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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: May 2006

13 - Dickens and theatre

Summary

Dickens and theatre? It comes down to what you might mean by “and.” If you mean something like: could Dickens come into the theater as a participant, I'd say, certainly not. Oh yes, he tried. But early on he found he couln't. And thereafter he didn't.

That may seem surprising. Dickens is by every standard account the most theatrical of Victorian novelists. This Companion would be thought considerably less companionable if it lacked a chapter on Dickens and theatre (though perhaps not this chapter on Dickens and theatre). All his life Dickens paid fierce, unremitting attention to other people’s plays and to other people’s performances. What he saw he regularly purloined, and then transformed into fiction. He probably knew as much about the practical work of theaters as anyone working on a nineteenth-century stage. (Here I should point out that, following the practice in theatre studies, I am spelling as theatre anything like a playhouse, particularly a professional playhouse, and as theater, the practice or theory of performance.) Acting obsessed him. He supported actors experiencing financial hard times and even dreamed of the great actor Macready as his desirable double. His novels were quickly adapted to the stage, not just as they appeared, but, through the vagaries of serial publication, often even before they appeared (in book form).

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The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens
  • Online ISBN: 9780511999222
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521660165
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