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Title: Scenes of reading in Dickens's writings
Author: Goodsell, Caroline Ann
ISNI:       0000 0005 0287 5035
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2021
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This project brings together two key elements of Dickens's life and works: performance and affect. Dickens felt emotion in the performances he gave and enabled his audiences to feel in response to these. When composing his writings and when performing them as Reader, Dickens sympathised with his characters by feeling their emotion as his own and by imagining himself to be them. Sympathy not only enabled Dickens to immerse himself in the consciousness of a character but to explore his own consciousness, as he does when assuming the voice of Richard Wardour in The Frozen Deep. By thinking Wardour's thoughts and feeling his emotions, Dickens realises that he is suffering as intensely as is Wardour. For Dickens, assumption – 'being someone, in voice etc. not at all like [himself]' (Letters 6: 257) – is a liberating and enlightening experience of self-discovery which Dickens's readers also have when they sympathise with the characters of his fiction. As I discuss, characters who represent readers in Dickens's writings also become aware of their previously unknown thoughts and feelings when they sympathise with a 'character' from the 'narrative' they 'read' or with a representative narrator. I argue that the 'reader's' moment of enlightenment occurs in the quiet and unobtrusive presence of a 'narrator' who enables his 'reader' to sympathise with him through sensory response to his non-verbal communication of emotion. The auditors of Dickens's Readings also sympathise with him when Dickens communicates his feelings non-verbally to them through his use of gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. Moreover, his performance of assumption as Reader demonstrates how the unobtrusiveness of the actual narrator is required for his reader to sympathise with the character assumed. When Dickens assumes his characters, he seemingly transforms himself into them and apparently disappears as Reader on stage, which enables his auditors to immerse themselves in the consciousness of the characters that they believe are there instead. Dickens's readers also respond to the illusion created by the performance of the actual narrator by hearing the voices of the characters he assumes and with whom they sympathise. However, Dickens's readers remain aware of the imaginary physical presence of the narrator who is creating an effect, just as Dickens's auditors never entirely lose consciousness of Dickens as Reader on stage. Indeed, Dickens ensures that his auditors focus on his physical presence as Reader and that they admire his 'flamboyant display of histrionic power' (Andrews 207), while the typically Dickensian narrator – whom Garis defines as a 'theatrical artist' (Garis 191) – 'wants his presence to be felt [as he] overtly and audibly performs before us some brilliant routines and contrivances in order to command attention and applause' (191). As Anny Sadrin notes, Dickens wanted his readers to imagine the narrator as a 'visible and tangible' physical presence (181) and, as I show in my discussion of the narrator's performance, he can often be imagined to be physically present when he narrates as animatedly as Dickens does as Reader. I propose that, while Dickens's auditors, readers and 'readers' feel emotion intensely through sympathising with Dickens and their unobtrusive narrators (both actual and representative) when they communicate their emotion non-verbally to their audiences, they also feel strongly in response to verbal expression of feeling by Dickens and his narrators while in their virtual or actual physical presence. Essentially, Dickens enables his audiences to read the scenes of his writings as he read the scenes of his life: through sensory and emotional response and sympathy.
Supervisor: Waters, Catherine Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral