Charles John Huffam Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens
The English author Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was, and probably still is, the most widely read Victorian novelist. He is now appreciated more for his "dark" novels than for his humorous works.
Charles Dickens was born on Feb. 7, 1812, at Port-sea (later part of Portsmouth) on the southern coast of England. He was the son of a lower-middle-class but impecunious father whose improvidence he was later to satirize in the character of Micawber in David Copperfield. The family's financial difficulties caused them to move about until they settled in Camden Town, a poor neighborhood of London. At the age of 12 Charles was set to work in a warehouse that handled "blacking," or shoe polish; there he mingled with men and boys of the working class. For a period of months he was also forced to live apart from his family when they moved in with his father, who had been imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtors' prison. This experience of lonely hardship was the most significant formative event of his life; it colored his view of the world in profound and varied ways and is directly or indirectly described in a number of his novels, including The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Little Dorrit, as well as David Copperfield.
These early events of Dicken's life left both psychological and sociological effects. In a fragmentary autobiography Dickens wrote, "It is wonderful to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age. … My father and mother were quite satisfied. … My whole nature was so penetrated with grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life."
The sociological effect of the blacking factory on Dickens was to give him a firsthand acquaintance with poverty and to make him the most vigorous and influential voice of the lower classes in his age. Despite the fact that many of England's legal and social abuses were in the process of being removed by the time Dickens published his exposés of them, it remains true that he was the most widely heard spokesman of the need to alleviate the miseries of the poor.
Dickens returned to school after an inheritance (as in the fairy-tale endings of some of his novels) relieved his father from debt, but he was forced to become an office boy at the age of 15. In the following year he became a free-lance reporter or stenographer at the law courts of London. By 1832 he had become a reporter for two London newspapers and, in the following year, began to contribute a series of impressions and sketches to other newspapers and magazines, signing some of them "Boz." These scenes of London life went far to establish his reputation and were published in 1836 as Sketches by Boz, his first book. On the strength of this success he married; his wife, Catherine Hogarth, was eventually to bear him 10 children.
In 1836 Dickens also began to publish in monthly installments The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. This form of serial publication became a standard method of writing and producing fiction in the Victorian period and affected the literary methods of Dickens and other novelists. So great was Dickens's success with the procedure—summed up in the formula, "Make them laugh; make them cry; make them wait"—that Pickwick became one of the most popular works of the time, continuing to be so after it was published in book form in 1837. The comic heroes of the novel, the antiquarian members of the Pickwick Club, scour the English countryside for local points of interest and are involved in a variety of humorous adventures which reveal the characteristics of English social life. At a later stage of the novel, the chairman of the club, Samuel Pickwick, is involved in a lawsuit which lands him in the Fleet debtors' prison. Here the lighthearted atmosphere of the novel changes, and the reader is given intimations of the gloom and sympathy with which Dickens was to imbue his later works.
During the years of Pickwick's serialization, Dickens became editor of a new monthly, Bentley's Miscellany. When Pickwick was completed, he began publishing his new novel, Oliver Twist, in this magazine—a practice he continued in his later magazines, Household Worlds and All the Year Round. Oliver expresses Dickens's interest in the life of the slums to the fullest, as it traces the fortunes of an innocent orphan through the London streets. It seems remarkable today that this novel's fairly frank treatment of criminals like Bill Sikes, prostitutes like Nancy, and "fences" like Fagin could have been acceptable to the Victorian reading public. But so powerful was Dickens's portrayal of the "little boy lost" amid the lowlife of the East End that the limits of his audience's tolerance were gradually stretched.
Dickens was now embarked on the most consistently successful career of any 19th-century author after Sir Walter Scott. He could do no wrong as far as his faithful readership was concerned; yet his books for the next decade were not to achieve the standard of his early triumphs. These works include: Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), still cited for its exposé of brutality at an English boys' school, Dothe boys Hall; The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841), still remembered for reaching a high (or low) point of sentimentality in its portrayal of the sufferings of Little Nell; and Barnaby Rudge (1841), still read for its interest as a historical novel, set amid the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780.
