2. Charles Dickens

2. Charles Dickens
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1. Biography

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. He had a really unhappy childhood since his father was imprisoned for debt. When the family finances were put partly to rights and his was released, the twelve-year-old Charles was wounded by his mother’s insistence that he had to continue to work at the factory. 

Between 1824 and 1827 Dickens was sent to a school in London. At fifteen he found employement as an office boy at an attorney’s and studied at night. 

By 1832 he had become a studied shorthand reporter of Parliamentary debates in the House of Commons, he also started to work as a reporter for a newspaper. 

In 1833 his first story appeared and in 1836 he adopted the pen name Boz publishing ‘Sketches by Boz’. It was immediately followed by ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’ (humoristic and satirical works). 

In 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and he became editor of ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’. After the success of Pickwick, Dickens started a career as a novelist although he continued his journalistic and editorial activities. In 1837 he began Oliver Twist. In 1839 he published Nicholas Nickleby. In 1844 it was published his first enormously popular book: A Christmas Carol. 

Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit became the symbols of an exploited childhood confronted with the grim and bitter reality of slums and factories. Whereas, Bleak House, Hard Times, Great Expectations deal with social issues. 

He died in 1870 in London.

2. Characters and didactic aim

Dickens shifted the social frontiers of the novel: the 18th century realistic upper-middle-class world was replaced by that of the lower orders. 

He created caricatures trying to arouse the reader’s interest middle and lower classes in modern London. He was always on the side of the poor and the working class. 

Children are the most important characters in Dickens’s novels. Children were the moral teachers instead of the taught, the examples instead of the imitators. 

This didactic stance was effective as the wealthier classes throughout England acquired a knowledge of their poorer neighboors of which many were previously almost ignorant. In different classes it was important to alleviate undeniable sufferings.  

3. Dickens’s narrative

Dickens was the first and foremost storyteller. His novels were influenced by the Bible, fairy tales, fables, nursery rhymes. His plots are well-planned and London was the setting of his works: he seemed to have something new to say about it and showed a great knowledge of it. 

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He developed a more radial view of the social scene. The result was a critical attitude towards his society. 

4. Oliver Twist (1838)

The plot

Oliver Twist first appeared in installments in 1837 and was later published as a book. The novel fictionalized the economic insecurity and humiliation Dickens experienced when he was a boy. 

Oliver is a poor boy of unknown parents: he’s brought up in a workhouse in an inhuman way. The cruelty and the unhappiness he experiences force him to run away to London. He falls into the hands of a nasty gang of young pickpockets. 

The boy is helped by an old gentleman. Oliver is eventually kidnapped by the gang and forced to commit burglary; it’s a middle-class family that adopted Oliver and shows kindness towards him. Investigations are made about who the boy has noble origins. The gang of pickpockets and Oliver’s half-brother are arrested in the end. 

The world of the workhouse

The most important setting of the novel is London, where there were 3 different social levels:

  • the parochial world of workhouse (lower-middle class strata of society are insensible to the feelings of the poor);
  • the criminal world (pickpockets and murderers; poverty drives them to crime and weapons for violence);
  • Victorian middle-class (moral values and human dignity).

5. A Christmas Carol (1843)

The plot

A Christmas Carol is a play about a mean-spirited and selfish old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas. One cold Christmas Eve, Scrooge is unkind to the people who work for him, then refuses to give to charity, and then is rude to his nephew when he invites him to spend Christmas with him.

When Scrooge gets home, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley – and then by three ghosts! They are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey through Christmases from his past, taking Scrooge to see himself as an unhappy child and a young man more in love with money than his fiancée.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s family. At Bob Cratchit’s house Scrooge sees Tiny Tim, who is very ill, but full of spirit. The ghost then takes him to see his nephew Fred’s Christmas celebrations – which he had been invited to, but rebuffed.

Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Future terrifies Scrooge by showing him visions of his own death.

The ghosts’ journey through time teaches Scrooge the error of his ways. 

When he wakes up on Christmas Day he is full of excitement, and buys the biggest turkey in the shop for the Cratchit family before spending the day with his nephew, full of the joys of Christmas.


A Christmas Carol is a story of transformation and redemption. Dickens seems to be reminding us of the importance in taking notice of the lives of those around us. Another important theme derived from Dickens’s observations was that of the children of the poor. Sex was the only affordable pleasure for the poor at that time and the result was livin in poverty, filth and disease. Dickens felt that the cycle of poverty could only be solved through education and became interested in the Ragged Schools in London. 

Despite the availability of these schools, poor children remained uneducated. 

6. Hard Times (1854)

The plot 

This novel is set in an imaginary industrial town named Coketown. 

Thomas Grandgrind has founded a school where his theories are taught and he brings up his two children repressing their imagination and feelings. He marries his daughter to Bounderby, a rich banker of the city. The girl consents since she wishes to help her brother who is given a job in Bounderby’s bank. 

At first he succeeds in shifting the suspicion on an honest workman and he is finally obliged to leave the country. 

The structure

Hard Times is divided into 3 sections, or books, and each book is divided into 3 separate chapters. Sowing shows us the seeds planted. Reaping reveals the harvesting of these seeds. Garnering gives the details. 

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