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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Dickens and Over-hearing

26th January 2017, 17:30 to 20:30, Palace Green Library, Dr Peter Garratt

Dickens's universe is thronged by innumerable well-defined voices, and his fiction carefully renders the acoustics of individual human speech and utterance. But what does Dickens reveal about what it's like to overhear others? In this lecture, Peter Garratt will suggest why overhearing can help us unlock Dickens's writing and creativity.

Overhearing is a special form of listening: it implies being drawn into secretive, fragmentary and possibly unsolicited auditory contact with proximate voices. As a novelist, Dickens felt he overheard some of his characters in the act of inventing them, such as Mrs Gamp, the alcoholic nurse from Martin Chuzzlewit, who would whisper incessantly to the author around the time he was writing the novel--a jovial torment Dickens was unable to fight off. At another level, the narrative style of his novels positions the reader at times as an overhearer, while overhearing becomes a dramatic device of its own when voices travel and escape from context or cross boundaries in key scenes. And, related as it is to eavesdropping and spying, overhearing divulges narrative secrets and misinformation. Most strikingly perhaps, Dickens's most autobiographical fiction suggests that memory can take the form of overhearing oneself.

This is a free event organised as part of the Hearing the Voice project.

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Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


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Next Event

  • 29th January 2021
  • Title TBC
  • Online (Zoom)
  • Dr Hannah-Rose Murray (University of Edinburgh)