All Party Parliamentary Group Summer Lecture delivered by Professor Michael Slater

Dickens scholar acknowledges a 'special debt' to archivists

Professor Michael Slater delivered the second All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History summer lecture on 20 June. Speaking in the Grand Committee Room in the Houses of Parliament, Professor Slater spoke about ‘Charles Dickens and Parliament’ to an invited audience which included  MPs, Lords, archivists and historians. He began his lecture by referring to the ‘special debt’ that he owed to archivists.professor slater lectures in house

professor slater in parliamentProfessor Slater is Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck College and a highly respected Dickens scholar. He is the editor of four volumes of Dickens’ journalism.

His new book The Great Dickens Scandal is published later this year.

It is 200 years this year since Dickens was born. He was a parliamentary reporter for five years from  the age of eighteen and observed the  passage of the Great Reform Act, the Poor Law Amendment Act and the burning down of part of the  parliament building.  He gained a good reputation as a diligent and accurate reporter, but he had little respect for what he saw at Westminster. In his novels  he used what he had seen and heard, often in merciless parody. Later in life he was asked to consider becoming an MP but he had no relish for it; he was first and foremost, Professor Slater stressed,  ‘an imaginative writer’. Dickens himself claimed himself to be ‘quite an infidel’ about Westminster.

Professor Slater quoted widely from Dickens’ letters and novels.  The past and the present chimed wonderfully for his audience as he read Dickens describing the ringing of the ‘Division bell’; at the same moment the screens in the Grand Committee Room announced a vote in the House of Commons. Chair of the All Party Group Hywel Francis and Vice-Chair Tristram Hunt made their apologies for a few minutes.

professor slater and hywel francisIn introducing Professor Slater, Hywel Francis (right, with Professor Slater) announced that the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History now had more than 70 members, many of whom are historians.

Dr Francis thanked the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) for its work in administering the Group, which is committed to being a good friend to the archives sector.

Photographs: Simon O'Connor