Sep 272013

I have a friend who divides the population into two categories, those who have read Steinbeck’s East of Eden and those for whom that is a pleasure in prospect. I’m pretty much of the same opinion, but with Bleak House as the tome in question.

So, it was with delight that I read chapters 1-16/numbers 1-5, pretty much untouched since I first read it in awe as an undergraduate in 1978. It was with even more delight that my fellow Dickens fans and I absorbed the wisdom of Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship’s guest Professor Grahame Smith, who effortlessly drew contributions from the Dickens devotees attending, enthused by his own passion for the author and the book. David Innes reports on the latest get-together of the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship.


Grahame was obviously delighted to attend and to return to Aberdeen, where he studied, meeting friends old and new who share his enthusiasm for the master of novel-writing.
Bleak House, most Dickens readers would agree, sees the man at the peak of his powers as a novelist. Grahame pointed out that it followed David Copperfield in the author’s canon and that since he had honed his writing to literary perfection in that semi-autobiographical masterpiece, Bleak House gave him the confidence to experiment.

The use of a narrator, interwoven with chapters by the main character and conscience of the novel, Esther Summerson, was bold, although as one contributor on the night pointed out, Dickens had to be careful not to alienate a large and appreciative readership as a consequence of experimentation.

Radiohead and the transition from OK Computer to Kid A is the best contemporary comparison I could make.

Is Esther credible, too good to be true? We mused on this. One of our number commented that her background of psychological abuse was similar to that experienced by many young people with whom he has contact, and her reactions and motives are not untypical of similarly unfortunate young people in the 21st century.

She is also fairly unique, it was agreed, in being a strong female character and major protagonist in Dickens’s fiction.

As well as his Dickens scholarship, Grahame also has a fascination for the cinematic. He believes that the best potential Dickens film adaptations might have been directed by Orson Welles, which is no longer a possibility, sadly. He feels that perhaps Spike Lee could do Dickens justice, a controversial view perhaps, but one which chimed with some of the Fellowship who shared Grahame’s interest in cinema.

It really was the best of times.

Bleak House is the biggie, of course, and in more ways than one, given its labyrinthine plot, range of characters and ground-breaking fiction-writing technique. It’s also large in volume. To do it justice, therefore, the next three meetings will consider it further, and allow those of us with limited reading time to read it cover to cover. That is no hardship.

The Fellowship’s programme between now and the end of 2013 will be:

  • Tuesday 15 October 2013: lecture by Paul Schlicke, on the topicality of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 6-10, chapters 17–32.
  • Tuesday 12 November 2013: lecture by Dan Wall, on the serialisation of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 11-15, chapters 33–49.
  • Tuesday 3 December 2013: lecture by Paul Schlicke, on plots and detecting in Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 16–20, chapters 50–67.
  • Tuesday 17 December 2013: Paul Schlicke will read A Christmas Carol


All meetings will be held in Grampian Housing Association’s offices, situated at the corner of Huntly Street and Summer Street, Aberdeen, where there is ample free parking. Each evening’s proceedings will start at 19:00 and finish at 21:00. We’ll be delighted to see you.


The Aberdeen Fellowship intends to affiliate to the International Dickens Fellowship. We’ll carry details of that here when everything’s finalised, but is the place to go to keep up to date.


To be added to the circulation list for information on local Fellowship activities, contact Dr Paul Schlicke  , newly elected chair of the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship.

Jul 262013

With thanks to Dr Paul Schlicke.

The exhibition on 19th century journalism, trailed in Angela Joss’s recent article will be on display in the foyer of the Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen for the remainder of the summer.

It really is worth visiting for an insight into how the goings-on at a time of great political upheaval were documented.

In a time where there is an overbearing 21st century political and constitutional question to be answered, the exhibition provides a means of gauging how journalism has changed, even if the fervour of political argument is no less intense.

The exhibition was brought to Aberdeen largely due to the considerable efforts of Dr Paul Schlicke who is also working hard to have a Dickens Fellowship established in the city. He has been in touch with details of the autumn programme which looks to be extremely rewarding for Dickens addicts.

Dr Schlicke says,

Our schedule for autumn is now firmed up, and you should all get cracking with your reading of what is arguably Dickens’s greatest novel, Bleak House.

