On Thursday 23 February, Dartmouth House played host to 40 schoolchildren, their teachers and guests, for a day of Dickens-themed lectures and debating. The day began with a lecture from Professor Malcolm Andrews, academic and editor of The Dickensian entitled 'Dickens and the education of the imagination and the feelings'. Professor Andrews' lecture explored the various aspects of Dickens' work, moving from his literary works through his journalism to his public readings and appearances. The students heard how Dickens' writing was not only meant to reinforce Victorian notions of social responsibility and endorse reform but, rather, that he was equally concerned with the imaginative capacities of his readers, and broadening their emotional horizons. After Professor Andrews' talk, the students were allowed 15 minutes of preparation before debating the motion that 'This House Believes that the value of Dickens' work lies in his literary skill, rather than his social messages'.
The afternoon's proceedings began with a talk from Lynn Shepherd, a novelist whose most recent work takes place in the slums of Dickensian London, interweaving with the characters and events of Bleak House. Lynn spoke compellingly on the challenges of wrestling with such a literary giant, in particular recreating Dickens' amazing ability to capture speech and diction in his work. Lynn's talk raised several interesting areas of discussion which informed the afternoon's debate, on the motion that 'This House Would prioritise contemporary interpretations of classic literature over the originals'. The feedback from the debate judges, made up of ESU staff and mentors from the ESU's Discover Your Voice programme, was that every debate was lively and engaged, and after deliberating were delighted to announce eight Dickens-themed Special Achievement awards for outstanding contributions to the debates:
The Artful Dodger Prize for Best Joke - Sam Billington, Licensed Victuallers' School
The Bagstock Prize for Best Point of Information - Claudia Lewington, Kesgrove School
The Bob Cratchit Prize for Best Use of Facts & Figures - Hannah Graham, Loughborough School
The David Copperfield Prize for Best Quotation - Ben Markham, The Bishop's Stortford High School
The Ebeneezer Scrooge Prize for Most Miserly Rebuttal - Helen McDermott - Royal Masonic School for Girls
The Fezziwig Prize for Most Charming Speaker - Bella Heber, Cranbrook School
TheThe Phillip Pirrip Prize for Best Speech - Leying Lee, St Helen and St Catherine School
The Prize for Outstanding Leadership - Caitlin Evans, Thurston Community College
As always, the ESU would like to thank all those schools who took part in the Great Dickens Debate, both of our speakers and the staff, volunteers and mentors who gave their time to judge the competition.
We would also like to thank the Garfield Weston Foundation for their continued support of the ESU Great Debates programme.