Dickensian Steampunk: Charles Dickens and His Overlooked Mudfog Papers

What happens when you try to keep a railway in your pocket? Or take a horse into a courtroom filled with automata? In this podcast, recorded as part of the Late Summer Lecture Series 2013Elizabeth Drialo introduces Charles Dickens’ Mudfog Papers, which can be considered to be an example of Victorian steampunk. [MP3 version]

With the growing popularity of the Steampunk style in books, film, and even video games, it is strange to think that somehow Charles Dickens of all writers fits in to these new clockwork worlds. While he is certainly no Wells or Verne, there is surprisingly an early set of texts written by Dickens that is not only often overlooked in scholarship, but also fits in to this genre filled with mechanical men, airships, and alternate histories.

Originally written for Bentley’s Miscellany in the late 1830s, the three stories of the town of Mudfog – ‘Public life of Mr. Tulrumble, Once Mayor of Mudfog’ and two reports of ‘The Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything – tell of an odd town and an interesting group of characters that present new inventions ranging from an impractical fire-escape to a walled off city governed by automaton police. This talk explores this world of Mudfog that Dickens created through the lens of the Steampunk style and tackles many questions the texts raise.

Why do we tend to forget about Mudfog? Where does it fit in the rising popularity of Steampunk? And what are the effects on a world dominated by machines? Perhaps, by looking at these questions, we may find that Dickens’s little world of Mudfog is not as strange or as foreign as it appears.

A bibliography of works referred to in this lecture can be downloaded here. If you would like to know more about the intriguing town of Mudfog, Elizabeth expands on these ideas in this article for READ.

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