“Taking the cue from members who participated in the seminars on Hard Times in spring, each of the meetings will be prefaced by an informal lecture.

“I’m delighted to announce that Grahame Smith, Professor Emeritus from Stirling, has agreed to give the opening lecture. Professor Smith is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, and for several years has been external examiner for the University’s Department of English. He is also past president of the international Dickens Fellowship.

“He has written books, articles and reviews on Dickens, most notably Dickens, Money and Society (1968), Charles Dickens: Bleak House (1974), Dickens: A Literary Life (1996), and Dickens and the Dream of Cinema (2003). It is a great pleasure to welcome him back to Aberdeen.

“Other speakers will be myself and Dan Wall, recent PhD from the University of Aberdeen and specialist in 19th century periodicals.”

All meetings will take place on Tuesday evenings, 7–9 pm, in the Grampian Housing office, at the corner of Huntly St and Summer St, with plenty of free parking in the Grampian Housing car park. There is no charge for attending the seminars.

  • Tuesday 17 September 2013 – lecture by Professor Grahame Smith, introduction to Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 1-5, chapters. 1–16.
  • Tuesday 15 October 2013 – lecture by Dr Paul Schlicke, the topicality of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 6-10, chapters 17–32.
  • Tuesday 12 November 2013 – lecture by Dr Dan Wall, the serialisation of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 11-15, chapters 33–49.
  • Tuesday 10 December 2013, – lecture by Dr Paul Schlicke, plots and detecting in Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 16–20, chapters 50–67.

A warm welcome will be extended to all comers, and lively questioning and debate is almost certainly guaranteed. You can be added to the mailing list by e-mailing Dr Schlicke at

For more information, visit

Jul 182013

There were no Hard Times at all last week when the latest Charles Dickens exhibition came to the University of Aberdeen’s Sir Duncan Rice Library.  By Angela Joss.

Entitled ‘Dickens, Journalism and Fellowship: An Exhibition, Lectures and an Online Tour’, this event was jointly hosted by the Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship, The University of Aberdeen Centre For the Novel and The Friends of Aberdeen University Library.
A wine reception gave attendees the chance to have a relaxed browse around a fascinating display of 19th century journalism, devised by Anthony Burton, former Director of the Forster Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Originally devised for a 2012 conference at the University of Birmingham, the exhibition places Dickens in the midst of a thriving journalistic tradition devoured by anyone at the time who was literate and had the necessary ha’penny to buy the weekly or monthly publications as they came hot off the press. They were frequently much anticipated.

Aberdeen University’s own Dr Paul Schlicke introduced two visiting Dickens scholars, John Drew, Professor of English at the University of Buckingham and Director of Dickens Journals Online, and Dr Tony Williams, formerly joint honorary secretary of the International Dickens Fellowship.

Professor Drew’s lecture followed on from the exhibition by underlining Dickens’s original contribution to the written word. This was almost exclusively as a parliamentary reporter and journalist, before he branched out into periodical publications, providing him with a platform for his burgeoning campaigning views, as well as his subsequent fictional works. The latter seemingly served to combine all those passions.

Dr Williams then provided an illuminating history of the Dickens Fellowship, which began in 1902, thirty years after the author’s death, meaning that many of its original members either knew the author personally, or had been present at the dramatic readings of his own works. Fellowship has always been the keynote of this Dickens movement, with a tradition of providing support for waifs and strays whilst preserving the writings of Charles Dickens.

As attendees were being informed that the Fellowship’s publication, The Dickensian, provides a 108- year record of members’ activities, with only seven editors during that whole span, the call to vacate the library ahead of closing time was heard, leaving them, like modern day Olivers, definitely wanting more.

Fortunately, like Dickens’s journals, The Dickensian is now available online and whilst the exhibition has been removed for a short period, it will be reinstated in the Sir Duncan Rice Library during the last week of July.

It can be visited by the public from then and for the whole of August.

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Jun 282013

Dr Paul Schlicke of the Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship has been in touch to confirm that an evening of first class Dickens-related activity will be going ahead on Tuesday 9 July in the University of Aberdeen’s Sir Duncan Rice Library.

