In the 19th century England, novel is the major literary form: Jane Austen, Emely Bronte, Eliot: they produced some of the world’s great novels. In the middle of this group of this period who dominates is Charles Dickens.
He was a man defined by his age and he was a man who himself defined his age.
Born in 1812, Dickens emerged from a turbulent period in English cultural land that we term romanticism: a difficult period to date, between 1789, the start of the French revolution (romanticism is a revolutionary era) and 1832 (first reform bill and so the end of those ancient regimes). An important point about romanticism is that it is defined by its poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Blake), and it is not really a period of novel (only Jane Austen lives this period but she is not romantic: she reacts against much of romanticism and she is a late 18th century Georgian novelist).
Romanticism is a reaction against what came before, the period of the Enlightment (reason, neoclassicism). Romanticism is all about emotion versus reason, it is all about feeling as oppose to thought, nature over civilisation and the I that Wordsworth will call the lyrical I over the social world.
Wordsworth, the great poet of romanticism, famously said that poetry comes from the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquillity.
Also in Dickens being the novelist of memory, this recollection in tranquillity is important (David Copperfield will call it ‘my undisciplined heart’). So Dickens has a complicated response to romanticism: he is not a romantic writer himself but hardly influenced by romanticism:
1. primacy of nature, that becomes alive and organic. Dickens sympathise with this theory (at the end of the novel, nature and its gothic aspect is very important for David Copperfield)
2. the romantic novel is primarily gothic or didactic or moralizing: an influence on Dickens but he would go beyond (he shares a gothic nature, as the storm at the end of David)
Dickens is attracted to didacticism and in his novels he has to resist his moralistic impulses.
Inseparable from romanticism is the French Revolution: indeed, the revolution is one of the factures of the European romanticism.
Many young English look to the revolution with great excitement and initial enthusiasm, for example Wordsworth, who wrote ‘France standing on the top of golden hours, and human nature seeming born again’ but later, in the after reign of terrorism, in the Prelude he says that the French ‘became oppressors in their turn, Frenchmen had changed a war of self-defence for one of conquest losing right of all which they bad straggled for’. If at the beginning there is a positive attitude towards the revolution and both France and England supports the flow of energy, after the first common attitude France goes on with sensations and passion while England demonstrate a kind of disillusionment towards the French revolution: rejection and disappointment when the French revolution became tyranny and oppression.
It also became a kind of contest of definition between what it is to be French and what it is to be English: this becomes very important for Charles Dickens.
French becomes to be look upon the excess, a kind of lock of restraint, excess of emotion and violence as oppose to English control, restraint, tradition.
If we look to the tales of this period we can see that the first effort that novelists have, is fairly an exaltation of the principles of the French revolution and in a second moment they are critical on the French revolution and Englishness as the need of a different society based on rules becomes to get valorised more and more in their novels.
What is important is that for Dickens Englishness become both a national quality and a moral quality. He is critical of English society (when he describes the poverty) but he is also one of the great celebrants of English culture and English life, he is a nationalist and there is always a happy ending in his novels. He can’t be expression of another culture because he is English, he is the expression of his own culture.
The romanticism is followed by that we call the Victorian Age from 1837 to 1901: Dickens is just 25 years old queen Victoria obtain the throne. When we think to the Victorian era, we think to Charles Dickens, they are synonyms in some ways.
Some elements of this period:
Queen victoria rules
A conservative, structured, constricted, repressed age, but also an age of enormous creativity, imagination and play, pushing back again the constriction
The time of the great questioners:
• 1847: 2 years before David Copperfield, Marx and Engels publish the communist manifesto and they question themselves about society, about the role of the workers and their exploitation
• 1859: Darwin publishes the origin of species to demonstrate the evolution of the man related to animals: the point of view on human changes because they have something evil inside (questions on religion)
• 1878: just after Dicken’s death Nietzsche publishes the birth of tragedy where he questioned the idea of power
• 1900: Freud published the interpretation of dream. It is a 20th century book but Freud said he only draws what was before written by the writers and for this reason Dickens is a Freudian novelist who anticipated Freud.
