Dickens Egan and the Lambs

Gardner, John (2018) Dickens Egan and the Lambs. In: Dickens Fellowship Lecture, Wolfson College, Cambridge.

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This was a paper delivered to the Dickens Fellowship at Wolfson College Cambridge on 8 October 2018. My argument in this talk was that Dickens’s Sketches by Boz has two major influences. The first is Pierce Egan’s Life in London, which was published in monthly parts from 1820 until 1821 when it appeared in boards. The other is Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia (1823), which contains articles that were mainly published in the London Magazine between 1820 and 1822. I argued that Dickens gained an appreciation of the spectacle from Egan, and from Lamb the city as a place containing remnants of many cultures, including those of the working classes. I furthered this argument by focussing on the George Cruikshank illustrations for Sketches by Boz and Life in London. In both texts Cruikshank uses the figure of a Corinthian column, a more formal one for Egan and a looser one for Dickens, but side by side both illustrations are remarkably similar. At the centre of the pillar in Life in London is a wheel of life, with Tom, Jerry and Bob sitting at a table drinking and laughing. The wheel will turn to allow these jolly young men to experience the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, and ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of London life. These are not flaneurs, but instead actively engage in the spectacle of London, and this includes, as in Sketches, going to Newgate to see a condemned man. The pillar in Sketches similarly has a circle in the middle. It is the ‘O’ of ‘BOZ”. However, this contains a less cheerful image, as dominating it is a cadaverous coachman of death with a whip. The happiness of life is confined to only a small part of the circle where a smiling couple are seen. I used these images to discuss how death dominates Sketches and extended my argument on Dickens’s influences to Mary Lamb, who, in Mrs Leicester’s School (1809) anticipates the opening of Great Expectations where Pip learns from a gravestone. I followed this image through to the child in Mary Shelley’s Falkner (1837) also learning from the stone of a dead parent, before finding actual accounts of children using tombstones as their primer. My conclusion is that Mary Lamb, Mary Shelley and Dickens were engaging in recording the practices of poor children trying to find an education where they could. I finished by reiterating the argument that Dickens like Egan, showed the spectacle of London. Sketches has the frontispiece of Cruikshank and Dickens in a balloon, about to document all of the city for readers to learn about in safety, and in Egan a camera obscura effect is used to achieve ‘safety’ for travellers through his account of London. One important difference is that in Sketches the spectacle is observed, whereas in Life in London Bob, Tom and Jerry participate in the goings on of life.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Keywords: Charles Dickens, Pierce Egan, Mary Lamb, Charles Lamb, London, Sketches by Boz, George Cruikshank
Faculty: Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
Depositing User: Professor John Gardner
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2018 13:08
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:56
URI: https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/703657

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