology just emerging: Alexander Bain (The Senses and the Intellect, 1855) [a proponent of empiricism], Herbert Spencer (The Principles of Psychology, 1885). Anne Stiles explains the vague and conflicting nature of psychology in the Victorian era:

“Victorian psychology might best be characterized as ‘a point of intersection between various fields of knowledge – philosophy, physiology, aesthetic and social theory’ …[and] was inclusive enough to partially incorporate various fields of knowledge now characterized as ‘pseudosciences’, including phrenology, physiology, mesmerism, and the study of extra-sensory perception.”1

Denizens of the Victorian-era England, and authors like Dickens struggling with questions of identity, consciousness, and psychology, did not have an established monolith to adhere to (Dickens watched lectures on, and believed and practiced, mesmerism). Rather, a few journals were being published, and “authors, philosophers, and ordinary people” held the debate on the changing ideas of the time.

 Retrograde Consciousness in Great Expectations (1861)

Dickens, though perhaps not explicitly alluding to phrenology, begins Great Expectations with Pip’s recollection of memories, narrating from the future– the theme of [self-]consciousness is immediately presented as a major one as the older Pip recalls his younger, immature self’s theory of identity:

“I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly…”

Dickens, through Pip’s narration, reveals a past style of thinking about psychology, class, determinism, etc., and promises us another way of being identified through self-consciousness (“childish”).

…and, immediately after this “phrenological scene”, presents us with the nasty character of THE CONVICT, who…



MAGWITCH IS THE BENEFACTOR. For the times, a lowborn man (and a convict– counterfeiting felony) would have been surprising to be revealed as the great benefactor (even Pip was disappointed), a fact known and taken for granted today– not only as a plot twist, but as a social comment. Even in Dickens’s earlier writings, such as Oliver Twist (1838), the title orphan ended up being of better blood after all. There was no physical crossing of class boundaries, because physically Oliver already belonged/was there. In Great Expectations, with Pip of lowly blood, one must ask must deeper what Dickens was saying about physical causes one’s personality and potential in life (i.e. psychology).

A theme spanning the entire novel, and indeed the title, Magwitch’s rise to wealth (and Pip’s, too) is accompanied by Magwitch’s remembrance and effort to help out Pip, who he remembers as helping him… and also, perhaps, to eliminate Pip’s young and restrictive ideas of class, which he revealed to Magwitch then:


from the Gutenberg online edition of Great  Expectations

“Now look here!” said the man. “Where’s your mother?”

“There, sir!” said I. …

…”Ha!” he muttered then, considering. “Who d’ye live with,–supposing you’re kindly let to live, which I can’t mad up my mind about?”

Restricting on the lower class as much as death 2 (being in a graveyard…), class boundaries and non-fluidity are pressed into Pip’s young mind much like the phrenological interpretation of Pip’s parents. Throughout the novel, Pip experiences many social realms, and he sometimes acts differently in each (his poor village, aristocracy like Miss Havisham, business in the city…).

Phrenology (popular 1810-1840)

Essentially, a take on psychology coming from a physiological origin. Bumps and hollows on one’s skull could be measured, and personality traits determined. Formulated in in the early 1800’s by Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim and popularized through the 1819 publication of Gall’s principle work on the subject, and, indirectly, later by George Combe’s The Constitution of Man, which was one of the best-selling works in the entire nineteenth century. Combe gave lectures and led the phrenological society in England. Shalyn Claggett explains that

“[p]hrenology offered a kind of biological determinism. … Despite the science’s emphasis on physiological distinctiveness and individuality, scholarship has tended to focus on how phrenology was deployed in the service of encompassing social systems, such as its…connection to the rise of the middle class and its intersection with racial typing. Such studies have importantly demonstrated the ways in which a biological theory of identity was used to further professional, economic, and nationalistic agendas.”3

Though its major popularity had died off by the time Great Expectations was published in 1861, it was known and damaging enough for the social critic in Dickens to take an explicit stab at it in Little Dorrit (1857) as well as its implicit mention in the graveyard scene, alluding to Thomas Hood’s text, “Craniology”:

“Patriarchy was the name which many people delighted to give him… So grey, so slow… so very bumpy in the head. …Philanthropists… had asked who he was, and on being informed… had cried in a rapture of disappointment, “Oh! why, with that head, is he not a benefactor of his species!”4

Hume (1711-76)

David Hume outlined his “science of man” in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), arguing that desire, not reason governed human behavior. He did not believe in innate ideas– essentially, humans are a “bundle of sensations” associated with the self (knowledge comes from experience).

“The mind is a kind of theater, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.” [A Treatise of Human Nature, I.IV.VI]

Marx (1818-83) & Political Consciousness

Marx believed that man’s consciousness is created from his existence within an external environment, instead of a consciousness existing as an island.

