May 28, 2023

Lorentzen Publishes Article on Dickens and Education

Associate Professor of English Eric G. Lorentzen published an article in Dickens Studies Annual on Dickens and education entitled “This Schoolroom is a Nation: Subverting the Catechistic Method in Dickens.”

The catechistic method was a popular form of the rote memorization pedagogy which dominated Victorian schools, and sought to keep at-risk learners content with their marginalized social positions.  In fact, this educational praxis became so popular that its tactics were embraced by many figures desiring social power beyond the schoolroom, a point upon which Dickens dwells at considerable length throughout his texts.  This essay surveys a few varieties of catechistic primers that were designed for these disciplinary functions, and examines some of the more infamous ways catechism was utilized in early nineteenth-century British literature.

Subsequently, the essay scrutinizes the almost overwhelming number of instances of the catechistic method in Dickens’s novels to demonstrate both his critique of this question and answer power dynamic, and the ways in which his characters deploy, evade, co-opt, and subvert the ideological directives of catechism, as they strive for their own liberation and agency.  By recognizing the evolution of Dickens’s critique of catechistic method, both in and beyond the arena of the Victorian classroom, Lorentzen argues that we can much better appreciate the extent of the novelist’s cautionary tales about the ways in which education functioned as a normalizing force of social control.