In 1800 the world changes. The Victorian age is the time when the world becomes truly modern, like we see it now.
o industrial expansion
o loss of connection to the land, rural folk ways (Dickens is on both sides)
o the age of empire: the sun never sets: Dickens analyses this, empire is marked in his novels
o decline of the ancient regime in the rise of the concept of government
o issues of labour, the working classes reform bills
o questioning religious authority (Dickens is very complicated on this, he is not fail to the traditional church, on its hypocrisy but at the same time he is very sympathetic to the spiritual life, to the questions of religion, near to spirituality)
o rise of science (Darwin, empirical practise as a way to understand the world)
Novels are able to talk about the roles of woman and complicated role of gender.
No form is better to capture the complexity of society than the novel. Society was transforming and just a form of art as the novel could catch all the complexity of this life.
The rise of the novel happens in the time before Dickens: the novel’s rise is in the 18’th century, it is the only literary genre to arise in a secular form, arising from the new worldview of modernity.
It is hardly connected to the rise of the middle class, the decline of medieval world view, the increase in literacy, and the culture of mass production.
The novel depends upon a large readership and upon an educated class. Those are the years of circulation, connected to the rise of journals.
Shift from romance (not romanticism, but a kind of fairy tale and so a medieval look on world) to realism (because the great novels want to see society as it is; there is a ‘sicological’ realism; characters say what we would say).
The novels are very important to Charles Dickens:
1. -Daniel Defoe (Robison Crusoe is symbol of the self-made man and of individualism and Moll Flanders is both a heroine and a criminal)
2. -Richardson (Pamela and Clarissa come from gender and middle class)
3. -Burney (female novelist who turns from the epistolary novel to the third person novel, the third indirect discourse).
The 18th century novel is centred around character: also the title is done by the protagonist.
The novel could explain our world: in an age of contrasts and fractures, the novel is seen as a form that could connect society (could stick society back together).
In David Copperfield there is a magnificent passage on the importance of the 18th century novel to David and by extension to Dickens: he says that those books give him company. These books save David (‘this is my comfort when I stayed reading as if for life’) and so the 18th century novels had for Dickens this salvific effect.
As romanticism is defined by its poets, the Victorian era is defined by its novelists (novelistic age) in England but also in the USA, in Russia and France. These are the great documents of 19th society: the novelists examine society as if a microscope, that opens up the body of society as the scientist opens the dead body.
Unlike romanticism, where the concern was the single self, in the novel the concerns is the relation between oneself and an other, the self and society. I VS SELF AND OTHERS.
The central plot of every Victorian novel is the plot of vocation finding one’s place in the world, finding one’s vocation, one’s calling so for all these novels the plot is marriage and the realising one’s great expectation.
The Bildungs-roman in German, education novel in England, the novel of growth, of development, of education. The Kunstler-roman, the novel of the portrait of the artist as a young man. David is both.
There are 5 moments in his life that influence everything he wrote:
1824: father is imprisoned; Dickens works in Warren’s blacking factory.
He spread his childhood in tranquillity but when in 1824, when he was 12 years old, his family moved in the great city of London his childhood ends together with the imagination. For the young Dickens this was a shocking experience and he has to work 10hours a day, six days a week.
Images of darkens become the hooted place of Dickens’ imagination. He will never forget those years in which he felt abandoned by his mother: it is a life motive in his books.
1830: idyllic love for Maria Beadnell: excess of sensibility, Dickens’ side of romanticism. He portrays with a sense of affection and charm. He was like stalker, he had an infatuation, a platonic love but at the same time he felt a sense of inferiority to her Stella: the sense of being rejected by the exulted woman is a refrain in Dickens: abandoned sense, rejection and loss, sense of always missing.
1936: marriage to Catherine Hogarth: his father made letters and favourable reviews on Dickens’ books so that he became famous. His feelings toward Catherine are quite different the feeling towards Maria: love, affection but less of passion. Catherine is the typical Victorian wife: practical, affectionate, supportive, subordinate: not a wife but a home and the security of a home: he always supported this home. They had 10 children but then they live separate.