In 1842 Dickens, who was as popular in America as he was in England, went on a 5-month lecture tour of the United States, speaking out strongly for the abolition of slavery and other reforms. On his return he wrote American Notes, sharply critical of the cultural backwardness and aggressive materialism of American life. He made further capital of these observations in his next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), in which the hero retreats from the difficulties of making his way in England only to find that survival is even more trying on the American frontier. During the years in which Chuzzlewit appeared, Dickens also published two Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol and The Chimes, which became as much part of the season as plum pudding.
First Major Novels
After a year abroad in Italy, in response to which he wrote Pictures from Italy (1846), Dickens began to publish Dombey and Son, which continued till 1848. This novel established a new standard in the Dickensian novel and may be said to mark the turning point in his career. If Dickens had remained the author of Pickwick, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop, he might have deserved a lasting reputation only as an author of cheerful comedy and bathetic sentiment. But Dombey, while it includes these elements, is a realistic novel of human life in a society which had assumed more or less its modern form. As its full title indicates, Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son is a study of the influence of the values of a business society on the personal fortunes of the members of the Dombey family and those with whom they come in contact. It takes a somber view of England at mid-century, and its elegiac tone becomes characteristic of Dickens's novels for the rest of his life.
Dickens's next novel, David Copperfield (1849-1850), combined broad social perspective with a very strenuous effort to take stock of himself at the midpoint of his literary career. This autobiographical novel fictionalized elements of Dickens's childhood degradation, pursuit of a journalistic and literary vocation, and love life. Its achievement is to offer the first comprehensive record of the typical course of a young man's life in Victorian England. Copperfield is not Dickens's greatest novel, but it was his own favorite among his works, probably because of his personal engagement with the subject matter.
In 1850 Dickens began to "conduct" (his word for edit) a new periodical, Household Words. His editorials and articles for this magazine, running to two volumes, cover the entire span of English politics, social institutions, and family life and are an invaluable complement to the fictional treatment of these subjects in Dickens's novels. The weekly magazine was a great success and ran to 1859, when Dickens began to conduct a new weekly, All the Year Round. In both these periodicals he published some of his major novels.
In 1851 Dickens was struck by the death of his father and one of his daughters within 2 weeks. Partly in response to these losses, he embarked on a series of works which have come to be called his "dark" novels and which rank among the greatest triumphs of the art of fiction. The first of these, Bleak House (1852-1853), has perhaps the most complicated plot of any English novel, but the narrative twists serve to create a sense of the interrelationship of all segments of English society. Indeed, it has been maintained that this network of interrelations is the true subject of the novel, designed to express Thomas Carlyle's view that "organic filaments" connect every member of society with every other member of whatever class. The novel provides, then, a chastening lesson to social snobbery and personal selfishness.
Dickens's next novel is even more didactic in its moral indictment of selfishness. Hard Times (1854) was written specifically to challenge the prevailing view of his society that practicality and facts were of greater importance and value than feelings and persons. In his indignation at callousness in business and public educational systems, Dickens laid part of the charge for the heartlessness of Englishmen at the door of the utilitarian philosophy then much in vogue. But the lasting applicability of the novel lies in its intensely focused picture of an English industrial town in the heyday of capitalist expansion and in its keen view of the limitations of both employers and reformers.
Little Dorrit (1855-1857) has some claim to be regarded as Dickens's greatest novel. In it he provides the same range of social observation that he had developed in previous major works. But the outstanding feature of this novel is the creation of two striking symbols of his views, which operate throughout the story as the focal points of all the characters' lives. The condition of England, as he saw it, Dickens sums up in the symbol of the prison: specifically the Marshalsea debtors' prison, in which the heroine's father is entombed, but generally the many forms of personal bondage and confinement that are exhibited in the course of the plot. For his counterweight, Dickens raises to symbolic stature his traditional figure of the child as innocent sufferer of the world's abuses. By making his heroine not a child but a childlike figure of Christian loving-kindness, Dickens poses the central burden of his work—the conflict between the world's harshness and human values—in its most impressive artistic form.
