Cfp: Dickens and Science

DICKENS DAY - Dickens and Science

Saturday 10 October 2009, London

G. H. Lewes famously criticised Dickens’s failure to engage with contemporary scientific thought and proffer psychologically convincing characters, describing them as ‘frogs whose brains have been taken out for physiological purposes’. Recent work, however, has significantly challenged the truism that Dickens was indifferent or even hostile towards the scientific discoveries and discourses of his age. Dubbed a member of ‘the steam-whistle party’ by Ruskin, he was volubly enthusiastic about technological and scientific advancements and discoveries, including steam-driven modes of transport and manufacture, industrialism, geology, evolutionary biology and the mutual relations of humanity and animal life. He also had interests in mesmerism, phrenology and physiology. From his enthusiastic article ‘The Poetry of Science’ (Examiner, 9 December 1848) to Little Dorrit’s fictional locomotive Mr Pancks, who ‘snorted and sniffed and puffed and blew, like a little labouring steam-engine’ and the ‘Megalosaurus’ stalking the opening of Bleak House, Dickens’s oeuvre contains multiple traces of contemporary scientific thought.

This one-day conference seeks to explore scientific and technological ideas and metaphors in Dickens’s novels and journalism and to place his life, work and thought in the context of Victorian science. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of the theme and warmly encourage postgraduate students to apply.

Topics could include but are not limited to:

Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary theories and metaphors
Geology and palaeontology
Hereditary transmission of behaviour and the biology of character
Affect and emotion
Inventors and new technologies
Professionalisation and the emergence of science as a discipline
Criminality, detection and forensics
Physiognomy, phrenology and the science of the grotesque
Mesmerism and spiritualism
Psychology, cognition and mental illness
Gender, sexuality and the science and politics of normalisation
Energy and thermodynamics
Psychological (im)plausibility, melodramatic aesthetics and radical politics
The ‘dismal sciences’: economics, political economy and Utilitarianism

Please send proposals (maximum 500 words), together with details of your institutional affiliation (if any) to Holly Furneaux and Ben Winyard, at and The deadline for paper proposals is 31 May 2009.