Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Humanitarian – sentimental novel
Dickens was one of the authors who’s autobiographical experience was very visible.
He did not deal with his own life in fantastic or fictional terms: he invented characters, but there was always a content of reality in them.
He is the greatest representative of the so-called sentimental – humanitarian novel.
- His ability to arouse feelings in the reading public was very strong. He tried to do so in order to involve the public in a reflection about the situation of lower classes, therefore to make it understand that.
- By moving his reading public, he became very much beloved because he was able to touch chords which are still stirred nowadays.
- On the other hand, he exploited this in economic terms.
1. Success worldwide / translated in various language
The protagonists are most children, who became symbols of an exploited or neglected childhood, a childhood with almost no rights: children were considered as the last position in the society.
They would be economically worth only if they worked, therefore he proposed his children in a utilitarian way: utilitarianism was working also against children.
• social issues novels – Black House (1853), Hard Times (1854), Great Expectations (1861)
This is part of his later production. Here we can see a sort of new interest by Dickens, who more directly deals with deeper problems as justice, therefore with the poor and the working class.
- He put a lot of his autobiographical experience: when he was young he became a journalist and worked as a reporter in the Court of Chancery, therefore this idea of representing injustice of society came from his experience during his childhood.
• editor – Household Words
He became also famous because he founded a literary review magazine. He became a very valuable opinion maker: he was asked to hold speeches in public, for example about the sanitary condition. Famous are his speeches about ailments.
His literary career was linked with his activity as journalist: he became a reporter from the Court of Chancery (legal division of the Court of Justice), that dealt and administrated bankruptcy, issues of inheritance, legacy matters and successions. The social paradox of injustice is that it’s the only condition derived from the Court of Justice: it’s a source of social injustice. Attacks: Oliver Twist, Black House.
Later he became a reporter from Parliament.
• Because of his close relationship with the Parliament and the Court of Chancery, we tend to see him as a mature novelist as one who developed a real content of institutions.
• He started as an author who wanted to depict situations of children, but little by little became more radical: he adopted criticism to government, for example.
• The contempt for these institutions was based on his first-hand knowledge.
2. Method of publication of his novels
The method of publication strongly, dramatically affected the structure and the value of his works: he published in monthly instalments in periodicals. He waited and expected the reaction of his publics: he continued or changed features of the narration. Serialization, that affected the tone, the content and the artistic quality of the output: this assured him to be considered an ill-famed author.
He had a great ability of sketching realistic characters: he focused on the ability to attract public,
but not to develop the artistic level of his work.
• He blended physical realism with very unrealistic situation: he was great at creating a sort of new genre in order to attract his public. He had to sell his stories!
• Basic stories, characterized by the simplicity of the narrative concept ( very easy): he had no particular aesthetic principles. He was a storyteller: this was his profession.
What makes up this basic simplicity is the fact that new characters or events and sudden changes complicate the story. • Complexity of plot: great possibilities for multiplicity of characters and events (two elements: lives and adventures, hidden secrets). This keep the reading public on the story.
• Basic narrative concepts contrasted by complexity of the plot
Little by little Dickens would develop a more artistic approach to the novel: he tried to organize an artistic complexity in his works as in the Bleak House. Dual process made clear in the Bleak House: two narrative lines that never get in contact. They proceed in very different ways, each line has a different style and the speaking voices are different.
3. Maturity = develompent of pessimism
Dickens’ purpose was to mingle social commitment with entertainment. Didacticism.
He chose the child as the protagonist of his early works having a didactic aim: through the novels authors tended to teach specific lessons. This was required by this age that exploited the idea of literature as a way to teach something: literature should teach, therefore always have a didactic aim.
His didactic aim was positive because he wanted to teach how the child was the only positive model of society, who in fact became a moral model, even if exploited. He tried to reverse the idea that adults should teach children: they became a moral model for adults.
4. Plots and caracterization
• He tailored his novels to the popular demand. Audience – demand: emphasis on:
• Sentimental, pathetic, morbid, sensational, morbid, macabre and comic;
• He measured his success by degree of emotional response of his weeping audience.
• His readers = two categories:
• Lower-middle class mirrored in his novels required a happy ending they would never expect
• Well-off readers of upper classes began to develop a humanitarian feeling towards the less lucky majority: social remorse.
• Serialization: sudden changes, sudden revelations to keep readers’ interest alive.
• Plots extremely complicated, with lots of villains.
• Extraordinary ability to portray characters with individual style of speech.
5. themes linked to characters
Most recurrent themes: childhood and social criticism.
• Remarkable portion of his characters from childhood to maturity (Copperfield G. Expectations);
• Dickens’ own experience.
Whenever he sketched these children he always relied on a very stereotypical situation:
• A child always had a deeper natural moral because innocent, much greater than an adult;
• He would always work in a factory or in workhouses and was always exploited;
• He was very frequently destroyed by work and also by mothers’ careless: mothers were insensitive. • Logics of production were stronger than family ties.
• They were pathetic because destroyed by work and rescued by adults’ intervention. ?
• Children were victims of the system of crime. They were victims of injustice: parents didn’t act in favour of their children, but they were part of an unjust system.
• Children are often heroes (Oliver Twist), threatened by evil adults, but also by representatives of law, institutions and established authorities by social injustice.
Crime innocent legalized repression
• Institutions were attacked: schools, workhouses and justice system abuse.
• Social criticism
First exploitation and later injustice: total rejection of principles an industrial society is based on: money and individualism.
• Before D. Copperfield: monstrosity of children’s work in mines and workhouses and life in •rphanages education system;
• Later (Bleak House, Hard Times): influence of the philosopher Carlyle, enemy of Industrial Revolution;
• Attack to economic and social system is deeper;
• Dickens accused specific institutions of taking no care for needs of individual in favour of economic enrichment.
• The first novel shows some inaccuracy, later grater attention to artistic requirements;
• Careful choice of adjectives, repetitions of words, structures, images, ideas, irony and humor;
• Characters are sometimes stereotyped (and presented with very clear characteristics), such as criminals and innocent people;
• Realistic description vs psychological insight;
• Description of settings: the urban setting was the fundamental setting for his novels;
• Omniscient narration.
• More contributions:
• Double narrative;
• Dialogical novel: multiple experience, enlargement to multiple reality.
Language, aspect and attitudes of characters reflected their specific functions. The world presented is therefore very frequently based on the idea of crime: punishment of crime and reward for a moral condition were always clear present characteristics of his works.