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date: 19 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Since the publication of Paul Schlicke’s ground-breaking Dickens and Popular Entertainment in 1985, Dickens’s relationship with popular culture has become an increasingly prominent area of Dickens studies. Work on Dickens and popular culture splinters into three sub-fields: Dickens’s relationship with Victorian popular culture, Dickensian ‘afterlives’ or posthumous remediations, and, in recent years, ‘global’ Dickens. Research on Dickensian afterlives has overwhelmingly tended to focus on Dickens’s posthumous relationship with the screen and on the re-presentation of versions of Dickens’s works since his death. The 2012 bicentenary celebration website was perhaps the first major attempt to map the myriad of local, amateur, and hitherto unregulated Dickensian afterlives online and in communities. It made manifest the fact that cultural analysis of ‘the Dickensian’ today cannot simply be a matter of analysing artistic texts or even screen adaptations. As Linda Hutcheon argues in the Preface to the First Edition of her influential A Theory of Adaptation (2006), ‘Adaptation has run amok. That’s why we can’t understand its appeal and even its nature if we only consider novels and films.’ This chapter offers a first attempt at theorizing this new adaptive landscape in relation to Dickens. It employs the idea of ‘crowdsourcing’ as an umbrella term to analyse a range of Dickensian appearances in new cultural space(s) which claim partnership, cooperation, or indeed a merging between cultural consumers and producers. While internet projects which define themselves as ‘crowdsourced’ are a main focus, the idea of crowdsourcing is also employed more elastically to examine a variety of self-proclaimed populist or participatory projects in order to revisit what we think we know about Dickens’s cultural reach in a new media era. The chapter tempers the optimism that characterizes so much new work which sees the internet as facilitating Dickens’s original utopian and inclusive vision of popular culture, breaking down cultural hierarchies and geographical boundaries to expand Dickens’s cultural impact and indeed the impact of literary culture. ‘Crowdsourced Dickens’ examines the evidence produced by a range of populist Dickensian ventures since the Bicentenary to argue that the internet has facilitated not an extension of Dickens’s audience or new ‘crowds’, but a reconfiguration of communication structures which allow ‘clubs’ to feel newly empowered. These clubs are literally and festively eccentric, the chapter argues, revelling in a celebratory sense of autonomous worldbuilding which rejects the tyranny of numbers and the cultural logic which associates value with larger cultural impact. The chapter draws analogies between postmodern and picaresque communication structures, implying that ‘new’ media theory would benefit from a sense of its own backstory. Finally, it calls for more interdisciplinary work on literary clubs, a topic largely neglected by both literary studies and new media theory which has yet to grapple seriously with the effect of the internet on the literary marketplace.

Keywords: crowdsourced, digital, popular culture, adaptation, crowd, club, new media

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