This Dickens Day conference, jointly run by Birkbeck, University of London, Cardiff University, the Dickens Fellowship and the Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, will explore all aspects of Charles Dickens, families and communities.

The writer and social critic often associated his works with a cheerful ideology of hearth and home. Writing to his friend John Forster about his plans for a new periodical, he promised that it would have ‘a vein of glowing, hearty, generous, mirthful, beaming reference in everything to Home, and Fireside’.

However, many of the families in his fiction are far from mirthful. From Mrs Joe, Pip’s sister in Great Expectations, going on the rampage to the murderous Jonas Chuzzlewit (The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit), the Dickensian family is as conflict-ridden as it is cosy.

And, for Dickens, family is a particularly flexible concept, ranging from the nuclear to the extended, encompassing elective families, diverse gender roles, child-carers and surrogate-parents. His writing is also frequently concerned with those without families: orphans, singletons, and people alienated from others by choice or circumstance.

And his wider communities are equally eclectic. In prefaces and journalism, he appeals to his ‘community of readers’, a virtual community linked through his writings. He participated in other more tangible communities, as an author, journalist, social reformer, and actor in amateur dramatic performances. And he wrote of diverse forms of community: gangs, clubs, the parish, the nation, and religious, political and cultural societies.

Speakers at this one-day conference come from a range of universities. They include Holly Furneaux (University of Cardiff), Lillian Nayder (Bates College), Mary Shannon (University of Roehampton) and Cathy Waters (University of Kent).

When: 20 October, 9am–6pm
Who: Institute of English Studies, Birkbeck University of London, Cardiff University and the Dickens Fellowship
Where: Woburn Suite, G22/26, ground floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

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