Dickens, Journalism, and Fellowship: An Exhibition, Lectures and an Online Tour
will be hosted in collaboration with The University of Aberdeen Centre for the Novel and The Friends of Aberdeen University Library.

Dickens’s talents as a novelist and performer are well-known.

What can be overlooked are his considerable journalistic talents and his voluminous output, both as a Parliamentary reporter and as a periodical journalist.

Dickens lived in times of colossal social upheaval and chronicled the times as a journalist as well as a novelist.

To give further context to Dickens’s work in the journalistic field, visitors will have a unique opportunity to view the exhibition of 19th century journalism devised by Anthony Burton, Formerly Director of The Forster Collection at The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Paul is visibly enthused by the exhibition,

“The exhibition was devised for a conference on 19th century journalism at the University of Buckingham last year. It is quite simply stupendous. Don’t miss it! It will remain up in the library after 9 July”

The programme

5.30 pm: arrival, wine reception, and exhibition. Ground Floor Foyer, Sir Duncan Rice Library

6.00 pm: Lecture: An Introduction to Dickens’s Journalism by John Drew, Professor of English, University of Buckingham, and Director of Dickens Journals Online and Dr Tony Williams, formerly joint honorary secretary of the International Dickens Fellowship. Room 224, Sir Duncan Rice Library

6.40 pm: John Drew, An Online Tour of the Dickens Journals Online Project. Room 224, Sir Duncan Rice Library

7.00 pm: Tony Williams, A Brief History of the Dickens Fellowship. Room 224, Sir Duncan Rice Library

7.20 pm: questions and return to ground floor for final viewing of exhibition.

8.00 pm: Library closes

John Drew and Tony Williams are both particularly distinguished Dickensians and superb speakers. We are very fortunate that they are coming to Aberdeen, and they deserve a bumper turnout.

To plan for catering and seating, could anyone planning to attend please send an RSVP to

Apr 222013

Thanks to Dr Paul Schlicke who has reminded Voice that local Dickens fans are planning to meet this week.

Paul informed Voice,

“As previously intimated, at the next meeting of the Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship we will discuss Hard Times Part 2, Reaping.

“Feel free to join us, whether or not you managed to attend last month’s discussion of Part 1, Sowing.

“We will meet from 7-9 pm on Wednesday 24 April at Grampian Housing Association, 74 Huntly Street, 300 yards up from the Catholic Cathedral, at the corner of Huntly Street and Summer Street. There is free parking adjacent.”

The venue’s also near enough to Union Street and Rosemount to travel by bus. Last month’s meeting had a lower than expected turnout, but the weather, which prevented some from attending, is improving.

Some believe that his writings are as relevant in the current austere age as they have ever been.

If you have read any or no Dickens, or are just curious about the continued interest in an author who was born over 200 years ago, you’ll be made welcome.

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Feb 182013

The city’s fledgling Dickens Fellowship will be meeting again on Thursday 21 February at 1900, in a room kindly provided by Grampian Housing Association, 74 Huntly Street. Dr Paul Schlicke reveals more.

“In light of the sparse attendance at our last meeting when we were treated to an exhibition of Dickens treasures in the University Library, it’s crucial that we have a decent turnout, if our organisation’s to carry on and grow. Please make an effort to attend if you are at all interested in Dickens’s work and life. At this meeting, we’ll be discussing Scenes from Sketches by Boz”he wrote in a message to nearly 50 individuals who have registered an interest in participating in a Dickens Fellowship.

Dr Schlicke is keen to welcome suggestions regarding the sorts of events which might prove most popular in future.

“We attracted huge audiences for Miriam Margolyes and Jim Naughtie, but they were obviously high profile events. We had respectable attendances for academic lectures over the past 12 months, but we’re not in a financial position to bring speakers in from outside.

“Last year was special, it being the author’s bicentennial, so the University paid for those who came to lecture as part of the 2012celebrations. I’m uncertain whether or not there would be much interest in turning ourselves into a reading group, so any thoughts as to what might be organised to attract 20 or more participants regularly would be welcome.”

In closing, Dr Schlicke spoke in glowing terms of the work done on the recently re-opened Dickens Museum in London’s Doughty Street after a £3m facelift.

