Dickens at Georgetown: A Bicentenary Celebration

Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room

Dickens portrait   


In January 1842 Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine set sail for a six month visit to the United States.  After a period of intensive work writing novels, periodical editing, and developing his emerging role as a public figure, Dickens needed a rest.  His plan was to explore what he hoped would be “the Republic of my imagination.”  While in the U.S.A. he intended to advocate for international copyright laws which might begin to earn for him a proper return for the books he had published.  And, he planned to write a travel book about his encounters with the new world. 

Arriving in Boston, Dickens found himself overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of his enormous American following, the public manifestation of which climaxed with a “Boz Ball” in New York City attended by 3,000 party-goers. 

Dickens’ responses to America began to alter dramatically.  Exhausted by the constant demands upon his good will, he announced he would not attend any more public events.  Stung by open hostility to his insistence upon his right to govern the publication of his own books abroad he felt exploited and robbed.  As he traveled south through Baltimore to Washington he was progressively more and more horrified by the cruel treatment of African-American slaves and indignant at efforts to justify this injustice. 

Arriving in Washington D.C., he found a “City of Magnificent Intentions.…   Spacious avenues, that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere; streets, mile-long, that only want houses, roads and inhabitants; public buildings that need but a public to be complete; and ornaments of great thoroughfares, which only lack great thoroughfares to ornament—.”  He found his  greatest disappointment in the actual functioning of American Democracy.  While acknowledging there were some admirable leaders in the government of the day, by and large he considered the American politicians to be “—a stream of desperate adventurers which sets that way for profit and for pay. It is the game of these men … to make the strife of politics so fierce and brutal, and so destructive of all self-respect in worthy men, that sensitive and delicate-minded persons shall be kept aloof, and they, and such as they, be left to battle out their selfish views unchecked.”

On a warm 15th of March 1842, accompanied by William Winston Seaton, then Mayor of Washington D.C. (and the father of Joseph Gales Seaton who graduated from Georgetown in 1833) Dickens visited the campus.  In American Notes for General Circulation, published upon his return to England, Dickens summarizes his impressions:

At George Town, in the suburbs, there is a Jesuit College; delightfully situated,
and, so far as I had an opportunity of seeing, well managed. Many persons who
are not members of the Romish Church, avail themselves, I believe, of these
institutions, and of the advantageous opportunities they afford for the education
of their children. The heights of this neighbourhood, above the Potomac River,
are very picturesque: and are free, I should conceive, from some of the insalubrities
of Washington. The air, at that elevation, was quite cool and refreshing,
when in the city it was burning hot.

Cruikshank's Oliver Twist  


Arnold U. Ziegler (1900 – 1974) worked twenty five years for Sherwin Williams and later became an accountant and business manager for Nemasket Transportation Company in Middleboro, Massachusetts. His Dickens collection began with a Christmas gift from one of his daughters of the first edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1956. Soon thereafter Mr. Ziegler set about building a notable personal collection of books and objects related to Dickens becoming, as well, Treasurer of the Boston branch of the Dickens Fellowship. Later in life Mr. Ziegler lived in Raynham, Massachusetts, and was the fond father of five children who, following his death, gave his collection to Georgetown.

The Ziegler collection [accession date November 1976] counts among its more than 2,000 items examples of virtually all of Dickens’ first editions; very nearly all pre-1970 biographical or critical monographic studies devoted to Dickens; more than half a shelf of books from Dickens’ own library; autograph letters by Dickens and members of his circle; original illustrations of Dickens’ works by Cruikshank, Charles Green, “Kyd,” and others; and a wealth of supporting material in many different formats.  Later acquisitions have included many of the first American editions of Dickens’ works, as well as an important manuscript by Mark Lemon of a play on which he collaborated with Dickens, Mr. Nightingale’s Diary.

David Copperfield in its original parts  


Careful study of the works of Dickens has been a constant at Georgetown for many years.  Here we celebrate some of the important teaching and writing of five members of the English Department and highlight topics in Dickens’ studies on which they have focused.


Paul Betz is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of English.


For many years Prof. Betz was one of four professors leading “The Liberal Arts Seminar,” a program of study on topics from the nineteenth-century for first-year students; and his classes annually featured an in-depth consideration of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

On loan from his collection:

  1. A “Lettre du cachet” reminiscent of the secret letter which condemned Dr. Manette to eighteen years in solitary confinement.
  2. Glazed pottery ware depicting the beheading of Louis XVI.
  3. A Thomas de Quincey manuscript with references to Dickens.

