I’m starting this post at the San Jose airport, having woken up before 6:30 to catch the bus to the bus to the cab. It’s quite a trek to get to UCSC College VIII from the right coast, but it seems appropriate to have these 12+ hours in transit to mark the passage to our much unlovelier of universes. This year’s book was Oliver Twist, which I’m glad to have discovered that I’m not alone in violently disliking. I’m not going to attempt any description of the presentations, nor the campus’s pristine panoramas, nor yet the punctual post-priandial potations. For the uninitiates, the Universe is unique in joining academics and members of the general public, mixing Victorianist professionals and Dickens amateurs, certainly not mutually exclusive categories. It was somewhat odd for me, though, as a member of the former, the latter, not so much. I haven’t read all of Dickens once, let alone several times, I don’t have hundreds of Dickens anecdotes at my fingertips, and I don’t exactly aspire to have those anecdotes, or to reread all that I’ve read so far.

I can't believe this is a campus.

I had a wonderful time, nevertheless, and if I’ve not come out of the week infatuated with Dickens more than ever, it has gotten me thinking more about the Dickens’ literary context, particularly the neglected decade of the 1830s. I wondered, for example, how OT compares with the period’s Newgate novels, especially with referencce to Fagin’s prison cell passion. Many readers, amateur and professional alike, commented on Dickens’ unique insight into Fagin’s psychological state–I wonder, though, whether the scene isn’t already generic. Likewise, I’m curious about the “Novels with Purpose” of the early Victorian period. The main reason I hated reading OT is that for much of it, I had an urge to throttle the little bastard (haha). What’s made it more interesting to me is its generic incoherence. Is it a novel, a picaresque, a children’s book, a fairy tale, a psychomachia, an allegory, a melodrama, or something else? During an impromptu Friday afternoon seminar put on by “Question Guy” (who shall remain nameless and storyless for now), we focused on Monks, after noting that in all of the week’s numerous discussions, whether in plenary session or in breakout groups, Monks was more or less ignored. The reading I came up with thanks to the seminar goes something like this: Monks is more or less a throwaway character, a stock character who, instead of fulfilling a vital role to the plot, can be expended with, as numerous adaptations show. I read Monks as the embodiment of the Gothic melodrama, incongruously grafted onto a novel with a putative purpose. So Monks isn’t just unsuccessfully fighting for Oliver’s soul, he’s successfully fighting for the depoliticization of the novel.

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