Post-Grant Reports


Performance Anxiety in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend

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English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Theatre and Performance Studies


This grant allowed me to research concepts of performance in Charles Dickens’s writing life, public readings, and last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend. I traveled to the Morgan Library in New York City to examine Dickens’s handwritten manuscript for the novel, as well as his notes for each monthly installment. These notes revealed that Dickens heightened the theatricality of the novel by inserting scenes of characters quoting their own most flamboyant dialogue. I presented my findings in an invited keynote lecture at the 2014 Dickens Universe at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the largest international conference on Dickens’s work. My paper argues that Our Mutual Friend culminates Dickens’s life-long struggle with the difficulty of achieving intimacy with an audience through performance. The novel, I propose, gives two contrasting theatrical strategies for creating intimacy: the exuberant theatricality of self-conscious role-playing, and the hushed proximity of a stage whisper. Both strategies challenge the common critical association of intimacy with psychological interiority, offering instead a dramatic intimacy through the acoustics of exteriority.


This research was conducted as part of a Linfield College Faculty Development Grant in 2013-2014, funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

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