Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens Charles Dickens Dickens has always presented problems for literary criticism. For theorists whose critical presuppositions emphasize intelligence, sensitivity and an author in complete control of his work the cruder aspects of his popular art have often proved an insurmountable obstacle, while for the formulators of traditions his gigantic idiosyncrasies can never be made to conform. If difficulties such as these have been overcome by the awareness that Dickens sets his own standards, there remains a further problem: his won lifetime Dickens has invariably seemed as much an institution as an individual. The institution of the Dickens of Christmas, celebrated by Chersterton. The change may perhaps be defined by suggesting that it is now becoming increasingly necessary to insist that he was.

Dickenss art was at once varied and constant; if themes, emphases and preoccupations developed towards the ultimate pessimism of Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend, it is important to remember that Flora Finching and her aunt are cousins, not far removed. When he collapsed in 1870, having almost completed the sixth instalment of Edwin Drood, the manner of his death was peculiarly appropriate: his audience were left in the state of anticipation to which he had accustomed them, but this time there was to be no resolution. In the nineteenth century the writing of novels emerged from a permitted indulgence to an acceptable career. It is customary to think of Dickens as a critic of much of the Victorian ethos, but whatever reservations the novels may express about self-aggrandizement, no career could demonstrate the ideal of the self-made man more effectively than his own. The facts of Dickenss early life have been rehearsed frequently enough and there is little need to recount them here other than to emphasize the extent to which Dickens, the chronicler of afflicted children, saw in his own childhood the archetypal experience of the child frustrated by the pressures of an urban and commercialize environment.

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The account of his childhood employment in the blacking-shop, which he gave to his biographer Forster, has often quoted: The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing way passing away from me, never be brought back any more, cannot be written. My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life. (John Froster, The Life of Charles Dickens, Bk. I, ch. 2) Dickens is self-indulgent in this reflective mood, but the complaint is supported by the facts, and the tone of the passage, especially of its conclusion, was to be transmuted to the tone of David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

A glance through the list of novels shows the extent to which Dickenss life was dominated by the demands of authorship, for apart from the gaps between the last three items there is scarcely an unproductive year. When one considers how each of the novels appeared in either weekly or monthly instalments, and that they were supplemented by short stories and occasional journalism, as well as, from time to time, the duties of an editor, it can fairly be said that Dickenss literary activity over a period of more than thirty years was uninterrupted. Serial publications thus posed its own technical problems and to a large extent dictated their solution. It had the effect of intensifying the relationship between the author and his audience to a degree that can perhaps be compared with the oral narrative poem of the Elizabethan stage. Tome some novelists, the need to tailor their novels to popular demand was a source of irritation. More than technical issues were at stake.

In two vital areas audience-demand was a controlling factor over the content of exploitation of sentiment. The emphasis on the pathetic can be attributed to some extent to popular demand: it is well know that at the time of writing The Old Curiosity Shop Dickens received numerous letters on the fate of his heroine. What must also be stressed are the powerful elements of sentimentality and morbidity in Dickenss own character that enabled him to respond to this aspect of popular taste. Little Nell was the fictional parallel of Dickenss sister in law Mary Hogarth, over whose early death he had grieved inconsolably. She became more that a figure of fiction to her creator, however: approaching the climax of The Old Curiosity Shop Dickens told Forster, All night I have been pursued by the child; and this morning I am unrefreshed and miserable.

(Forster, op. cit., Bk II p.7) Dickenss readings from his works show clearly the way that he wished not only to gratify his won emotional needs in his fiction, but also to witness the effect on his audience. With the comic scenes, he liked to include in his programs the most affecting or disturbing passages from the novels- the death of Paul Dombey, the Bob Cratchit scenes from A Christmas Carol, -and he measured his success by the degree of emotional response that he could exact from an often weeping audience. In a revealing letter to his wife, describing a private reading, he wrote: If you had seen Macready last night, undisguisedly sobbing and crying on the sofa as I read, you would have felt, as I did, what a thing it is to have power. (Quoted in E. Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, 1953, p.

532) Even he can hardly have been aware of the full implications of the form for the development of his art. Much has been written of his comic technique, but his letters reveal very clearly that the source of his comedy was not a conscious technique, but a combination of vision and expression that was habitual to him. The origins of Dickenss literary career can be traced to his early employment as a journalist. This work took him first to the Law Courts, including the Court of Chancery, and then to Parliament, and his contempt for these instit …

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Ports Mouth, Hampshire. In his infancy his family moved to Chatham, where he spent his happiest years and often refers to this time in his novels (1817-1822). From 1822 to 1860 he lived in London, after which he permanently moved to a quiet country cottage in Glads Hill, on the outskirts of Chatham. He grew up in a middle class family. His father was a clerk in the navy pay office and was well paid, but his extravagant living style often brought the family to financial disaster. The family reached financial “rock bottom” in 1824.

