Of Victorian Interest

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Of Victorian Interest

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Registration: “Victorian Modernities” (6/25-27/2015)

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Centre for Victorian Literature and Culture and KIASH (University of Kent) and the Dickens Project (University of California, Santa Cruz)
University of Kent
June 25-27, 2015

  • Keynotes: Professor Jonathan Grossman (UCLA) and Dr Ruth Livesey (Royal Holloway)
  • Featuring a magic lantern show performed by Joss Marsh and David Francis from the Kent Museum of the Moving Image

On June 9, 1865 at 3.30pm, Charles Dickens came close to losing his life when the South Eastern train in which he was travelling from Folkestone to London derailed while crossing a viaduct near Staplehurst in Kent. While Dickens and his travelling companions - Ellen Ternan and her mother – survived, ten passengers were killed and forty were injured. The accident affected him greatly, and he continued to suffer ‘sudden rushes of terror, even when riding in a hansom cab’, as he confessed a year after the event. The grim ghost story that emerged from this traumatic experience to be published in All the Year Round – ‘No. 1 Branch Line. The Signalman’ – contrasts markedly with the ebullient celebration of railway speed in ‘A Flight’ – his earlier account of travelling from London to Paris for Household Words. While Dickens’s early responsiveness to the symbolism of the railway and embrace of the connections enabled by new technological and industrial processes may have made him a ‘leader of the steam-whistle party par excellence’ as Ruskin claimed, his writing also resonates with many of the anxieties and instabilities we associate with modernity.

The 150th anniversary of the Staplehurst railway accident in June 2015 provides us with an occasion to reflect upon the ambivalence that distinguished the Victorians’ multifaceted engagement with the complex concept we now refer to as modernity.

Enquiries can be sent to Cathy Waters (c.waters@kent.ac.uk) or Wendy Parkins (w.j.parkins@kent.ac.uk) or victorianmodernities2015@gmail.com

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