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SC Talk: John Baird, English, U of T “Dickens and Public Health: Infection and Disease in Bleak House”

June 23, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker Information for June 23, 2021—CHANGE OF SPEAKER/TOPIC**

Speaker: John Baird, English, U of T

Introducer: Brian Corman

Host: Linda Hutcheon

Title: “Dickens and Public Health: Infection and Disease in Bleak House”

Abstract: Dickens’s literary career ran over nearly four decades, from the early 1830s until his death in 1870, a period which saw momentous innovations in medicine and especially in public health.  The foundations for what would become epidemiology and virology were laid down in these years. Dickens himself became interested in the relationship of dirt, decay and disease on his American tour in 1842, and ten years later it figured as a key theme of his novel Bleak House (1853).  The city of London, always at the core of Dickens’s fiction, presented particular problems for sanitary reform, not only because of its size and concentration of population, but also because of its fragmented governance (more than 300 local “vestries”), and determined resistance by the powerful private water companies and their allies, like the Lord Mayor who declared in 1848 that no reforms were necessary because the city’s sanitation was perfect.  Politics and medicine were both very much in play, as were the latest example of government intervention, local Medical Officers of Health, whose reporting provided Dickens with material and ideological support.  Bleak House is more than 160 years old, but the situation that it reflects has affinities with our own.

Bio: John Baird retired in 2010, since when he has edited a number of obscure eighteenth-century poems for Representative Poetry Online, and struggles to complete an investigation into Boswell’s distortions of truth in his Life of Johnson.  Like many eighteenth-century scholars, he is a devotee of Dickens (who, after all, named one of his sons for Henry Fielding).

**The scheduled speaker, Keith Baar, has postponed his talk because of the CAUT censure of our University. This is the third such postponement this summer.

The link to register is

The deadline to register is the Wednesday of the talk at 8:00am. The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only on the morning of the event.