The year 1857 saw the beginnings of a personal crisis for Dickens when he fell in love with an actress named Ellen Ternan. He separated from his wife in the following year, after many years of marital incompatibility. In this period Dickens also began to give much of his time and energies to public readings from his novels, which became even more popular than his lectures on topical questions.
In 1859 Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel of the French Revolution, which is read today most often as a school text. It is, while below the standard of the long and comprehensive "dark" novels, a fine evocation of the historical period and a moving tale of a surprisingly modern hero's self-sacrifice. Besides publishing this novel in the newly founded All the Year Round, Dickens also published 17 articles, which appeared as a book in 1860 entitled The Uncommercial Traveller.
Dickens's next novel, Great Expectations (1860-1861), must rank as his most perfectly executed work of art. It tells the story of a young man's moral development in the course of his life—from childhood in the provinces to gentleman's status in London. Not an autobiographical novel like David Copperfield, Great Expectations belongs to the type of fiction called, in German, Bildungsroman (the novel of a man's education or formation by experience) and is one of the finest examples of the type.
The next work in the Dickens canon had to wait for the (for him) unusual time of 3 years, but in 1864-1865 he produced Our Mutual Friend, which challenges Little Dorrit and Bleak House for consideration as his masterpiece. Here the vision of English society in all its classes and institutions is presented most thoroughly and devastatingly, while two symbols are developed which resemble those of Little Dorrit in credibility and interest. These symbols are the mounds of rubbish which rose to become features of the landscape in rapidly expanding London, and the river which flows through the city and provides a point of contact for all its members besides suggesting the course of human life from birth to death.
In the closing years of his life Dickens worsened his declining health by giving numerous readings from his works. He never fully recovered from a railroad accident in which he had been involved in 1865 and yet insisted on traveling throughout the British Isles and America to read before tumultuous audiences. He broke down in 1869 and gave only a final series of readings in London in the following year. He also began The Mystery of Edwin Drood but died in 1870, leaving it unfinished. His burial in Westminster Abbey was an occasion of national mourning.
The definitive biography of Dickens is Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (2 vols., 1952). This supersedes but does not render obsolete the long-standing "official" biography by John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (3 vols., 1872-1873; new ed., 2 vols., 1966). The most interesting psychological study is Edmund Wilson, "Dickens: The Two Scrooges," in The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature (1941). The best critical interpretation is J. Hillis Miller, Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels (1958). F.R. and Q.D. Leavis, Dickens the Novelist (1970), contains essays on Dickens's major novels. For the earlier novels the most informative reading is Steven Marcus, Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey (1965). The most useful book on the social and historical background of the novels is Humphry House, The Dickens World (1941; 2d ed. 1950). □
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English author Charles Dickens continues to be one of the most widely read Victorian (nineteenth-century) novelists. Scrooge, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickelby remain familiar characters today. His novels describe the life and conditions of the poor and working class in the Victorian era of England, when people lived by strict rules.
Childhood and schooling
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, at Portsea (later part of Portsmouth) on the southern coast of England, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Charles was the second born of eight children. His father was a pay clerk in the navy office. Because of financial difficulties, the family moved about until they settled in Camden Town, a poor neighborhood in London, England. At the age of twelve Charles worked with working-class men and boys in a factory that handled "blacking," or shoe polish. While his father was in debtor's prison, the rest of the family moved to live near the prison, leaving Charles to live alone. This experience of lonely hardship was the most significant event of his life. It colored his view of the world and would later be described in a number of his novels.
Charles returned to school when his father received an inheritance and was able to repay his debts. But in 1827, at age fifteen, he was again forced leave school and work as an office boy. In the following year he became a freelance reporter and stenographer (using shorthand to transcribe documents) at the law courts of London. By 1832 he had become a reporter for two London newspapers and, in the following year, began to contribute a series of impressions and sketches to other newspapers and magazines, signing some of them "Boz." These scenes of London life went far to establish his reputation and were published in 1836 as Sketches by Boz, his first book. On the strength of this success Charles married Catherine Hogarth. Together they had ten children.
In 1836 Dickens also began to publish The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in monthly installments, a form of serial publication that became a standard method of writing and producing fiction in the Victorian period. So great was Dickens's success with the procedure that Pickwick became one of the most popular works of the time, and continued to be so after it was published in book form in 1837.