1837: death of Mary Hogarth: Dickens developed a powerful affection for the young girl who died when she was only 17. He was inconsolable and the effect upon him was the most powerful of loss and pain that he had ever experienced. He wanted to be buried with her. Probably he was so linked to Mary to recapture his own sense of childhood because Mary represents youth itself, childhood and sense of innocence. He will idealize Mary and will remain to her as that 17 years old girl, ageless in death (like the girl in the Ancient Urn of Keats).
1857: meets Ellen Ternan, begins relationship with her: girl of that age, not happy of his marriage, separation: he become fascinated from Ellen
What portrait emerges of Charles Dickens from this?
He was a man of enormous energy, extraordinary ambition and hardworking: for him was unthinkable not to work, and he was unable to give up. He was also a man of idealistic romantic impulses but one who at the same time understands the harsh realities of the world; this is what separates him from the sentimental writers.
Talking about the novels of Charles Dickens: 22 book, 15 novels.
David Copperfield was finished in 1850, a book that signs the mid-point of his career: there are 7 before and 7 after, and with them starts the dark period. It is one of the most important book in the history of the novel.
Christmas Carol 1843: those Christmas stories are such a crucial part of Dickens’ reputation and achievement.
Oliver Twist 1837-39: not his first book, perceived by ‘Sketches by boz’ and ‘Pickwick papers’ which are a sort of a discreet papers bright together. Oliver Twist is the first true novel with all the conventions and unities of a novel; it’s a book about a child, an orphan born in weird in a workhouse, with all the attendant complication of that situation, and is the child who dearly asks for more. This is emblematic in Dickens’ imagination. Every sub sequenced child of literature lived in the shadow of Oliver Twist. This is the first novel in the history of English literature to have a child as its central character. Someone says that he represents the echo chamber of Dickens’ own childhood and reflects his fears of abandonment, his sense of childhood as wonderful innocence and terrible sufferance bright together. It is also a polemical novel: it takes aim on the poor land at the crowded metropolis of London. When he was working on this novel Mary dies and this tragic event influenced the second half of the novel where we find the dark elements of the book (Nancy and her terrible murder).
Dickens’ imagination is always divided into the dark and the light, the tragic and the comic.
Bleak house 1852: the first pose David Copperfield novel: a more complex narrative technique, two narrative voices: one, a first person female voice, Esther Summerson, a girl, like so many Dickens’ characters and her story is to find out her parentage and her place in the world; and then a third person narrator that details the institutions around life, most famous and most mysterious, as the arcane court of censor.
Esters’ story is Dickens’ and the court story is the great antagonist.
It’s also a detective novel, probably the first in English literature because an investigator tries to solve the mystery of Mrs. Joe’s death.
It is a complex novel in terms of perspective plot, certainties, characters and sense, much more pessimistic than David Copperfield about the extent we can know one other and the extent we can know ourselves looking much more like the modernist writer like Kafka and Joyce. Followed quickly by a hard time it is the novel of industrial exploitation, abused education. Very sad novel, and the great English critics say it’s maybe the greatest.
Great expectations 1861: a child is wandering in a graveyard and he looks at the tombstone of his father and mother because this child is an orphan. Suddenly from the tombstone a very violent figure arrives and he tells the child Pip that he will eat him alive. This is a classic Dickens’ novel, pessimistic and dark.
This is a complex powerfully sicological novel focusing on the doubling of all human beings, Magwitch is monster is also a benefactor, Miss Havisham is a lovely mother and also a witch, Estella is the beloved and the tormentor. Pip himself has the choice to be a selfish young man or true and loyal to those who cares him. The protagonist Pip ant the end turns away from the judgements of society and commits himself to self and service to others.
This is the saddest novel experientially on its original end that Dickens changes because too pessimistic resolute end. It is a resolutely romantic novel, focused on a certain stoic ethical resolution. It is a very hard novel.
In conclusion in a time of great novelist, Dickens himself was the define figure: he creates an amazing array of caricatures, stories, scenes unforgettable and shared by generation of readers: his life and world impacted his work and so that his novels change the world round him.