October 8, 2009 at 6:12 pm (Core Course)

Sorry for getting so hoarse towards the end of this evening’s core course class: but I enjoyed the discussion of all the eyes at the end of Oliver Twist: from the crowd spectating Sikes’ final moments on Jacob’s Island (not to mention Nancy’s spectral eyes prompting his fatal fall: ‘”The eyes again!” he cried in an unearthly screech’) to Fagin in the room of eyes:

The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces. Inquisitive and eager eyes peered from every inch of space. From the rail before the dock, away into the sharpest angle of the smallest corner in the galleries, all looks were fixed upon one man–Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on the right and on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament, all bright with gleaming eyes. He stood there, in all this glare of living light … Looking round, he saw that the juryman had turned together, to consider their verdict. As his eyes wandered to the gallery, he could see the people rising above each other to see his face: some hastily applying their glasses to their eyes: and others whispering their neighbours with looks expressive of abhorrence. [ch. 52]

We talked a little about Bentham’s Panopticon, about Foucault’s celebrated utilization of the panopticon in Discipline and Punish; and finally a little about D. A. Miller’s The Novel and the Police (here’s a link to the Google Books version) for its reading of the nineteenth-century novel itself in the context of surveillance and policing. (The image at the head of this post is of Bentham’s original design for the panopticon; or a schematic representation of The Novel, if you’re Miller).

Here are some more spectating eyes, surrounding one of the novel’s key scenes:

And here’s Fagin’s last night alive. Don’t all those round cobblestones in the cell wall look a little bit like … ? Or, wait, perhaps I’m taking it too far.
Fagin the condemned cell

Plus, of course: watch this space for news of next week’s Mayhew class. [AR]


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October 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm (Nineteenth-century novel)

This afternoon’s Novel class talked about the relationship between Dickens’ ‘Autobiographical Fragment’ and David Copperfield; I tried to put together an argument about the secret (hidden, paradoxically, in plain view) of shame at the core of Dickens’s imaginative vision, and more specifically about the bodily or somatic quality of that shame: something to do with intimacy, with appetite, predation, physical contact. We also talked about the imaginative logic of ‘inversion’ that Dickens so often deploys, and I made the connection with the ‘dream work’ of Dickens, which often operates via inversion, substitution and transference. We discussed the repulsive physicality of Uriah Heep: as an inverted mirroring of David (both boys trying to get on via hard work, both hoping to marry Agnes etc., but one handsome and appealing the other revolting and despicable). We looked at descriptions of Heep’s physicality, his hideous ‘peeled’ quality, as if he lacked his outer skin, and his hands were mucus membranes. People weren’t persuaded by my the ‘COFFEE ROOM’ inversion in the ‘Fragment’

The coffee shops to which I most resorted were, one in Maiden Lane; one in a court (non-existent now) close to Hungerford Market; and one in St Martin’s Lane, of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood. [Forster, Life of Dickens, I:ii, ‘Hard Experiences in Boyhood 1822-4‘]

… but, to get to my point: I mentioned, I think, that this came up last year. And here is the link to the blog post from last year, where this is discussed a little more. [AR]

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Franklin Expedition

October 6, 2009 at 12:23 pm (General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel)

I owe Monica (I think it was) an apology. In last week’s Novel class (on David Copperfield) I asked if anybody knew what was especially memorable about the year 1848. Several people offered suggestions, and Monica brought up the Franklin Expedition. I pooh-poohed, but I had my dates wrong: indeed, as you’ll see if you click the link, in that last sentence there, the Franklin Expedition (two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, jointly under the command of a naval veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Sir John Franklin) set off in 1845 to sail round the north of Canada to the Pacific, and thereby establish a less circuitous and less dangerous route to the lucrative Pacific than going south round South America — which is to say, they were searching for the fabled ‘Northwest Passage’. They were hoping their journey would be like this:

In fact it was like this:


They all died.  By 1848 people were aware that the expedition was lost, but it was still hoped that it, or survivors from it, might still be located. By the mid 1850s, after various search-and-rescue expeditions, it became clear that there were none. Dickens was particularly interested in this expedition. In Autumn 1854 the Hudson’s Bay Company surveyor Dr. John Rae brought back Inuit reports of cannibalism among Franklin’s men; Dickens refused to believe that Englishmen would sink so low, and debated the matter with Rae in the pages of his weekly journal, Household Words. Two years later, he and his friend Wilkie Collins put on a performance of a play based on the expedition, The Frozen Deep.
Collins ‘wrote’ the play, although Dickens’ input was so pronounced (he rewrote stretches of it, adapted it, acted in it) that it is sometimes cited as co-authored by the two of them. At the centre of the play is an act of noble self-sacrifice, out on the arctic wastes, by a character called Wardour; a dry-run for the same device (in a very different environment) in Tale of Two Cities.

Here’s a facsimile of the Times from 1859, reporting the fate of the expedition. And here’s more newspaper coverage, this time from 2008, proof that for some the story is still news.


So, the Franklin Expedition was contemporaneous with 1848 (sorry Monica!) although it’s unlikely it fed into the cultural climate behind Copperfield. What I was actually angling for was the ‘year of revolutions’. [AR]

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