After Pickwick 's success, Dickens began publishing his new novel, Oliver Twist. He was also now editor of Bentley's Miscellany, a new monthly magazine. He continued publishing his novel in his later magazines, Household Worlds and All the Year Round. Oliver Twist expressed Dickens's interest in the life of the slums to the fullest, as it traced the fortunes of an innocent orphan through the London streets.
Though Dickens's career was successful, for the next decade his books did not achieve the standard of his early successes. These works include: Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–1841), and Barnaby Rudge (1841).
In 1842 Dickens, who was as popular in America as he was in England, went on a five-month lecture tour of the United States, speaking out strongly against slavery and in support of other reforms. On his return he wrote American Notes, a book that criticizes American life as being culturally backward and materialistic (characterized by the desire for wealth and material goods). His next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–1844), describes the hero finding that survival on the American frontier is more difficult than making his way in England. During the years in which Chuzzlewit appeared, Dickens also published two Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol and The Chimes.
First major novels
After a year abroad in Italy and writing Pictures from Italy (1846), Dickens published installments of Dombey and Son, which continued till 1848. This completed novel established a new standard in the Dickensian novel and marked the turning point in his career. As its full title indicates, Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son is a study of the influence of the values of a business society on the personal fortunes of a family and those with whom the family meets. It takes a somber view of England at mid-century, and its tone becomes characteristic of Dickens's future novels.
Dickens's next novel, David Copperfield (1849–1850), is the first complete record of the typical course of a young man's life in Victorian England. This autobiographical novel fictionalized elements of Dickens's childhood, his pursuit of a journalism career, and his love life. Though Copperfield is not Dickens's greatest novel, it was his personal favorite.
In 1850 Dickens began a new magazine, Household Words. His editorials and articles touched upon English politics, social institutions, and family life. They also spoke to the fictional treatment of these subjects in Dickens's novels. The weekly magazine ran to 1859, when Dickens began to conduct a new weekly, All the Year Round. In both these periodicals he published some of his major novels.
The 1850s were a sad and dark time for Dickens. In 1851, within a two-week period, Dickens's father and one of his daughters died. In 1858, a year after he fell in love with an actress, he separated from his wife.
Partly in response to the deaths, Dickens's next series of works were called his "dark" novels, though they rank among the greatest triumphs of the art of fiction. In Bleak House (1852–1853), perhaps the most complicated plot of any English novel, the narrative served to create a sense of the interrelationship of all segments of English society. In Hard Times (1854), Dickens describes an English industrial town during the height of economic expansion, and details an up-close view of the limitations of both employers and reformers.
Little Dorrit (1855–1857) may be regarded as Dickens's greatest novel. In it he portrays the conditions of England as he saw it, and the conflict between the world's harshness and human values in its most impressive artistic form.
In this period Dickens also began to give public readings from his novels, which became even more popular than his lectures. In 1859 Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel of the French Revolution. Besides publishing this novel in the newly founded All the Year Round, Dickens also published seventeen articles, which appeared as a book in 1860 entitled The Uncommercial Traveller.
Dickens's next novel, Great Expectations (1860–1861), is regarded by some as his most perfectly executed work of art. It is a story of a young man's moral development from childhood to adult life. Three years later he produced Our Mutual Friend, which provides an insight of how he viewed London.
For several years Dickens's health declined. He never fully recovered from a railroad accident in 1865. He tired himself out by continuing to travel throughout the British Isles and America to read before audiences. He gave a final series of readings in London that began in 1870.
Dickens died of a fatal stroke on June 9, 1870, leaving the novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished. The day of his burial was made a day of national mourning in England.
For More Information
Chesterton, G. K., and F. G. Kitton. Charles Dickens. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1903. Reprint, London: Burns and Oates, 1975.
Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Dickens: Being a Good-Natured Guide to the Art and Adventures of the Man Who Invented Scrooge. New York: Viking, 1998.
Marcus, Steven. Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey. New York: Basic Books, 1965.
Sirabian, Robert. Charles Dickens: Life, Work, and Criticism. Toronto: York Press, 2002.
