Dickens and Over-hearing (Public Lecture, 26th January)


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Dickens’s universe is thronged by innumerable well-defined voices, and his fiction carefully renders the acoustics of individual human speech and utterance. But what does Dickens reveal about what it’s like to overhear others? In this free public lecture on 26th January at 17.30, Peter Garratt will suggest why overhearing can help us unlock Dickens’s writing and creativity.

Overhearing is a special form of listening: it implies being drawn into secretive, fragmentary and possibly unsolicited auditory contact with proximate voices. As a novelist, Dickens felt he overheard some of his characters in the act of inventing them, such as Mrs Gamp, the alcoholic nurse from Martin Chuzzlewit, who would whisper incessantly to the author around the time he was writing the novel–a jovial torment Dickens was unable to fight off. At another level, the narrative style of his novels positions the reader at times as an overhearer, while overhearing becomes a dramatic device of its own when voices travel and escape from context or cross boundaries in key scenes. And, related as it is to eavesdropping and spying, overhearing divulges narrative secrets and misinformation. Most strikingly perhaps, Dickens’s most autobiographical fiction suggests that memory can take the form of overhearing oneself.

The lecture takes place on 26th January at 17.30 in Palace Green Library. This is a free event, but reserve a place via Eventbrite. The talk is organised as part of the Hearing the Voice project and exhibition at Palace Green Library. 

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