Reading Great Expectations
Study Day, Sunday 28 January 2018, 2.00-5.30 p.m.
Price: £50.00 / £45.00 students. Tea and coffee provided.
Venue: Stapleford Granary, Bury Road, Stapleford, Cambridge CB22 5BP
CAMcard holders and members of recognised Dickens societies can book at the student price. Please bring proof of status to the event.
Reading Great Expectations
Come for an intensive afternoon studying Dickens's much-loved novel, Great Expectations (1861). There will be two lectures by leading Cambridge lecturers Corinna Russell and Jan-Melissa Schramm, followed by a seminar in which everyone can participate, ask questions, and do some close reading in the traditional Cambridge manner. Tea and coffee provided.
The Story of Economic Man
Readers of Great Expectations witness the painful process by which Pip comes to terms with ‘the identity of things’, and in doing so we learn what it is to be part of an economic system. Pip’s identity is bound up with the ‘fiduciary economy’ of bank notes, credit, promises, oaths and fraudulent practices. The remarkable self-possession of his narrative voice is hard won through the experience of being the ‘portable property’ of the adults who make him their toy, creature or device. In this lecture Corinna Russell will investigate how the superb stylistic economy of Dickens’s masterpiece asks difficult questions about the transactions that we make with one another, through markets, through the giving of gifts, and through participation in moral ideas of guilt, obligation and responsibility.
Mercy for Magwitch? Dickens and the problems of poetic justice in Great Expectations
Charles Dickens’s novels have been tremendously influential over the modern literary imagination, particularly in post-colonial works that seek to probe the ethical limitations of his assumptions about humanity and moral value. A number of contemporary Antipodean writers have revisited Great Expectations in order to recover and make sense of Magwitch’s experiences as a convict transported to New South Wales. Magwitch’s testimony – of poverty, and relative criminal innocence, certainly in comparison to the villainous Compeyson – lies buried at the heart of the novel. Convicts are represented as a form of portable property, ‘carted here and carted there … as much as a silver tea-kettle’, with lives ransomed to the state for the most trivial of reasons.
Whilst Dickens does not fully reinstate Magwitch to the realm of the free and enfranchised citizen, nor condone his escape from British justice, he extends to him mercy rather than revenge, permitting him to die in Pip’s arms before he reaches the scaffold. In this lecture I will explore what this extension of mercy – but not full exoneration – means for Dickens’s understanding of guilt, innocence, and human freedom. I will also look briefly at a couple of contemporary novels which have given Magwitch (rather than Pip) the right to survive and conclude the tale.
Dr Corinna Russell is Fellow and Director of Studies in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where she is also a Tutor for Admissions. Her work focuses on the literature and thought of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and has mostly centred around the ways in which literary language patterns and forms ideas. She has published on repetition in the poetry of Wordsworth, Blake and Byron as well as the novels of Dickens, and is beginning a new project on the idea of song in Romantic and Victorian writings.
Dr Jan-Melissa Schramm is a Fellow of Trinity Hall, a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature in the Faculty of English, Cambridge, and Deputy Director of CRASSH. She was a lawyer before she became a literary scholar, and her work focuses on the ways in which questions of law, crime, evidence, and ethics are explored in literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She currently teaches an MPhil course on post-colonial re-writings of Great Expectations.
Her books include: Atonement and Self-Sacrifice in Nineteenth-Century Narrative;Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Literature, and Theology and Censorship, Dramatic Form, and the Representation of the Sacred in Nineteenth-Century England(forthcoming).