Dickens and Bodies

Saturday 19th October 2019, 09.00-18.00, Mary Ward House Conference Centre*, Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SN



Bodies matter across the range of Dickens’s writings. In fiction, his characters are frequently identified with their bodily gestures and movements, such as Uriah Heep’s writhing, or Jaggers biting his forefinger. Bodies come in all shapes, sizes and permutations: from Joe the fat boy, to Krook’s combustible body, to the one-eyed Wackford Squeers, or the hook-handed Captain Cuttle. Bodies are the source of employment and even artistry: Prince Turveydrop teaches dancing, Alice Marwood sells her body, Jenny Wren models her dolls on live subjects, while Mr Venus articulates skeletons ‘in a manner that would equally surprise and charm you’. Bodies circulate, permeate and linger: Peggotty’s breath down the keyhole tickles David Copperfield’s face, while Phil Squod’s shoulder leaves a smear round the four walls of George’s Shooting Gallery. But bodies can be hidden as well as evoked by language: Estella’s first appearance is signalled by her candle coming ‘along the dark passage like a star’.

In life Dickens’s career was shaped by embodiment, from the childhood sickliness that inclined him to reading, to the restless walking that accompanied and fuelled his writing, and the physical overstimulation that cut short his public readings. His letters and journalism reveal his interest in medical advances for managing and healing the body, as well as his fascination with the decaying corpses of the Paris morgue. They also show his awareness of the role of the body in Victorian celebrity and relic culture and the burgeoning heritage industry.

Jointly run by Birkbeck, Cardiff University, the Dickens Fellowship and the Institute of English Studies, this one-day conference will explore all aspects of Dickens and Bodies. 

  • £30 standard
  • £25 concession (unwaged/retired)
  • £20 student

*Please note, this venue may not be fully wheelchair accessible. 

The School of Advanced Study is part of the central University of London. The School takes its responsibility to visitors with special needs very seriously and will endeavour to make reasonable adjustments to its facilities in order to accommodate the needs of such visitors. If you have a particular requirement, please feel free to discuss it confidentially with the organiser in advance of the event taking place.

Enquiries: Events Officer, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU; Email: IESEvents@sas.ac.uk