Hiram College

Patrons who attend the Rabbit Run Theater’s series of performances of Charles Dickens’ novels this summer will get some extra insight for their ticket from Kirsten Parkinson, associate professor of and director of the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature.

With the help of a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council, the Rabbit Run Theater in Madison, Ohio, is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. From June through August, the theater will host “A Dickens of a Summer,” an extravaganza brimming with Victorian-England themed dances, dinners, parlor games and fashion shows. The keystone event is Rabbit Run’s presentation of four Dickens-inspired plays: The Mystery of Charles Dickens (a performance of the one-man show written by Peter Ackroyd), and dramatizations of three Dickens novels (Oliver!, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.)

To introduce these plays and provide information on the life and writing of Dickens, Parkinson is presenting book discussions that correlate with the plays.

She’s already presented two of her book discussions. On June 11, she presented Boz, Dickens, The Inimitable: The Man Behind the Stories, where she discussed some of the pertinent events in Dickens’ life that influenced his writing. A week later, on June 18, she introduced Oliver! by discussing Dickens’ critique of the New Poor Law in Oliver Twist, a talk she will again present on June 24. Parkinson said she is happy with how things are going.

“I thought it was really interesting that the audience took what I’d told them about the 19th century and linked it to their own communities,” Parkinson said of the June 18 discussion. “It showed that all this stuff from 150 years ago or more still has relevance for us today, that we can still learn something about what is going on now from studying what was going on then.”

Parkinson will present two talks on the historical context of Nicholas Nickleby in July. Her final talk will focus on The Mystery of Edwin Drood and its role in the rise of detective fiction in the 19th century.

Audiences are in good hands at these discussions; Parkinson is a Victorianist with a good knowledge of the era, the literature and Dickens himself. In the June 2010 issue of Dickens Quarterly, she published a scholarly essay titled “‘What do you play, boy?’: Card Games in Great Expectations.”

A Victorian-era scholar, she hopes to instill her audience with her sense of appreciation for 19th century England, a time that fascinates her because of its role as a period of drastic change.

“As a literature professor, my ultimate goal is to foster interest about the books,” she said.  “If I get one of them to read the book, then it was a success.”