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

• Autobiographical novels – Oliver Twist (1838), D. Copperfield (1849-1850)
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.
• journalist
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.

Only in his later works he developed an artistic quality and accessed his dialogical novel.

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.
• Children
• 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.

6. Style
• 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.

Hai bisogno di aiuto in 1800 e 1900?
Trova il tuo insegnante su | Ripetizioni
Registrati via email
Consigliato per te
Dickens, Charles