Disabling Dickens

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Truly, some authors are just too important to be left to academia. Charles Dickens is one of them.

charles dickens photoYet and still, the Modern Language Association (MLA), at its annual conventions, regularly tries to modernize the Dickensian, which may well become a panel at a forthcoming MLA meeting. At such panels, professors and PhD candidates try to make the master relevant.

The bright young men and women who try to give his classics relevance are usually fans who belong to the Dickens Society. Unfortunately, they then don’t devote enough attention to the genuinely timeless aspects of his books – the vivid characters, the masterful plots and the elegant prose all of us would do well to imitate.

“Dickens use of the word ‘queer’ is uncannily similar to the modern use of the word,” Natalie Prizel, a PhD candidate from Yale announced at this year’s MLA meeting. Actually, Dickens used it, in Our Mutual Friend, the book under discussion at the MLA panel on Dickens and Disability, as an adjective meaning strange, not as a noun meaning homosexual.

Part of the problem may be that, no matter how they admire the immortal Charles, analysts such as Natalie are trained in today’s universities. Natalie, for example, is “currently working on a dissertation entitled The Good Look: Victorian Visual Ethics and the Problem of Physical Difference that juxtaposes Ruskinian aesthetic theory, and contemporary disability theory, and Victorian thinking about labor to examine Victorian fiction, non-fiction prose, and visual art objects as they depict encounters with disabled persons at work.”

Her areas of interest are “Mid-Victorian prose, John Ruskin, Nineteenth-century art and visual culture, The Pre-Raphaelites, Disability theory, Queer theory, Victorian aesthetic, Ethics, Art history.”

Wait until she becomes a full professor. “My work is on precocity,” Mallory Cohn, one of Prizel’s co-panelists said, “sexual precocity or whatever.”

Photo by tigitogs

Photo by tigitogs