Charles was taken out of school and sent to work in a factory doing manual labour, while his father went to prison for his debt. These internal disasters shocked Charles greatly. He refers to his working experiences in his writings. Although he hated doing labour, he gained a sympathetic knowledge into the life of the labour class. He also brings forth the images of prison and of the lost and oppressed child in many novels.

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His schooling ended at 15, and he became a clerk in a solicitor’s office, then a short hand reporter in the lawcourts (where he gained much knowledge of legalities which he used in his novels), and finally like other members of his family, a newspaper reporter. Here, he got his first taste of journalism and fell in love with it immediately. Drawn to the theatre, Charles Dickens almost pursued the career of an actor In 1833, he began sending short stories and descriptive essays to small magazines and newspapers. These writings attracted attention and were published in 1836 under the name, Sketches by “Boz”. At the same time, he was offered a small job of writing the text for a small comic strip, where he worked with a well know artist.

Seven weeks later, the first instalment of The Pickwick Papers appeared. Within a few months Pickwick was the rage and Dickens was the most popular author of the day. During 1836, he also wrote two plays and a pamphlet, he then resigned from his newspaper job, and undertook the editing job of a monthly magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, in which he serialized Oliver Twist (1837-1839). By this time, the first of his nine surviving children had been born, He had married Catherine, eldest daughter of a respected journalist George Hogorth (April 1836). Novels His first major success was with The Pickwick Papers. They were high spirited and contained many conventional comic butts and jokes.

Pickwick displayed, many of the features that were to be blended in to his future fiction works; attacks on social evils and the delight in the joys of Christmas. Rapidly thought up and written in mere weeks or even days before its publication date, Pickwick contained weak style and was unsatisfactory in all, partly because Dickens was rapidly developing his craft as a novelist while doing it. This style of writing in a first novel, made his name know literally overnight, but created a new tradition of literature and was made one of the best know novel’s of the world. After The Pickwick Papers were published in 1837, he put together another novel, Oliver Twist. Though his artistic talent is very much evident, he refrained from using the successful formula used in The Pickwick Papers.

Instead, Oliver Twist is more concerned with social and more evil, though it did still contain much comedy. The long last of his fiction is partly due to its being so easy to adapt into effective stage plays. Sometimes 20 London theatres simultaneously were producing adaptations of his latest story; so even non- readers became acquainted with simplified versions of his works. In the novel Barnaby Grudge he attempted another type of writing, a historical novel. It was set in the late 18th century and graphically explored the spectacle of large scale mob violence.

The task of keeping unity throughout his novels (which often included a wide range of moods and materials and several complicated plots involving scores of characters) was made even more difficult because he was forced to write and publish them, while also doing on going serials. His next major work, and probably his most famous was published in 1843, and was called A Christmas Carol. Suddenly conceived and written in mere weeks, while he was preoccupied in writing another serial, it was an unmatched achievement. His view of life was described as “Christmas Philosophy,” and he spoke of “Carol philosophy” as the basis of his work. He was extremely attached to the christmas season, and this contributed to his great success and popularity. A Christmas Carol immediately entered the general public and awareness, and Thackeray (another author), in a review, called it a “national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness..”.

He wrote many other christmas plays and novels thereafter, but none equalled the Carol in energy. These series of books, were known as the Christmas Books, and cumulatively they represent a celebration of Christmas attempted by no other great author. His activity outside his novels at this time in his literary life was extremely active and centrally involved. He was said to be the best after dinner speaker of the age, also, he was credited with being the best reporter on the London press and the best amateur actor on the stage. As for his private life, he loved his family and was a proud householder; he once even wrote a cookbook.

To his children he was a great father, until their adolescence, where their lives proved less happy. Besides periods in Italy (1844-1845), Switzerland and France (1846-1847) he lived in London, and moved from house to larger house as his family grew. He became acquainted with may popular authors and journalists and entertained them regularly at his home. Though financially well off, he generally avoided high society, he hated to be idolized or patronized. He was extremely proud of his work, and strived on improving it with every new venture, yet his work, never employed all of his energies.

He became the founder (editor) in 1846 of the Daily News, (soon to become the leading liberal newspaper). His journalistic backgrounds, his political knowledge and readiness to act as a leader, a …


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