Smiley, Jane. Charles Dickens. New York: Viking, 2002.
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DICKENS, Charles (John Huffham)
Characters and experimentsThe strength of Dickens is his characters, particularly the comics and eccentrics, who live largely through their speech and through catchphrases that helped fix them for readers who met them in monthly serials. Their names are notable and often say something about their bearers: Mr Bumble the Beadle, the benevolent brothers Cheeryble, Thomas Gradgrind the Utilitarian, the fawning clerk Uriah Heep, the convict Abel Magwitch, Mr McChoakumchild the teacher, the amiable nurse Clara Peggotty, the impostor Mr Pumblechook, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. His place-names are also often suggestive: Blunderstone, Coketown, Dotheboys Hall, Eatanswill. Like Scott, Dickens worked dialect into his novels, particularly COCKNEY, for which he used idiosyncratic spelling that nonetheless conveyed the sounds and cadences of London, as for example the style, dialect, and accent of Mr Pickwick's servant Sam Weller:
‘That a'nt the wost on it, neither. They puts things into old gen'lm'n's heads as they never dreamed of. My father, sir, wos a coachman. A widower he wos, and fat enough for anything—uncommon fat, to be sure. His missus dies, and leaves him four hundred pound. Down he goes to the Commons, to see the lawyer and draw the blunt—wery smart—top—boots on—nosegay in his button–hole—broad-brimmed tile—green shawl—quite the gen'lm'n. Goes through the archvay, thinking how he should inwest the money—up comes the touter, touches his hat—“Licence, sir, licence?”—“What's that?” says my father.—“Marriage licence,” says the touter.—“Dash my veskit,” says my father, “I never thought o' that.”—“I think you wants one, sir, ” says the touter’ (The Pickwick Papers, ch. 10).
Dickens learned shorthand for his work as a reporter and had a good ear for slang and colloquialism, and was accused of coarseness by contemporary critics. His experiments in the presentation of material included such non-traditional syntax and punctuation as:
Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over. Thomas Gradgrind, Sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. (Hard Times, 1854, ch. 1).
Poetic proseDickens's general style is usually powerful and persuasive in direct narrative and description. He convinces the reader by an accumulation of detail that can be extravagant to the point of absurdity, but makes its effect in his imaginary world. His PROSE sometimes has an underlying rhythm close to blank verse, mimetic of sounds like the movement of coaches and trains. Some passages, with their nonclassical punctuation, such as the opening of Bleak House (1852–3), have almost the quality of free verse:
LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney pots, making a soft black drizzle with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.
StatureLike Chaucer and Shakespeare, Dickens is a giant of ENGLISH LITERATURE, his work known as much through cinema and television as through his books themselves. On his contemporary significance, David Parker, Curator of the Dickens House Museum in London, has observed: ‘For us Dickens stands where Homer did for earlier generations. We can no longer, without affectation, speak of the wisdom of Nestor, the beauty of Helen; we can, and we do, of a real Scrooge, a Micawberish attitude. Like Homer, Dickens gave us forms for the imagination, unconstrained by genre, affecting even the very language. Dramatizations of his novels were staged even before the final parts appeared, and the narratives he created now yield us, not only films and television serials, but also musicals, newspaper cartoons, Christmas cards, toby jugs, shop-window dressings, and annual festivals’ (letter to the Sunday Times, 26 Feb. 1989). See CIRCUMLOCUTION, HUMOUR, SAXONISM.
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Charles Dickens, 1812–70, English author, b. Portsmouth, one of the world's most popular, prolific, and skilled novelists.
Early Life and Works
The son of a naval clerk, Dickens spent his early childhood in London and in Chatham. When he was 12 his father was imprisoned for debt, and Charles was compelled to work in a blacking warehouse. He never forgot this double humiliation. At 17 he was a court stenographer, and later he was an expert parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle. His sketches, mostly of London life (signed Boz), began appearing in periodicals in 1833, and the collection Sketches by Boz (1836) was a success.
