It’s high time I wrote to you to tell you about Dickens Day, which was the justification for this year’s trip to London. Although it’s an annual event (its 28th to be exact), I stumbled across it on Twitter for the first time earlier this year. The theme for 2014’s event was “Dickens and Conviviality,” and since “convivial” pretty much sums up our friendship to date, I felt compelled to submit a paper proposal.
So on the morning of Saturday, October 11, 2014 I arrived at Senate House, University of London. It looks like this:
But when you’re giving a presentation to a bunch of people who probably know a heck of a lot more about you than I do, and you’ve never given a presentation as long as twenty minutes before, it bore a striking resemblance to a certain supernaturally afflicted apartment from Ghostbusters:
Intimidating building aside, once I found the registration table my nerves were calmed by the warm welcome I received from the event’s organizers, Ben, Bethan and Holly (who, unlike me, actually remembered to take pictures and put them on Twitter). Also calming was learning that my panel was to be in the smaller of the meeting rooms, and that my husband, aunt and second cousin (or maybe first-cousin-once-removed) and her husband were in the audience to lend moral support. You can read my presentation here – it wasn’t nearly as scholarly as the other papers, but it seemed to go over well, and I think I answered the questions directed to me afterwards mostly coherently. Go me!
You can read about the other presentations at this far more coherent account of the day, but as a newcomer to the event, my impressions were these:
– There’s a scene in The Avengers where the team is sitting around a table in the fancy S.H.I.E.L.D. ship and Steve Rogers, who’s been frozen since the 1940s, finally understands a pop culture reference. Sitting in a large room filled with strangers who got all the Dickens jokes and references I had the very strong feeling that I had finally found my people. After spending more than two years in relative solitude (Twitter notwithstanding), it gave me all kinds of warm fuzzies to be able to look around at a room full of people who share the same kind of affection and interest in you that I now have. I wanted to hug them all, or put them all in my pocket and take them home with me, or at least invite them to my house for a party. Seriously. Drop by whenever. I’m sure I could do a little better with a meal than David Copperfield did. (See? They’d all totally get that.)
– Speaking of David, I loved the two dramatic readings that ended the morning and afternoon sessions, one from David Copperfield and one from Our Mutual Friend. The three readers effortlessly assumed all the characters’ identities, and brought each episode richly to life. Even my husband and aunt, neither of whom have read Dickens, were laughing. The readings are such a good idea – after stretching our brains with some really interesting interpretations and ideas during the panels, they bring us all back to a collective appreciation of the source material in such an entertaining way. You would have loved it, Charlie, I have no doubt.
– And the people! I’m deeply, deeply envious of all the people I met who live in and around London and who have such instant access to all these Dickens-related sites and events and conferences. However, they’re all so friendly and welcoming that I can’t hold it against them. I was so glad that there were a number of breaks to give me a chance to track people down. Meeting fellow newcomers to both Dickens and the conference, like David, and fellow presenters like Katie was so wonderful, as was finally getting to meet Twitter friends face to face like Pete (who also gave a really interesting presentation on the often overlooked humour in Edwin Drood) and Emma, who organized the Our Mutual Friend online reading project and who assigned me my character (I didn’t reveal my secret identity to anyone though). I also met a very nice man who’s name I’ve completely forgotten but whom I think maybe runs the Dickens Fellowship and who made me feel I’d be welcome at Gad’s Hill which was SO awesome, even if I didn’t have time this trip to take him up on the offer. Sir, if you’re reading, I’m sorry I forgot your name.
– So. Many. Ideas. Every presentation made me think about the works they covered in new ways, and made me very aware that reading your works is one thing, Charlie, but I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the wealth of scholarship out there. Every paper I heard made me want to go back and re-read those chapters they mention and dig for new meanings and interpretations. I think it’s time to start easing myself into the contemporary scholarship and see what I can find.
My only complaint was that a day just didn’t seem long enough, and I wanted to be able to clone myself so that I could attend all the panels I missed. Also, had there been a Dickens-themed book table with recent publications, or other stuff for sale, Dickens- or conference- or college-related, I absolutely would have bought all the things, because I like souvenirs and it would have been cool to buy a book by one of the attendees or a collection that would introduce a newcomer to the scholarship side of things. Just a thought.
There’s nothing for it but to keep an eye out for next year’s topic and see if I can’t make this a more regular occurrence (as well as finally make it to Rochester).
As days go, Charlie, it was right up there among the best.