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Georgetown Recalls Visit, Celebrates Charles Dickens' Birthday

Charles Dickens Photo

Nineteenth-century novelist Charles Dickens would have been 200 years old on Feb. 7. Before his passing in 1870, he penned classics such as The Adventures of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield.

February 8, 2012 – Charles Dickens, the renowned English novelist whose 200th birthday is being celebrated around the world, visited Georgetown University in 1842.

“At George Town, in the suburbs, there is a Jesuit College; delightfully situated, and, so far as I had an opportunity of seeing, well managed,” he wrote during his travels to the United States.

Georgetown, which also owns several first editions of Dickens’ novels, held a celebration yesterday honoring the novelist, who was born Feb. 7, 1812.

Charles Dickens 200th Birthday

English professors David Gewanter, left, John Pfordresher, center, and Catherine Payling from the performing arts department perform a scenic interpretation from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

Dickens vs. Nancy Drew

The event included remarks by Leona Fisher, associate professor of English, a scenic interpretation of Dickens’ work, and the introduction of an exhibit, “Dickens at Georgetown: A Bicentenary Celebration.”

Fisher reflected on her personal journey with Dickens’ work, from early childhood to including Dickens novels in her nearly 40-year career teaching his work at Georgetown.

But she confesses she started out as more of a Nancy Drew fan and wasn’t that crazy about the first Dickens novel she read.

“I first read Dickens at age 12 when my mother … handed me Great Expectations,” she said. “I think she had great expectations. They were foiled.”

But Fisher says she has since read Great Expectations 32 times for the courses she teaches at Georgetown, because, she explains, “it has to be re-read and savored each time.”

Capacious Imagination

According to Fisher, the most important aspect of Dickens is that he is still relevant.

“What I’ve loved about teaching Dickens is that I’ve been able to use every new critical approach possible in reading these texts,” she says.

She says that includes literary theories such as Freudian psychoanalytic analysis and Marxist, feminist, old and new historicist criticism, deconstructionism, reader response and performance theory.

“It’s all there,” she says. “It’s not something that has to be imposed upon him as if he hadn’t somehow anticipated all of that in his capacious imagination and ability really to take over his world, to describe it in a way that renders him both, paradoxically, the quintessential Victorian and a man of any era…”

Scenes and Exhibit

English professors John Pfordresher and David Gewanter, as well as Catherine Payling of the department of performing arts, read a scene from David Copperfield as part of the celebration.

Pfordresher and rare books curator Karen O’Connell introduced the “Dickens at Georgetown” exhibit, which includes a compilation of Dickens’ first editions, books from Dickens’ own library, and original illustrations of Dickens’ work, donated to the university in 1976. 

The exhibition, located in Georgetown’s Lauinger Library, will be on display until May 31, 2012.

To learn more about Dickens’ visit to Georgetown and the Dickens at Georgetown exhibition visit

Georgetown University37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057(202) 687.0100

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