September 22, 2023

Lorentzen Presents Paper on Dickens and American Popular Culture

Eric Lorentzen, Associate Professor of English

Eric Lorentzen, Professor of English

Eric G. Lorentzen, Professor of English, contributed a paper, “21st-Century ‘American Notes’: Charles Dickens and Popular American Culture” at the annual Victorians Institute conference this November in Charleston, SC. This year’s conference theme was Transatlantic Influence, and Lorentzen’s talk first surveyed quickly the multitude of modern-day Christmas festivals that are grounded in Dickens’ text across this country, before he turned to visual media. He made brief connections with some of the cultural manifestations that obtain on screen, from the fairly obvious A Muppet Christmas Carol, to the far more esoteric connections to be made with seemingly non-holiday fare such as films like The GameGroundhog Day, and the more recent Disney blockbuster film, Christopher Robin. These connections led to a discussion of the ways in which Dickens’ somewhat Wordsworthian ideas of the crucial formative years of childhood, and the necessary project of philanthropy for social justice in A Christmas Carol, germinate into more fully-articulated and mature philosophies in latter novels like David Copperfield and Bleak House. The objective was to demonstrate how thoroughly (and extremely) these Dickensian archetypal tropes have permeated our own American zeitgeist in “texts” of popular culture that could not seem further away from the literary in general, or Charles Dickens specifically.  To that end, the final text Lorentzen took up for analysis was the once hugely “popular” teen soap/drama of the early 2000s, The O.C., a series which depended upon, admittedly in the most unlikely of ways, multiple Dickensian archetypes for its thematic (and didactic?!?) backbone.  Amidst the oversexed bikini-clad angst of Southern California, the Victorian dude of serial fiction abides, and our postmodern cultural studies theoretical methodologies can help us discover why the recognition of such an arcane connection remains crucially important, in terms of both individual and collective agency.