Story and photo by Emily Hecker
A group of 17 Drake students journeyed to England over January-term to study the works of Charles Dickens. Professors Melisa Klimaszewski and Craig Owens led the travel seminar, titled “Dickens in London.”
“I hoped that reading and studying in London would enable students to question some of their assumptions about the places depicted in Dickens’ novels,” said Klimaszewski. “I also hoped that students would be able to reflect analytically on how their experience of a physical place affects the way they imagine a fictional text.”
The seminar was worth three credit hours and included four pre-travel class meetings. During these meetings, the professors asked students to participate in class discussions and prepare a brief presentation on a historical detail related to the novel “Little Dorrit.”
The travel portion of the seminar lasted two weeks. The group spent most of the trip in London, but also visited Rochester, Oxford and the Lake District.
Dickens’ only remaining London home, now the Charles Dickens Museum, provided a unique venue for class meetings. The group explored the museum before its first meeting in the conference room.
Senior Alex McKeighan said she was excited to take this travel seminar. One of McKeighan’s favorite experiences was visiting the Dickens Museum.
“When you’re talking about Charles Dickens and where he wrote, it’s different than actually being where he was,” said McKeighan. “It was cool to see the objects and where they might have been, but there’s still the sense that you’re in a museum. That allowed us to have some interesting class discussions about the museum’s choices in presenting Dickens’ life.”
An additional member of the group was a Charles Dickens action figure owned by Klimaszewski. McKeighan said she enjoyed many photo-ops with tiny Dickens.
“It was fun pretending he was the real Dickens returning to his home,” said McKeighan. “We took tiny Dickens to his grave in Westminster, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. That was disappointing.”
Sophomore Jennifer Heartley said she was itching to visit England and especially enjoyed the group’s trip to Lake District.
“My favorite text for the class was ‘The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices’ by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins,” said Heartley. “Carrock Fell, and Keswick, and the Lake District area gave a feel of placement in the story and brought the experience alive.”
A new version of the Dickens in London tour will be presented at the J-term fair later this month.
“Professor Owens and I are looking forward to offering this course again in January 2014, and we will shift the theme to Gothic literature,” said Klimaszewski. “We’ll read texts like ‘Dracula’ and ‘Northanger Abbey,’ take night tours of Gothic London, and tour cemeteries. I admit to already being spooked by the prospect of a tour of Highgate Cemetery at night. The side trips will include visits to Devon and Bath, so there will be new things for the next class to explore.”