“It is simply wonderful. After worrying times only a few years ago, the Museum’s financial position is now decidedly healthy, and a bright future is in prospect. Following a gala celebration held there for Dickens’s birthday on 7 February, it has been open daily. It is well worth a visit!”

For this week’s meeting, there is parking opposite Dana Petroleum’s offices, with access from Kydd Street. Tea and coffee will be available. It would help in planning for numbers if you could let Dr Schlicke know if you plan to attend.

Dec 142012

Peering out over the High Street’s rimed cobbles from ‘neath their frosted brows, one might easily mistake these spectral figures as characters from some long-forgotten Victorian melodrama. But no, this is Old Aberdeen. They are, in fact, local Dickens enthusiasts, gathering for the last time in the great man’s Bicentennial Year. David Innes reports.

“No fog, no mist, clear bright, jovial stirring cold” is how Dickens described Christmas Day in A Christmas Carol.

He might have been describing conditions in Aberdeen on Thursday 6 December, but while the wintry weather was without doubt a factor in keeping numbers low, those who braved the temperatures and icy underfoot conditions to attend the event at the new university library enjoyed a one-off treat.

The university is proud to possess one of the best Dickens collections in the world and it was a privilege to be present when the first editions of all his works were laid out for examination and enjoyment.

With special thanks to Keith O’ Sullivan, the University of Aberdeen’s Senior Rare Books Librarian. Thank you, Keith.

Particularly worthy of mention are the two first editions of Oliver Twist (1838). Until publication of this novel in its constituent parts, Dickens had used the pen name ‘Boz’. He had decided, however, that his own identity be used when the book was published in collected form.

The first edition was published by George Bentley before Dickens’ wish could be granted. It was only delayed by a week, as the Boz edition sold out and the imprint with the author’s own identity was offered for sale.

The entire Sketches by Boz series is also part of the University’s collection. It was surprising to see that each part was priced at one shilling (5 pence), expensive for the times.

Theatre posters of interest and lesser-known works were also displayed, each adding to the overall picture of the hugely-talented man still loved by millions, two hundred years after his birth.

Due to the low numbers, formal business was suspended for the evening but dates of future meetings, based around discussion of specific writings from the great man’s output, were agreed. Everyone on the mailing list will be contacted in advance of these meetings, the first of which is scheduled to be held on 21 February 2013.

If you wish to be added to Dr Paul Schlicke’s e-mail circular, drop him an e-mail

Oct 262012

Following the stupendous success of the most recent gatherings of Aberdeen’s Dickens aficionados when Miriam Margolyes entertained us and James Naughtie enlightened us, Dr Paul Schlicke has asked Voice to remind readers of the next planned event. 

Professor Michael Slater, the world’s foremost living authority on Dickens will be in Aberdeen on Thursday 8 November.
He will be speaking on his experience of writing what is by far the best modern biography of Dickens, under the title An Attempt on the Life of Charles Dickens.  The lecture will take place in room 228 of the new University Library at 7 pm. This will also be an opportunity for members of the public to experience this recently-opened state-of-the-art learning and study facility.

Professor Slater, of Birkbeck College, University of London, is author of Dickens and Women, The Genius of Dickens, Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing, and most recently, The Great Charles Dickens Scandal.

He is a former editor of the Dickensian, past chairman of the board of trustees of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, past president of the international Dickens Fellowship, past president of the Dickens Society of America, and founder of the annual Dickens Day at Birkbeck College. He is an excellent speaker. We are privileged to have him visit us in Aberdeen.

For your diaries – our final meeting of the calendar year, at 1900 on Thursday 6 December, will be an exhibition of the Dickens treasures held in the University of Aberdeen library. The collection is one of the very best in the world, including first editions of all of Dickens’s novels, copies of his periodicals, and a wide range of supporting documents. Not to be missed!

Bring along your favourite reading passage from Dickens, which we didn’t have time to enjoy at earlier meetings. We will also use the gathering as an opportunity to discuss the future of our branch, not only in considering possible topics for future meetings, but also deciding whether or not we wish to affiliate with the international Dickens Fellowship.

These events are open to all members of the public and we would be delighted to meet new friends and fellow admirers of the master of fiction.

Jun 282012

“THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations….. Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.” (Hard Times, 1854)
The master of 19th century fiction may have caricatured imagination-free learning thus, but would have been heartened by the spirit of the questioning and discussion evident during the meeting of the nascent Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship on 26 June.

