The Greatest of Victorian writers
English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens’s works are characterized by attacks on social evils, injustice, and hypocrisy. He had also experienced in his youth oppression, when he was forced to end school in early teens and work in a factory. Dickens’s good, bad, and comic characters, such as the cruel miser Scrooge, the aspiring novelist David Copperfield, or the trusting and innocent Mr. Pickwick, have fascinated generations of readers.
Charles Dikens , this greatest of Victorian writers was born in Landport, Portsmouth, on February 7 , during the new industrial age, which gave birth to theories of Karl Marx. His father John worked as a clerk in the Navy Payroll Office in Portsmouth. He was well paid but often ended in financial troubles. In 1814 Dickens moved to London, and then to Chatham, where he received some education. The schoolmaster William Giles gave special attention to Dickens, who made rapid progress. In 1824, at thhe age of 12, Dickens was sent to work for some months at a blacking factory, Hungerford Market, London, while his father John was in Marshalea debtor’s prison. “My father and mother were quite satisfied,” Dickens later recalled bitterly. “They could ha
Dickens’s relationship with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker, whom he had courted for four years, ended in 1833. Three years later Dickens married Catherine Hogart, the daughter of his friend George Hogarth, who edited the newly established Evening Chronicle. With Catherine he had 10 children. They separated in 1858. Some biographers have suspected that Dickens was more fond of Catherine’s sister, Mary, who mo
Dickens’s sharp ear for conversation helped him to create colorful characters through their own words. In his daily writing Dickens followed certain rules: “He rose at a certain time, he retired at another, and, though no precisian, it was not often that arrangements varied. His hours for writing were between breakfast and luncheon, and when there was any work to be done, no temptation was sufficiently strong to cause it to be neglected. The order and regularity followed him through the day. His mind was essentially methodical, and in his long walks, in his recreations, in his labour, he was governed by rules laid down for himself – rules well studied beforehand, and rarely departed from. ” (anonymous friend, in Charles Dickens, An Illustrated Anthology, Cresent Books, 1995)
David Lean’s dark, atmospheric version of Oliver Twist from 1948 is among the best films made from Dickens’s novels. Lean’s young thieves are as hard and professional as the brutal gang members of Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (1950). Alec Guinness played the old, big-nosed Fagin. The caricature upset some Jews in England, as Dickens’s novel had done one hundred and ten years earlier. The Zionists protested that the character was presented in the same way that Jews were vilified in the Nazi paper Der Sturmer. American critics attacked the film’s alleged anti-Semitism, and cuts were made before it was shown, with twelve minutes missing, in the American theatres. Lean’s stylised Great Expectations (1946), based on Dickens’s novel, had been a great success in the U.S. “Grandfather would have loved it,” said Monica Dickens, the granddaughter of the author, of the film. With these works Lean has been considered an authority on Dickens.
A Christmas Carol (1843) is one of Dickens’s most loved works, which has been adapted into screen a number of times. The character of Ebenezer Scrooge, the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching” miser, has attracted such actors as Seymour Hicks, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, George C. Scott and Alastair Sim. In a pornography version from 1975 Mary Stewart was “Carol Screwge”. Historical subjects did not much interest Dickens. Barnaby Rudge (1841), set at the time of the ‘No Popery’ riots of 1780, and A Tale Of Two Cities (1859) are exceptions. The latter was set in the years of the French Revolution. The plot circles around the look-alikes Charles Darnay, a nephews of a marquis, and Sydney Carton, a lawyer, who both love the same woman, Lucy.
Among Dickens’s later works is David Copperfield (1849-50), where he used his own personal experiences of work in a factory. David’s widowed mother marries the tyrannical Mr. Murdstone. David becomes friends with Mr. Micawber and his family. “I went in, and found there a stoutish, middle-aged person, in a brown surtout and black tights and shoes, with no more hair upon his head (which was a large one, and very shining) than there is upon an egg, and with a very extensive face, which he turned full upon me. His clothes were shabby, but he had an imposing short-collar on.” Dora, David’s first wife, dies and he marries Agnes. He pursues his career as a journalist and later as a novelist.