Soon Dickens was commissioned to write burlesque sporting sketches; the result was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836–37), which promptly made Dickens and his characters, especially Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick, famous. In 1836 he married Catherine Hogarth, who was to bear him 10 children; the marriage, however, was never happy. Dickens had a tender regard for Catherine's sister Mary Hogarth, who died young, and a lifelong friendship with another sister, Georgina Hogarth.
The early-won fame never deserted Dickens. His readers were eager and ever more numerous, representing every English social strata—from barely literate factory workers to Queen Victoria—and Dickens worked vigorously for them, producing novels that appeared first in monthly installments and then were made into books. Oliver Twist (in book form, 1838) was followed by Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and by two works originally intended to start a series called Master Humphrey's Clock:The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Throughout the mid-19th cent. Dickens was probably the best-known and most beloved man in England.
Dickens wrote rapidly, sometimes working on more than one novel at a time, and usually finished an installment just when it was due. Haste did not prevent his loosely strung and intricately plotted books from being the most popular novels of his day. When he visited America in 1842, he was received with ovations but awakened some displeasure by his remarks on copyright protection and his approval of the abolition of slavery. He replied with sharp criticism of America in American Notes (1842) and the novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843). The first of his Christmas books was the well-loved A Christmas Carol (1843). In later years other short novels and stories written for the season followed, notably The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.
Dickens lived in Italy in 1844 and in Switzerland in 1846. Dombey and Son (1848) was the first in a string of triumphant novels including David Copperfield (1850), his own favorite novel, which was partly autobiographical; Bleak House (1853); Hard Times (1854); Little Dorrit (1857); A Tale of Two Cities (1859); Great Expectations (1861); and Our Mutual Friend (1865). In 1856 he bought his long-desired country home at Gadshill. Two years later, because of Dickens's attentions to a young actress, Ellen Ternan, his wife ended their marriage by formal separation. Her sister Georgina remained with Dickens to care for his household and the younger children.
Dickens was working furiously, editing and contributing to the magazines Household Words (1850–59) and All the Year Round (1858–70) and managing amateur theatricals. To these labors he added platform readings from his own works; three tours in the British Isles (1858, 1861–65, 1866–67) were followed by one in America (1867–68). When he undertook another English tour of readings (1869–70), his health broke, and he died soon afterward, leaving his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished. His grave is in Westminster Abbey.
Charles Dickens is one of the giants of English literature. He wrote from his own experience a great deal—the Marshalsea prison dominates Little Dorrit, and his father was at least partially the model for Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield. Although he was expert at journalistic reporting, he wrote nothing that was not transformed from actuality by his imagination. Sharp depiction of the eccentricities and characteristic traits of people was stretched into caricature, and for generations of readers the names of his characters—Mr. Pickwick, Uriah Heep, Miss Havisham, Ebenezer Scrooge—have been household words.
His enormous warmth of feeling sometimes spilled into sentimental pathos, sometimes flowed as pure tragedy. Dickens was particularly successful at evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of London, and the customs of his day. He attacked the injustices of the law and social hypocrisy and evils, but after many of the ills he pictured had been cured he gained still more readers. Some critics complain of his disorderliness in structure and of his sentimentality, but none has attempted to deny his genius at revealing the very pulse of life.
See his letters ed. by M. House et al. (12 vol., 1965–2002) and selected letters ed. by J. Hartley (2012). The old standard biography of Dickens is by his friend John Forster (3 vol., 1872–74; new ed. 1928, repr. 1969). See also biographies by E. Johnson (2 vol., 1952), P. Collins (1987), F. Kaplan (1988), P. Ackroyd (1990), M. Slater (2009), R. Douglas-Fairhurst (2011), C. Tomalin (2011), and R. L. Patten (2012); C. Tomalin, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (1991, repr. 2001), L. Nayder, The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2010), and R. Gottlieb, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens (2012); studies by M. Engel (1959), I. Brown (1964 and 1970), A. Wilson (1970), A. E. Dyson (1971), J. Carey (1974), E. Johnson, (1986), and J. Smiley (2002); P. Collins, ed., Dickens: The Critical Heritage (1971); M. and M. Hardwick, The Charles Dickens Encyclopedia (1973, repr. 1993), P. Hobsbaum, A Reader's Guide to Charles Dickens (1973), N. Page, A Dickens Companion (1987), P. Ackroyd, Dickens' London (1988), and S. Ledger and H. Furneaux, ed., Charles Dickens in Context (2011).
