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EN965 Charles Dickens: Novels, Journalism, Adaptation

(Module not available 2013-14)

Prof. Jon Mee

This module is intended as an introduction to Charles Dickens, arguably the greatest novelist to have written in English. Certainly, perhaps with Jane Austen, Dickens is the one canonical novelist to retain a powerful hold on a popular readership across the English-speaking world (there is even a theme-park recently opened in Kent). By covering nearly the entire corpus of his writing, including his sketches and journalism, it intends to provide the fullest sense possible of the ‘Dickens world’ and why it exercised and continues to exercise such a powerful hold on readers. Related to this issue will be the development of Dickens as a public persona through the journalism and his public readings. Related to this issue, the module will devote its final two weeks to the question of adaptation by focussing on film and TV versions of the novels. The aim here is to look at the specific kinds of technical demands Dickens makes for adaptation, but also why particular novels have been chosen for adaptation at particular times, and how those choices play into the forms of adaptation. In this regard the question of adaptation raises issues of contemporary mediations of the past and the part played by the heritage industry in perpetuating the Dickens world. Furthermore, the question of Dickens and cinema also reflects back on and changes our understanding of the novels themselves, as Sergei Eisenstein showed, providing a filmic language that can reveal important aspects of Dickens’s narrative technique. From year to year, the novels presented on the course may vary, as may the adaptations chosen, not least because both TV and cinema continue to produce new and innovative versions like the Alfonso Cuarón version of Great Expectations set in contemporary America or the recent BBC Bleak House. The question of adaptation may also be extended to literary revisions of Dickens, for instance, Peter Carey’s rewriting of Great Expectations in Jack Maggs, or fiction where Dickens novels themselves appear, such as, Lloyd Jones’s Mr. Pip


Sketches by Boz

Oliver Twist.

Bleak House

Great Expectations

Our Mutual Friend

Selected Journalism 1850-1870

All Penguin eds.

David Lean and Roman Polanski adaptations of /Oliver Twist/; Lean and Cuarón of /Great Expectations/ (DVDs) BBC TV /Bleak House/ and /Little Dorrit/, DVD

Indicative Reading

Jon Mee, The Cambridge Introduction to Charles Dickens (Cambridge)
Grahame, Smith, Dickens and the Dream of Cinema (Manchester University Press)

For the Robert Giddings article ‘SOFT SOAPING DICKENS: ANDREW DAVIES, BBC-1 AND 'BLEAK HOUSE’ go to

See also the BBC press pack at