- Charles Dickens. Modernism, Modernity ed. by Christine Huguet and Nathalie Vanfasse
The two volumes entitled Charles Dickens. Modernism, Modernity, edited by Christine Huguet and Nathalie Vanfasse represent one of the last testimonies of studies, volumes, monographs, essays, articles, conferences, mass media events and public occasions dedicated to Dickens’s celebrations. This collection is based on the proceedings of a conference held at Cerisy-la-Salle, in Normandy, in the summer of 2011, which testified to the presence of some of the most influential scholars and “Dickensians” gathered to celebrate, once again, the Inimitable. The two volumes are divided into six sections, each treating a specific aspect of Dickens’s modern (and Modernist) temper. Christine Huguet’s and Nathalie’s Vanfasse’s introduction is not just a presentation of the collection and of its contributions in general terms. Rather, it is a substantial essay that aims at studying “Dickens’ engagement with the modernity of daily life [that] reflects the new, heightened historical consciousness which is, in many ways, a major characteristic of the age” (1: 29). Through a cross-Channel critical perspective, Huguet and Vanfasse treat Dickens’s modernité with reference to writers and intellectuals ranging from Chauteaubriand and Théophile Gautier to Charles Baudelaire, who is the main focus of their critical analysis.
The first section (“Urban Modernity”) opens with Michael Hollington’s essay on Dickens’s complex relationship with Paris, specifically his visit from November 1846 to February 1847, during a period of historical and political crisis for France. Paris for Dickens was a city that needed to be “read” in its multi-layered nature and its its synesthetic intensity. Its Morgue, for instance, represented a place of attractive repulsion for him, which explains his mixed opinions on monumental “displays” such as the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace. By suggesting that Paris was the means through which Dickens re-experienced London, Hollington introduces a paradigm of experiential “re-creation” that, in a way, lies beneath many of the other contributions. Francesca Orestano’s essay presents a more explicitly comparative reading of Dickens’s and Woolf’s responses to London as a modern metropolis, including a minute topographic investigation [End Page 71] of the two writers’ imaginative interaction with the “unreal city.” Like other contributors, Orestano demonstrates that – despite a long critical tradition juxtaposing Dickens the Victorian and Woolf the Modernist – as far as London is concerned the two writers shared a mutual interest in the “readability” of the city, experienced as an ever-changing metropolitan text. Juliet John’s contribution is written against the grain of a rather myopic critical view of Dickens’s subaltern popularity due to his alleged dissatisfaction with modernity, and to his difficulty in finding an interaction between individuals and nature (if compared, for instance, to Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy). On the contrary, John demonstrates that “Dickens’s visibility and the visibility of place/places, especially London, in his novels contribute to what we might call [a] brand recognition” (1: 100).
Robert L. Patten’s analysis of Little Dorrit, a novel largely written in France, inaugurates the second section of the first volume (“Modernity in/and Motion”). After having pointed out the importance of the French and British formulation of copyright laws protecting translations in 1852, Patten reflects on the multiple linguistically foreign, almost “Babelic,” elements that characterize Little Dorrit, arguing that in this novel Dickens meditated on the present and on the future of Europe (and of Western civilization) by means of a “provincial English lens” (1: 130). This is one of the reasons why Little Dorrit is described as a novel about “translation” and “transition.” Vladimir Tredafilov chooses, instead, two apparently “local” editorial episodes taking place in Bulgaria: the inclusion in a 1908 monthly of the second part of an unfinished poem dictated by the ghost of the national poet Christo Botev (similar to what happened with an American edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, completed by none other than Dickens’s spirit) and a “fake” article penned by Dickens, supposedly working as...