"Dickens, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dickens-charles
"Dickens, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dickens-charles
Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
The great novelist Charles Dickens, born on February 7, 1812, had a keen interest in the supernatural, although he was skeptical of Spiritualism, and wrote several thrilling ghost stories, notably To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt and The Signalman.
His novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood was interrupted in its monthly publication by the death of Dickens on July 8, 1870. Shortly thereafter, T. P. James, an uneducated American mechanic of Brattleboro, Vermont, obtained messages in automatic writing that he claimed emanated from the author.
Between Christmas 1872 and July 1873, scripts came from under his hand that continued Dickens's unfinished novel. The posthumous section was longer than the first and presented a surprising continuity of the manner of thought, style, and peculiarities of Dicken's writing. The two sections were published together in 1874 as The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with Charles Dickens given as the author.
Spiritualists the world over hailed the book as a most convincing proof of spirit return. However, psychologist Theodore Flournoy, in Spiritism and Psychology (1911), undertook to demonstrate that Dickens himself had nothing to do with the affair and that everything was easily explained by processes of latent incubation and subconscious imagination within the medium himself. He quoted the conclusions of Mme. K. Fairbanks, a distinguished member of the Geneva University, who observed that "there are certainly very successful passages such as the scenes between the two women, Billickin and Twinkleton. But there are others which are just the contrary."
Furthermore, John Forster, author of The Life of Charles Dickens (1911), discovered among the papers of the deceased author a whole scene in Edwin Drood, written in advance and destined to figure later in the novel. Flournoy found it incredible that the "spirit" of the author, who remembered so clearly the part of the volume already published that no more than three new persons are introduced in any part of the second section, should have completely forgotten the chapter written and left in manuscript.
Forster averred that as a striking proof of identity Dickens would have made an allusion to it from the spirit world. In the book itself and in the cover blurb, T. P. James does not pretend that he has not read Dickens and his last novel. "Now it is evident," stated Flournoy, "that if he had not read Dickens he would most probably have boasted of his accomplishment, because that would have rendered his performance much more extraordinary. Let us not forget," he finally remarked, "that the medium had two and a half years to imbibe the original work of the author, and in letting this 'simmer'—without counting the six months afterwards employed in automatic writing— three years in all were completed. We must confess that this greatly reduces its marvelous character."
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his book The Edge of the Unknown (1930), concludes that "the actual inspiration of Dickens is far from being absolutely established…. It reads like Dickens gone flat." In the same book he recorded some personally obtained automatic contributions to the solution of the mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens had a special interest in mesmerism or animal magnetism, through his friendship with John Elliotson. In 1838 Dickens witnessed a demonstration by Elliotson of the "mighty curative powers of animal magnetism." During his tour in Italy in 1844, Dickens became acquainted with the family of Emile de la Rue, a Swiss banker residing in Genoa. Dickens actually practiced mesmerism on Madame de la Rue as a treatment for her neurasthenic disorders, even experimenting with treatment at a distance. On one such occasion, while he was concentrating on sending this force over a distance, his wife, Catherine, seated nearby, fell into a "mesmeric trance," her senses numbed and her extremities cold. When Dickens awakened her, she said she had been "magnetized."
Dickens's interest of in such occult subjects was often masked by his popular writings in a jocular vein. In 1848 he practiced mesmerism on the artist John Leech, who had suffered from a severe fall. Afterward, Dickens wrote to John Forster with the jocular comment, "What do you think of my setting up in the magnetic line with a large brass plate? 'Terms twenty-five guineas per nap."'
Fairbanks, K. "Le Cas Spirite de Dickens." Arch. de Psychol. T.I. (June 1892).
Jacobson, Wendy S. The Companion to "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." London: Allen & Unwin, 1986.
Kaplan, Fred. Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975.
"Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dickens-charles-1812-1870
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Dickens, Charles John Huffam
Sue Minna Cannon
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Dickens, Charles John Huffam
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