John Glavin, Professor of English and Director of the Gervase Programs, has been a member of the Georgetown faculty since 1967. His most recent publications include: After Dickens: Reading, Adaptation and Performance (Cambridge, 1999), Dickens On Screen (Cambridge, 2003), “’To Make the Situation Natural’: Othello at Mid-Century,” in Victorian Shakespeare, Vol.2 (Palgrave, 2003), and “Dickens and Theatre” in The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens (2001).


  1. From Dickens’ The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1838; vol. 2, 238). Dickens, aged 25 in 1837 and writing Oliver Twist, was asked to edit the memoirs of the great comic Joseph Grimaldi, whom Dickens had seen perform when he was a boy, and who had just died, aged 58, wrecked by the hard physical labour of pantomime and a sequence of emotional catastrophes like a script for a melodrama.  “Grimaldi’s Farewell” depicts his final performance.
  2. Dickens’ own public performances began with readings for charity of an abridged version of A Christmas Carol.  Soon, however, Dickens began to charge for his performances and toured both the United Kingdom and the United States extensively during the later years of his life.  His edited versions from his fiction were soon published such as this The Readings of Charles Dickens.  Illustrated (1878; first published in 1867).  The book reassures the reader, “As condensed by himself, for his READINGS.”
  3. Ticket and menu for Dickens’ final reading, 14 January 1870.
  4. From J. B. Priestley, Charles Dickens a Pictorial Biography, “The Last Reading 1870” (125).
  5. Professor Glavin’s recent books on Dickens, adaptation and performance.

Leona Fisher.  A recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in teaching in 2004, Professor Fisher has taught works by Dickens throughout her years at Georgetown.  She is the author / editor of Lemon, Dickens, and Mr. Nightingale’s Diary: A Victorian Farce (Victoria, B.C., 1988).


  1. Manuscript for Mark Lemon and Charles Dickens, Mr. Nightingale’s Diary.  Pp. 112 – 113.
  2. Poster for the Lyceum Theater performance of Mr. Nightingale’s Diary for 28 August 1852.
  3. Edition, by Leona Fisher, of this MS, titled Lemon, Dickens, and Mr. Nightingale’s Diary: A Victorian Farce 1988.

Michael Ragussis.  His “The Ghostly Signs of Bleak House” [Nineteenth-Century Fiction 1979] is a highly influential study of motifs of writing and reading in that novel.  For many years Prof. Ragussis taught graduate seminars on Dickens’ fiction including a legendary seminar devoted entirely to Bleak House.  He died 26 August 2010 at the age of 65. 


  1. First edition of Bleak House, bound.  The serial parts of this copy have been separated from their printed wrappers and advertisements and bound continuously; the advertising pages are bound at the end. 
  2. First edition of Bleak House in a deluxe leather binding with an inset portrait of Dickens on the upper cover.
  3. Cheap New York reprint in which the original Phiz illustrations have been copied by a clumsy lesser hand. 
  4. First page of Prof. Ragussis’ essay “The Ghostly Signs…”
  5.  Prof. Ragussis’ Acts of Naming (1986).

Maureen Corrigan is Critic in Residence and Lecturer in the Department of English. Her “David Copperfield” in The Book that Changed My Life (Gotham Books, 2006) helps explain why she regularly includes that novel in her Georgetown courses.


  1. Corrigan’s essay “David Copperfield” in The Book that Changed My Life.
  2.  Her Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books.
  3. Bound copy of serial parts for the first edition of David Copperfield (1850). 
  4. Frank Reynolds’ illustration “Mr. Peggotty at Dawn” for David Copperfield (1911). 
  5. Deluxe edition of David Copperfield reproducing Phiz illustration “The River” (1970).

Illustration from the Pickwick Papers 



John Pfordresher is a Professor of English and a proud recipient of the Bunn Award for Teaching, voted by the College senior class of 2009.


  1. Photograph of the participants.
  2. Final papers of the semester, on Great Expectations.


  1. Childhood:  Wishbone television series; The Muppet Christmas Carol.
  2. Films later on:  Great Expectations directed by Alonso Cuarón and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke (1998).


  1. First edition, in serial parts, of David Copperfield.
  2. First edition, in serial parts, of  Bleak House
  3.  First edition of Great Expectations in All the Year Round (Vol. 4, No. 3, 1861).
  4. Three-decker book version of Great Expectations.
  5. Highlighted Penguin editions used in preparing for seminar session.

Professor John Pfordresher, Exhibition Curator

Karen O’Connell, Rare Books Librarian

David Hagen, Production Coordinator, Exhibition Graphics

John Buchtel, Department Head, Special Collections Research Center

Lynn Conway, University Archivist

LuLen Walker, Art Collection Curator

Jessica Pierce, Manager of External Affairs

Jennifer Smith, Program and Events Coordinator