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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.

Future Memory and Circular Time in Dickens' 'The Signal-Man'

11th September 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Claire Ashworth

Charles Dickens' short story 'The Signal-Man' is hauntingly terrifying and intellectually complex. Claire Ashworth explains how Dickens' vision of time predicts the psychology of Freud, in the fourth Late Summer Lecture. Free and open to all, from students and schools to members of the public.

About this Lecture

The concept of ‘Time’ in many of Dickens’ novels is a fluid, circular concept that was ahead of its era in many respects. In A Christmas Carol (1843), for example, the narrative begins in the present but then follows a strange linear-defying structure as Scrooge visits places in the past, alternate present, alternate future and back to the present. This strange temporality is augmented by the fact that, once Scrooge is restored to his ‘own time and place, his terrifying visions of the future become memories of a future that did not and will not happen since he becomes a reformed man. By changing his ways and becoming a better person, Scrooge does not die in the way he foresaw and is thus able to avoid his fate.

The idea of ‘future memory’, as exemplified by Scrooge, is a concept which fascinated Dickens and many of his contemporaries including George Eliot, The Lifted Veil (1859) and Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1860). In The Lifted Veil, for instance, the protagonist also foresees his own death but, unlike Scrooge, he is powerless to prevent it. Dickens takes this concept to another level in his most intellectually complex ghost story, ‘The Signal-Man’ (1866) in which he explores the effects of shock on the mind and the ability of the past to encroach on the present; an exploration which anticipated Freud in many respects.

About Claire Ashworth

Claire Ashworth is an English tutor and currently teaches at both Loughborough and Lincoln University. She recently completed her PhD on Dickens and Memory and is in the process of writing an article on Dickens’ second, and lesser well-known, Christmas book, The Chimes. Claire previously presented a paper entitled Dickens’ Ghosts: An Altered Perspective at the Durham Late Summer Lecture series in 2017; this previous lecture is available to listen to here:


Is the lecture suitable for me?

Late Summer Lectures is designed to be open to a wide audience, from university or sixth-form students to members of the public. It aims to convey the latest postgraduate and early career research, so lectures will be rooted in academic ideas and principles; however, lecturers should present these in a clear way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards or to chat further over refreshments. You can get a sense of what to expect by listening to some of our previous lectures (although most live lectures are accompanied by visuals which can help to convey ideas):

Is the venue and lecture accessible?

The Ritson Hall in Alington House is located at the end of a corridor, wide enough for wheelchair access. A lift is available at the end. The organisers or Alington House reception staff will be available to assist. Unfortunately we are not able to provide sign language interpreters for each lecture. If there are any ways in which we could help you to attend the event please contact the organisers at

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Please visit the Alington House website for full details.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

If the event reaches its limit, priority will be given to those who have reserved a ticket in advance via Eventbrite. We advise that you bring a copy on your phone just in case.

Contact for more information about this event.

Related Links


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.


Many of our public lectures, seminars and conferences are recorded, and can be listened to as podcasts.

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Next Event

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