Bleak House (1853) belongs to Dickens’s greatest works of social social criticism. The novel is built around a lawsuit, the classic case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which affects all who come into contact with it. Much of the story is narrated in the first person by a young woman, Esther Summerson, the illegitimate daughter of the proud Lady Dedlock and Captain Hawdon. The character of Harold Skimpole, an irresponsinbe and lecherous idler, is said to be based on the poet and journalist Leigh Hunt.
Great Expectations (1860-61) began as a serialized publication in Dickens’s periodical All the Year Round on December 1, 1860. The story of Pip (Philip Pirrip) was among Tolstoy’s and Dostoyevsky’s favorite novels. G.K. Chesterton wrote that it has “a quality of serene irony and even sadness,” which according to Chesterton separates it from Dickens’s other works. “Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.” Pip, an orphan, lives with his old sister and her husband. He meets an escaped convict named Abel Magwitch and helps him against his will. Magwitch is recaptured and Pip is taken care of Miss Havisham. He falls in love with the cold-hearted Estella, Miss Havisham’s ward. With the help of an anonymous benefactor, Pip is properly educated, and he becomes a snob. Magwitch turns out to be the benefactor; he dies and Pip’s “great expectations” are ruined. He works as a clerk in a trading firm, and marries Estella, Magwitch’s daughter.
Dickens participated energetically in all forms of the social life of the time, “light and motion flashed from every part of it,” wrote his friend and future biographer John Forster. In the 1840s Dickens founded Master Humphrey’s Cloak and edited the London Daily News. He spent much time travelling and campaigning against many of the social evils with his pamphlets and other writings. In the 1850s Dickens was founding editor of Household World and its successor All the Year Round (1859-70). Although Dickens’s works as a novelist are now best remembered, he produced hundreds of essays and edited and rewrote hundreds of others submitted to the various periodicals he edited. Dickens distinguished himself as an essayist in 1834 under the pseudonym Boz. ‘A Visit to Newgate’ (1836) reflects his own memories of visiting his own family in the Marshalea Prison. ‘A Small Star in the East’ reveals the working conditions on mills and ‘Mr. Barlow’ (1869) draws a portrait of an insensitive tutor.
Dickens lived in 1844-45 in Italy, Switzerland and Paris, and from 1860 one his address was at Gadshill Place, near Rochester, Kent, where he lived with his two daughters and sister-in-law. He had also other establishments – Gad’s Hill, and Windsor Lodge, Peckham, which he had rented for Ellen Ternan. His wife Catherine lived at the London house. In 1858-68 Dickens gave lecturing tours in Britain and the United States. By the end of his last American tour, Dickens could hardly manage solid food, subsisting on champagne and eggs beaten in sherry. In an opium den in Shadwell, Dickens saw an elderly pusher known as Opium Sal, who then featured in his mystery novel The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. He collapsed at Preston, in April 1869, after which his doctors put a stop to his public performances. Dickens died at Gadshill on suddenly of a stroke on June 8, 1870. Some of his friends later thought the readings killed him. Dickens had asked that he should be buried “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner”.
Our Mutual Friend (1865), the second last novel Dickens wrote, started with a murder mystery. In the opening chapter a drowned man is found floating on Thames. The Italian writer Italo Calvino has called the novel “an unqualified masterpiece, both in its plot and in the way it is written.” The Mystery of Edwin Drood was published in 1870, but Dickens did not manage to finish it. He planned to produce it in 12 monthly parts, but completed only six numbers. The story is chiefly set in the cathedral city of Cloisterham and opens in an opium den. “Ye’ve smoked as many as five since ye come in at midnight,” the woman goes on, as he chronically complains. “Poor me, poor me, my head is so bad. Them two come in after ye. Ah, poor me, the business is slack, is slack! Few Chinamen about the Docks, and fewer Lascars, and no ships coming in, these say! Here’s another ready for ye, deary.” The choirmaster of the cathedral, John Jaspers, lives a double life, as an opium addict and a respected member of society. His ward, Edwin Drood, disappears on Christmas Eve, after a quarrel with Neville Landless. However, there is no trace of Edwin’s body. Dick Datchery, a disguised detective arrives to investigate the case. “It is the complex nature of Dickens’s evil men, not their merited fate, that makes them the peers of Dostoyevsky’s lost souls. For this reason, I have always been irked by the critical treatment of his last novel as a pure whodunit.