By David Innes, with thanks to Dr Paul Schlicke.

Illustrating very well the group’s desire to ensure that appreciation of Dickens’s life and work is enhanced in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and fun, Dr Paul Schlicke, an academic, who is anything but dry and who displays not as much as a single speck of dust, shared his globally-renowned knowledge of Dickens’s life with fellow travellers.

There were questions on the effects of economic circumstances and social class on the author, the influence of his travels on his writing and whether or not his finely-tuned populist artistic antennae would see him wrestling with Rhianna – definitely not ‘old, fat and toothless’ as Maria Beadnell described herself – for music chart supremacy were he celebrating his 20th birthday this year rather than his 200th

It was a fun evening, and it is the group’s intention that these will continue, with some plans already in place.

On Thursday 30 August, Miriam Margolyes will perform her one-woman show, Dickens’s Women, in the University’s Arts Lecture Theatre. Tickets are selling well, and can be had from Aberdeen Box Office, 01224 641122.

The next gathering of the group will take place in September and members will be invited to give a party piece, by reading favourite passages from Dickens. Our Parish, from Sketches by Boz, will be the group’s text for discussion.

On Thursday October 11, James Naughtie, Rothiemay loon, University of Aberdeen alumnus  and scourge of politicians on Radio 4’s Today, will lecture on Dickens. The topic and venue will be announced at a later date in Voice.

Dr Schlicke is negotiating with a renowned Dickens biographer to speak to the group and Keith O’Sullivan, Senior Rare Books Librarian, has offered to set up an exhibition of the University’s Dickens treasures, of which there are many. In fact, Aberdeen itself has one of the very best Dickens collections in the world.

There is unanimous agreement that there will be a future session devoted to the Downie Slauchter, the Aberdeen murder mystery featured in Household Words in1852.

There has been a call for a series of discussions based on Dickens and ********  topics and those on the mailing list have been invited to suggest such themes for future meetings. Add in further suggested Dickensian events and a schedule for the 2012-13 season is looking very viable.

The group aspires to become the first Scottish affiliate to the Dickens Fellowship and urges anyone with an interest in the author to join in the activities.

What larks!

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Jun 222012

By Nicola McNally. 

On Tuesday 26th June the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship group will meet at the University of Aberdeen King’s College campus, to launch their 2012 programme of events.

The meeting will be hosted by Dr Paul Schlicke, honorary senior lecturer at Aberdeen University.

Dr Schlicke told Aberdeen Voice:

“The meeting will consist of an informal seminar discussion of Dickens’s life. No prior knowledge of the topic will be required and no preparation expected. I shall lead the discussion myself and will welcome questions and contributions from everyone present. There will be no charge for admission, and everyone interested is most welcome.

“Then in September we’ll hold our next event, when we will discuss the group of sketches entitled ‘Our Parish’ from Sketches by Boz, and members will be invited to read favourite passages from Dickens, chosen by themselves.

“Thereafter we plan to schedule a series of seminars on topics under the general heading ‘Dickens and’—that is, Dickens and Money, Dickens and Charity, Dickens and Education, etcetera.

“We’ll have one meeting devoted to Dickens and Aberdeen. He came to give public readings on two occasions, turned down an invitation to stand for rector of Marischal College, and published an article in his journal Household Words about the local legend of the ‘Downie Slauchter’. We also plan to have a viewing of Aberdeen University’s magnificent Dickens collection.

“The essential point is that we should meet in fellowship; it is not intended to be an academic organisation, but rather a meeting of people who simply enjoy reading and talking about Dickens and his works. Anyone is welcome to participate”.

To find the venue:

The MacRobert Building is the tall building on the corner of King Street and St Machar Drive . There is ample parking adjacent to the building, free after 4.30pm. The entrance is on the south side of the building (i.e., facing in the direction up King Street towards the city. On entering the building, turn left and then through the doors on your right, and down the corridor for lifts.

Future events which have been arranged will also feature the actress Miriam Margolyes who will be at the University presenting her one-woman show, Dickenss Women on 30th August. Tickets for that event are available from the Aberdeen Box Office on Union Street .