Reading the City: Uni of Exeter

Reading the City : The Life and Writing of Charles Dickens : University of Exeter October 2015 to December 2015

This course has now ended.  I completed each week doing the reading as much as I could, going on Dickens walks and taking photographs.


I haven’t kept these notes up as I have been busy but since Week 2 we have covered Bleak House, Oliver Twist, the way Dickens depicts London, his short stories like Calais Night Mail, which is a stream of consciousness type of text, and now to David Copperfield at Week 7.  I must say I preferred the early part of the course and wish it had been a longer part of the course to prepare us for Dickens and the age he lived in.

Week 2:  We have been looking at realist novels and kitchen sink dramas and I listed to Arnold Wesker’s play on the radio, as well as watching Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – it is better as a movie than a book, the language is hard like steel and very fast. It’s a typical sixties realist story that spawned a lot of very nasty soap operas like Coronation Street, etc.

Charles Baudelaire – we looked at B’s poem A la Passante, about a main sitting in the street as a woman passes and he catches her glance, or glances at her, it’s not clear.  I suppose it’s a new way of writing poetry, it has to be read in French, it doesn’t work in English.  Then we looked at Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday night and Sunday morning.  Modernist writing.  I don’t like Woolf’s novels, I find them superficial, and mainly to do with style.

Week 2:  Looking at the changes in painting styles: the street scenes of Paris and London. The Paintings of James Abbot McNeill Whistler which depict foggy scenes – is it pollution or the light?

Week 2:  This week started with a broadsheet written by Edward Mather against the malpractices of the Sheffield factory owner Watkinson – Watkinson’s Thirteen is the name of the poem/broadsheet.  Very rhythmical.  Biblical references. Graphic.  Violence poem, with a strong iambic pentametric rhythm/meter in the ancient tradition.

I mentioned Jonson‘s To Penshurst which depicts the still then idyllic relationship between town and country – even the fish jumped from the rivers into the fishermen’s baskets. The idyll that was about to be uprooted for ever with the arrival of the industrial revolution and very different and sometimes violent relationship between landowners, factory owners and the farmers and labourers.

I mentioned Morning in the Streets to bring the shadow of the ind rev more up to date. Denis Mitchell’s documentary shot in the north and midlands.

Then we moved on to William Blake, Oscar Wilde, The Steam King poem a protest against the arrival of the railway.

Week 1:  There is a lot of material, we started with view of Sin City and what constitutes such a place: Babylon, New York and Chicago in the 1920s maybe, etc. We also watched the movie of the same name.  Then we went on to Milton’s Paradise Lost and the creation of Pandemonium.


I am doing this online course as it will make me and Subs get out for walks to discover Dickens’ London – which we both love.  Subs bought me two old Dickens books for my birthday: with illustrations – beautiful.

Sunday, 20th September 2015:  I visited the Charles Dickens  Museum in London – see photos on home page.  It’s a wonderful four storey house in Doughty Street, near Russell Square, WC1.  The furniture is mainly as it was in Dickens’ time, with drawing room, dining room, bedroom library and maids rooms.  There is a grill in the maid’s room a relic of the infamous Marshalsea Prison.


Marshalsea Prison grill

Dickens Writing Desk

Dickens Writing Desk