“No less a supporter of the proletariat than Karl Marx affirmed that Dickens ‘issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists, and moralists put together.5

Marx’s political definition, “class consciousness,” requires people [the proletariat] to recognize and become solely aware of one’s place as belonging to a level of a class system [which privileges some, and hinders others]. He wanted people to reject “false consciousness” [Engels’s term], that is, ideologies [religion, patriotism, etc.] that take one away from awareness of one’s place in class, one’s primary identity.

Freud (1856-1939)

The father of psychoanalysis, Freud began his career well after Dickens, but it was a response to the ideas of that previous generation. He had three states of mind, analogous to an iceberg– only the conscious, the tip, can be seen easily. The conscious is an awareness of current events; the preconscious feelings or thoughts that are not currently in one’s conscious mind, but can be remembered easily; the unconscious feelings or memories one has repressed or is otherwise completely unaware of their influence on current decisions and feelings. Freud also had a model of the human psyche: id (‘instincts’), ego (‘reality’), and superego (‘morality’).



Updated Question:

How does Pip’s consciousness change as his circumstances change?


Discussion Question:

How does Dickens use Pip as a self-conscious narrator traveling through different realms of consciousness (poor village, city, aristocracy) as he ages/matures in his character arc to make a social critique of the bad/mis-used “scientific” or ideological views of his day?[:which classes/characters in the novel had differing views of consciousness/themselves, and how does Pip as a traveling, self-reflective character interact/respond?]


Shameless abuse of class blog post. My dog is ready for the “polar plunge.”

Group 5:

Matt Spitzer

Klarisa Loft

Courtney Cavallo

Joseph Fennie

Kristen Druse





1 Anne Stiles, “Victorian Psychology and the Novel“. Stiles suggests these novels for further thought and research, especially for the later half of the century: Dracula (1897), Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), all of which have an obvious psychological focus.

2Pip’s childish thoughts on his role and belonging are similar to Wordsworth’s 1798 poem “We are Seven.”

3Shalyn Claggett’s “Putting Character First: The Narrative Construction of Innate Identity in Phrenological Texts

4Rodney Stenning Edgecombe’s “Hood’s ‘Craniology’ and the Head of Christopher Casby in Little Dorrit

5Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, “Charles Dickens

Clothing as Distinctions of Social Class: Victorian Secrets

In Hammad Raza’s essay “Role of Fashion and Clothing in Construction of Gender Identities,” the author states, “Fashion generates and alters identities based on the gender-based relations in a society.” While we agree that fashion can be used to formulate male-female identities, we postulate that in Great Expectations Dickens utilized fashion to distinguish between social classes and the social expectations within said social classes.

The first few chapters of the novel make a point of emphasizing Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, who wears aprons: “She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles. She made it a powerful merit in herself…that she wore this apron so much. Though I really see no reason why she should have worn it at all; or why, if she did wear it at all, she should not have taken it off, every day of her life.” This is meant to demonstrate the womanly gender roles within Victorian society, especially considering that Mrs. Joe is the archetypal female Dickensian villain who goes around cleaning the house and generally complaining about Pip’s existence.

Moreover, we see that Mrs. Joe carries around a cane and an umbrella on separate occasions: “We walked to town, my sister leading the way in a very large beaver bonnet, and carrying a basket like the Great Seal of England in plaited Straw, a pair of pattens, a spare shawl, and an umbrella, though it was a fine bright day. I am not quite clear whether these articles were carried penitentially or ostentatiously; but I rather think they were displayed as articles of property.” In Victorian times, canes were considered to be fashionable accessories, but umbrellas were a sign of low social status because it indicated that you did not own a carriage and had to shield yourself from the rain. Pip expresses a great deal of confusion about his sister’s fashion choices, indicating that her choices are beyond the realm of social acceptance.

Miss Havisham is perpetually depicted in an over-the-top wedding gown with excessive amounts of lace and frills. Especially when one takes the availability of factory-made clothing into account at the time of her would-be marriage (that is to say, the near-nonexistence of factory-made clothing), we can see that Miss Havisham comes from an incredibly wealthy background because she can afford such a luxuriously made gown.

Pip shows extreme discomfort when having to discuss his own Sunday best clothing: “Even when I was taken to have a new suit of clothes, the tailor had orders to make them like a kind of Reformatory, and on no account to let me have the free use of my limbs.” Moreover, he describes Joe’s Sunday best in a similarly disparaging manner:  “In his working-clothes, Joe was a well-knit characteristic-looking blacksmith; in his holiday clothes, he was more like a scarecrow in good circumstances, than anything else. Nothing that he wore then fitted him or seemed to belong to him; and everything that he wore then grazed him.” These combined instances are a fairly obvious attempt at demonstrating the social gap between Pip and the upper class in that he, and his social peers, look and feel out of place in well-made clothing. It is interesting to note that, in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, clothes were still being hand-made, as factory textiles were not yet popular; as such, the lower classes had to make their own clothing, and their outfits were often shabby imitations of the styles worn by the upper class, further demonstrating the extreme gap between the two classes. Pip’s discomfort with his Sunday best–how ill-fitting and poorly made they are–are a representation of this situation.


