From the review of No Thoroughfare in the London Times (27 Dec. 1867):
"although [Obenreizer] is a great criminal, the sympathies of the audience undoubtedly follow him throughout, and at the end, when he bids Marguerite and her accepted lover farewell, we have but little doubt that could the audience have settled the marriage, Obenreizer, in spite of all the theories of justice or dramatic propriety, would have received the hand of his ward."

The audience's sympathetic reception of Obenreizer invites questions. Where or how, we might ask, does the play encourage a sympathetic response to its villain?
What might prompt an audience to feel that Obenreizer deserves a better end than he receives? Why is it that the play ends with Marguerite's forgiveness of Obenreizer? Is the audience being prompted to similarly forgive the man who plotted to kill Marguerite's lover?

That latter question is complicated by Marguerite's (apparent) lack of knowledge about what has transpired between the two men. "If you ever wronged me--for George's sake, I forgive you." IF he ever wronged her? Obenreizer interfered in her engagement with George Vendale then plotted his demise. But Marguerite's speech suggests that she isn't aware of these things (or, problematically, that she thinks of Obenreizer's deeds as having wronged only Vendale). Marguerite has not been made aware of the forgery and theft (Obenreizer signs the paper in order to prevent her from making this discovery). So perhaps it is easy for Marguerite--who seems to know nothing of what this man has done--to offer him such broad forgiveness. But the audience has seen it all, knows what he has been up to. If Marguerite's forgiveness arises from ignorance, what is the basis for the audience's forgiveness? And, having forgiven him of his misdeeds, why would the audience want to "reward" him by saving him from his own hand so that he can take Marguerite's (hand in marriage)?

Finally, does the audience's sympathetic response to Obenreizer tell us anything about the character of George Vendale and how he was received? Marguerite can marry only one man: if the audience wants to unite her with Obenreizer, what then becomes of George? What kind of hero is George, anyway? He never seems to know what's going on, even in the last act. Vendale's general cluelessness is in sharp contrast to Obenreizer who, just before going offstage, "recovers himself," indicating a degree of awareness and control that Vendale never seems to manage.
I hope everyone reading this, especially those who love “Cox and Box,” will be delighted to learn that Retrospect Opera, a UK charity I help direct, is going to make a recording of Sir Francis Burnand and Edward Solomon’s “Pickwick” of 1889. Better still, Simon Butteriss is going to sing the role of the immortal Mr Pickwick! Please do look at our website for more details:

Burnand and Solomon, who were writing comic songs together as early as 1880. Of their collaborative works we believe that “Pickwick,” the first really successful musical version of a Charles Dickens story, is the one that merits revival. When it first appeared, critics saw it as a natural successor to “Cox and Box.” Though Solomon was often compared to Sullivan, and sometimes seemed to be waiting in the wings to take over as the Savoy’s composer in chief, we believe that his music has NEVER been recorded! If anyone knows differently, please reply to me. 

That’s the good news. The bad news (mayhap) is that we do need to raise funds to make the recording possible, probably about £12,000. We have a supporters’ scheme whereby anyone who donates £25 or more gets their name on our website and a copy of the recording and accompanying materials when it is released. Bigger donations get bigger rewards. Anyone who wants to pay for the whole thing will be wined and dined as they have never been wined and dined before!! (But in fact, 10% of the funding has already come in from Dickens people and more is promised from that direction.)

David Chandler
Dickens Society 21st Annual Symposium: “Adapting Dickens”
Iceland University, Reykjavik
11–13 July, 2016

No sooner had Dickens made a name for himself by writing novels than the London theatres began to adapt them to the stage. Indeed, both The Pickwick Papers (April 1836–November 1837) and Oliver Twist (February 1837–March–1838) underwent such adaptations before the serial run of either had come to an end, and the latter was staged in one form or another no fewer than forty times before 1850! Just over half a century later, “The Death of Poor Joe,” a silent film from 1901 initiated a long series of adaptations of his works for cinema, and in 1959, BBC television broadcast adaptations of Great Expectations and Bleak House that proved how well suited his works were to either type of screen. Over four hundred adaptations later, there is no sign that the public’s enthusiasm for adapting Dickens is on the wane. Quite the contrary, audio versions of his works, a mode that can be traced directly to Dickens’s own dramatizations and his celebrated (and much imitated) readings can now be downloaded in a matter of minutes in MP3 format from a large number of internet sources. By the 1840s, his novels had been translated in Dutch, French, German, Italian and Russian, influencing a host of European writers over the following three decades. If we add the visual arts, musicals, graphic novels, video games, and a multitude of objects from Christmas decorations to cigarette cards and figurines, there seems to be no limits to the adaptability of Dickens’s works.

Papers (deliverable in twenty minutes) related to adaptation as well as proposals on all aspects of Dickens and his works are welcome.

Potential subjects related to the symposium theme include:

  • Dickens and translation
  • Dickens and film
  • Dickens and performance
  • Dickens and the theatre
  • Dickens and television
  • Dickens and audio
  • Dickens and the visual arts
  • Dickens and adaptation theory
For more information, visit the Dickens Society Website.

My two-year Marie Curie Fellowship period begins this month (February 2016). After some complications involving my visa sponsorship certificate, I have arrived in the UK. Though I am officially sponsored by Brunel University, I am somewhat mobile, and I am using these first weeks of the fellowship to do some writing. With that in mind, I have located a flat with a most inspirational view of Edinburgh Castle. Even on a cloudy day, the scene lifts the spirits.

Meanwhile, back at Brunel, Tom Betteridge is working with his students on a production of No Thoroughfare. This play, co-written by Charles Dickens an Wilkie Collins, has an interesting history that connects with questions of adaptation and copyright. I will be working with Tom's students next month, and I look forward to seeing what they do with this play.

I will move to London later this spring, when my projects will be at a stage at which they will benefit from an infusion of fresh research.