Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings

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Overview


Charles Dickens had three professional careers: novelist, journalist and public Reader. That third career has seldom been given the serious attention it deserved. For the last 12 years of his life he toured Britain and America giving 2-hour readings from his work to audiences of over two thousand. These readings were highly dramatic performances in which Dickens's great gift for mimicry enabled him to represent the looks and voices of his characters, to the point where audiences forgot they were watching Charles Dickens. His novels came alive on the platform: at the end of a reading, it seemed to many that a whole society had broken up rather than that a solitary recitalist had concluded. This book tries to recreate, in greater detail than hitherto, the sense of how those readings were performed and how they were received, how Dickens devised his stage set and tailored his books to make them into performance scripts, how he conducted his reading tours all around the country and developed a quite extraordinary rapport with his listeners. No single study of this late career of Dickens has drawn to such an extent on contemporary witnesses to the readings as well as tried to assess in some depth the significance of what Dickens called "this new expression of the meaning of my books." "I shall tear myself to pieces," he said as he waited eagerly to go on stage for his performance, and that is ironically what he did, in ways he perhaps had not quite intended: he fractured into dozens of different characters up there on the platform, and as he thus tore himself to pieces his health collapsed irretrievably under the pressures he put upon himself to achieve these masterly illusions.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A lively evocation of the overlapping artistic and commercial contexts of Dickens' performances."--Margaret Russett, Studies in English Literature

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199270699
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Malcolm Andrews is Professor of Victorian and Visual Arts at the University of Kent. He is the author of Dickens and the Grown-up Child and the Editor of The Dickensian, the journal of the international Dickens Fellowship. He has also written on landscape and art history in two books, The Search for the Picturesque: Toursim and Landscape Aesthetics in Britain, 1760-1800 and Landscape and Western Art (in the Oxford History of Art series). He has performed Readings from Dickens over a number of years.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements     vii
List of Illustrations     xiii
A Premiere: New York, December 1867     1
A Community of Readers: Serialization and the Bonded Reader; Anti-theatricality and Reading for Money; Debuts     9
Reading, Reciting, Acting: Communal Reading Practices; Public Recitalists; Dickens the Reader; The 'Limits of Reading'; The Reading Texts-Novels into Scripts     50
Impersonation: 'Composing out loud'; 'Most people are other people'; Charles Mathews     97
Celebrity on Tour: The Set-The Desk, Props, The Platform; The Tour Manager and Crew; Managing Celebrity; 'A convict in golden fetters'     126
Performance: Voice; Gesture; Characterization; Narrative and Character; Rapport     176
'Sikes and Nancy': A Reading     219
A 'New Expression of the Meaning of my Books': Authentication; Colour and Definition; Realism; 'This interpretation of myself'     226
Finale: London, March 1870     263
Appendix: Schedule of the Public Readings     267
Abbreviations     291
Notes     292
Index     327
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