CFP: ESSE 2020 Dickens: Heirs and Heirlooms

31 August – 4 September 2020

Lyon, France


Emily Bell, Loughborough University (
Georges Letissier, Université de Nantes ( Céline Prest (

The 150th anniversary of Dickens’s death in 2020 offers a powerful impetus to revisit,reimagine and reinterpret the author’s relationship with legacy in his works, and the waysthat legacy has been realised in heritage, literature, and new media. This series of panelswill explore Dickens’s heirs and heirlooms from a diverse range of perspectives. From the symbolic lost ship of Dombey and Son, the Son and Heir, to its mirroring in Dickens’s use ofthe phrase to describe his eldest son Charley in his letters, heirs and heirlooms hauntDickens’s texts and legacy in surprising ways that complicate the boundaries between life and works, and life and afterlife.

The dead’s legacy exercises its influence on the living as elusive wills, secret codicils andundecipherable echoes haunt the Dickensian text and shape the fates of the unknowing characters: what was repressed for decades eventually re-emerges to the surface, enacting what Freud will later identify as the return of the repressed. The living remain haunted bytheir lost ones and lost selves who are “recalled to life,” be it as ghosts (Marley in A Christmas Carol, the former Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, Redlaw in “The Haunted Man”) orreincarnated in symbolic doubles (Clara Copperfield as Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield, Esther Summerson as Honoria Barbary in Bleak House).

Heirs may also be granted a new lease on life through the Dickensian afterlife, which has become a subcategory of the thriving Neo-Victorian production. Transposed in new contexts, famous characters such as Miss Havisham (Carol Ann Duffy, Jasper Fforde, Roe) or Magwitch (Peter Carey) serve as triggers to address contemporary issues on gender, postcolonial identity formation or intergenerational trauma. Yet they also preserve something of their Dickensian origin, which testifies to the abiding persistence of the past in the present. Because Dickens was attracted to the occult and the supernatural, as witnessed by his practice of mesmerism and hypnotism, his legacy is conveyed through the immaterial and the intangible. So the Dickensian afterlife may ultimately be apprehended through such phenomena as possession and obsession, which also partake of the reading experience.

Papers are invited on topics including (but not limited to):

    •  Heirs and heirlooms within Dickens’s fiction;
    •  Transmission and influence;
    •  Wills, codicils and legal documents;
    •  The return of the repressed;
    •  Reincarnation, re-embodiment;
    •  Gothic haunting and the return of the dead;
    •  Dickens’s family and friends;
    •  Dickens’s representation in museums;
    •  Spiritual heirs to Dickens, including neo-Victorian literature and postcolonial(re)appropriation, translation and writing back;
    •  Dickensian persistence.

Please submit proposals of 200-250 words to the convenors (, and by 15 January 2020.

This post has been re-published by permission from the BAVS Postgraduates Blog. Please see the original post at