Sources: (Great Expectations: Gutenberg online edition) (Hammad Raza’s essay, “Fashion and Gender Roles”)


Discussion Question: What can we infer about Dickens’ views on gender or social class based on Pip’s observations about clothing?

Victorian Diseases and their Impact on Society

Group 3

The Victorian era saw an increased spread of infectious diseases, especially in large cities where the rate of infection increased exponentially. This era also saw the rise of the medical sciences with respect to the development of cures, preventive methods, and vaccinations, such as the one discovered by Edward Jenner that was used to eradicate smallpox. The advent of infectious diseases in populous areas led to a reexamination of the diagnostic methods of diseases, which led to medical professionals being able to pinpoint more accurately the causes and origins of every disease. The issues of poor sanitation and public health were highlighted as being some of the main causes for the spread of infection. Though people were aware that diseases existed in regions where the air was putrid, they did not make the connection that depicted the matter of improper sanitation as being a problematic issue that gave rise to higher numbers of people falling ill.

During this time period, smallpox was in its prime, and was one of the most frightening diseases in terms of infection rate. It was extremely contagious and had a death rate of about thirty percent, which would devastate cities such as London. But what makes it so interesting from a literary standpoint is its aftereffects, primarily how it could leave people scarred, or even blind; the physical damage caused by the disease was far more obvious than in other diseases. As such, smallpox can be used to represent the internal battles of the characters in a simple yet incredibly effective way. Characters can succumb to the disease and therefore lose their internal battle and die, or, like Esther, they can survive it. Those who were affected by the disease were left with disfiguring pockmarks, which act as battle scars to show that they were stronger than whatever tried to defeat them, whether it was smallpox or their own inner demons. The obvious physical scarring brought about by smallpox was most likely the reason that Dickens used this disease in Bleak House rather than any of the other prevalent diseases at the time; physical ‘war wounds’ created more of an impact on both characters and readers. Another disease that was prevalent during this era was typhus, the origins of which extend all the way back to the Spanish siege in 1489. Though not yet termed typhus, the description of the symptoms matches the symptoms of what we would now call typhus today (i.e. rash, sores, delirium etc.). Later on, it became especially common in English prisons where prisoners were forced into tight living quarters with each other, often in disease-ridden conditions. This led to an easy transmission rate of typhus, and supposedly led to the death of 25% of English prisoners.

However, arguably the disease with the most impact during this time period was cholera. Although the sheer numbers of people affected by cholera was lower than that of other epidemics, the social implications of the disease impacted the nineteenth century in ways that could not be debated. An article by Richard J. Evans asserts that “cholera has a good claim to be regarded as the classic epidemic disease of the nineteenth century”. Cholera spread through poor nineteenth century sanitation, and produced uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms that Evans describes as “violent affronts to Victorian prudery” (127). Half of all sufferers died from cholera, and it could take as little as twelve hours between the first appearance of symptoms and death. Evans also asserts that the disease clearly affected the poor more than the rich, and therefore acted as a device to reveal areas of great poverty and poor sanitation in the large cities. The cholera epidemic was significant in that while the wealthy could escape relatively unscathed, the poor seemed doomed to perish, and therefore “it’s power to exacerbate existing social tensions would be very considerable” (Evans 131).

The more these diseases infected the general population, the more number of people were attempting to combat them. Medical professionals came to the forefront of the battle against infectious diseases; people such as Florence Nightingale, who acted as a leading figure in medicine during the Crimean War (1853-56), were tasked with finding preventive and curative measures for each disease. Interestingly enough, those who outlined the Poor Laws were also involved with finding the causes and methods for treating diseases such as typhus. A man by the name of Edwin Chadwick was directly involved with this task due to his interest in sanitation and hygiene in England. Ironically, Dickens and Chadwick seemed to have had a fairly friendly relationship that was based on mutual interests like their concerns for the public health of England. Though it seems odd that the two would have gotten along, Dickens probably saw the friendship as an opportunity to further his efforts for the poor in a bigger way.


Works Cited:

Evans, Richard J. “Epidemics And Revolutions: Cholera In Nineteenth-Century Europe.” Past and Present 120.1 (1988): 123-46. Web


Blog post written by: Max Garnaat, Alyssa Knott, McKenna Miller, Hannah Sugarman, and Nivedita Rajan

Discussion Question: What is Dickens implying about society through his representation of disease in Bleak House?