Charles Dickens: his life and times

Charles Dickens:
his life and times
Biographical Stuff
1812 to 1870
Father, John, was a clerk who continually
lived beyond his means and went to debtor’s
prison while young Charles was 12. Wife &
sibs there too, but not Charles
So he had to work in a boot-blacking factory
and got 6 shillings a week to support them
Bio continued…
When dad got released, mom wanted
Charles to keep working there, much to his
This really scarred him and introduces to his
future works themes such as Abandonment,
Alienation, Betrayal, and Childhood Poverty
Bio. continued…
Eventually became a day pupil at a school in
London, & at age 15 got a job in a lawyer’s
office, as an office boy. Learned shorthand.
Had various jobs as a reporter, and after the
success of The Pickwick Papers (1837,
serial format), he became a full-time
novelist. 15 novels total. Countless short
stories and articles.
Last Bio. Bits
Got married to Catherine Hogarth, but
separated from her around 1858, ATOTC
was published in 1859 when he’s w/Ellen
Terman, a young actress. She inspires
several characters, as do most people he
has known.
Last book was begun but never finished:
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1869.
His contemporaries
King George III to Queen Victoria (mostly her! He’s
considered a Victorian writer)
George Elliot (aka Mary Anne Evans, a British
novelist who wrote Middlemarch, Silas Marner,
and others)
Mark Twain, who saw him speak on an American
William Thackery, who wrote Vanity Fair. This guy
is a friend and rival writer.
Anthony Trollope
The Industrial Revolution
Dickens and Serial Publication
by Joel J. Brattin
Dickens' first novel, the brilliantly comic THE PICKWICK
PAPERS, brought him enormous fame. Like all his
subsequent novels, it was originally published serially,
that is, in installments or parts over time.
He not only published serially but wrote serially too,
planning each installment carefully. (His contemporary,
Anthony Trollope, also published this way, but unlike
Dickens, he never published the first word of a novel
until after he had written the last.) Dickens had to
consider structure carefully, thinking simultaneously of
the needs of his serial readers and of those who would
eventually read the books in volume form. He published
his serial fiction as part of weekly or monthly
magazines, which might contain material by other
authors as well, or in stand-alone monthly installments.
The publication of fiction in parts grew dramatically in the
1830s, as a direct result of the wild success of THE
PICKWICK PAPERS. Serial publication had several
advantages. For the reader, it substantially reduced the
cash outlay required to pay for fiction: for a novel in
monthly installments like PICKWICK, one had to pay only
one shilling a month, instead of a guinea (21 shillings) or
more for an entire novel. For the publisher, it expanded
the market for fiction, as more people could afford to buy
on the installment plan; it also allowed the opportunity to
advertise, as ads could easily be incorporated into the
little booklets in which a typical Dickens novel was issued.
And for the author, it created a greater intimacy with the
audience, something Dickens always relished.
Most of Dickens' novels were serialized in 20 monthly
installments, or numbers. They were usually bound in
green paper, and -- after the first two monthly
installments of THE PICKWICK PAPERS -- always included
precisely 32 pages of text, two engraved illustrations,
and, usually, 16 pages of advertisements. The final
installment of a novel was double size, including more
text, four illustrations (generally a frontispiece and
engraved title page), and front matter, such as a preface,
table of contents, and list of illustrations; the final double
installment cost not one but two shillings. Each month,
the purchaser could buy the current installment from his
bookseller, and wealthy patrons, after buying the last
installment, could take the monthly numbers to the
bookbinder, discard the covers and advertisements, and
have them bound into an attractive book for their
In 1859, he founded a new weekly
journal, ALL THE YEAR ROUND, in which
he published A TALE OF TWO CITIES,
treating the French Revolution. The novel
appeared without illustrations in its
weekly form, but Dickens' publishers also
produced a version in monthly numbers,
with two illustrations per installment.
His Fame
HUGELY popular in his time; one of 10 Brits who
could read, did read him, and oftentimes out loud
to others.
 Considered 2nd only to Shakespeare
 His work appealed to people of all conditions,
w/sympathy for issues like homelessness, child
labor, work houses, free and easy access to
medical care, responsibility of the individual to one
another, poverty, etc.
Fame continued…
Technological developments (popularity of printing
houses, serially published novels) helped him to
reach a larger audience whom he influenced
emotionally (the death of Little Nell--people were
crying all over England)
 Was a popular guest speaker, amateur actor,
comic artist, and entertainer. Did public readings
of his works for charity and eventually for pay.
Went on tour :)
Victorian Literature
Education was spreading in this age (1832-1901), and as
literacy increased, so did the impact of the written word.
Probably at no other time before or since did books enjoy
such enormous popularity and influence.
Romanticism, the previous literary era (begins 1789) had
begun as a radical departure from literary practice; now it
was part of mainstream culture, but slightly stale. A new
generation of writers, coming of age in a time of rapid
technological change, began to examine the social effects
of that change.
The heroes of this gen’s lit would be ordinary people
facing the day-to-day problems of life.
Realism – a literary mvt that presented life as it is, rather
than as it might be. It sought to portray human life
realistically, w/o the sugar coating or idealism of the
previous era.
Because it focused on these more down-to-earth or prosaic
events, the lit is more suited to prose (poetry being the
hallmark of the Romantics). Therefore, this shift in style
helped make the Victorian Age the great age of the British
This lit appealed to a growing middle-class aud. b/c of
topics like family relationships, religion and morality,
social change, and social reform.
New ideas in science also made their mark on Victorian lit.
Naturalism – an outgrowth of realism that sought to apply the
techniques of scientific observation to writing about life in the
industrial age.
-These writers crammed their novels with details like the sour
smells of poverty or the harsh sounds of factory life in order to
promote social reform
-They directly contradicted the romantic view of Nature as
kindly and benevolent
-The idea that nature mirrored human feelings was a “pathetic
fallacy.” Naturalist writers portrayed nature as harsh and
indifferent to the human suffering it often caused.
HOWEVER, it would be a mistake to assume that Victorian
writers abandoned Romanticism altogether. Some blended
it w/realism or naturalism. Others sought to revive it, so
we have two important Victorian literary movements:
1. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Formed about 1850, this
group of painters (Mrs. Willshire’s favorites, by the by) and
poets sought to ignore the ugliness of industrial life by
portraying nature w/the fidelity found in medieval Italian
art before the Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520).
The most famous artist/poet is Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
2. The Aesthetic Mvt. These writers appeared at the tail end
of the era, and turned away from the everyday world and
sought to create “art for art’s sake” works whose sole
reason for being was their perfection/beauty. (Wilde)
More Famous Names
Thomas Hardy
Emily Bronte (tho’ Wuthering Heights has many Romantic
Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre, lots of realism)
Rudyard Kipling
Robert Louis Stevenson
Arthur Conan Doyle
Poets: Tennyson (poet laureate), Browning, Arnold,
Meredith, Hopkins, the Rossettis…
The Christmas Phenomenon
He probably had more influence on how Xmas is
celebrated today than anyone else in human
 …except one
 Before the beginning of the Victorian Era, Xmas
celebrations in England were actually in decline
b/c Cromwell and those other Puritans frowned
upon the old medieval traditions, which combined
celebrations of Christ’s birth w/the ancient Roman
Saturnalia festival (pagan) and the Germanic
winter festival of Yule.
Xmas continued…
Industrial Revolution meant really long
hours, and little time for family celebrations
BUT Prince Albert introduces the German
custom of Xmas tree decorating to England
Xmas carols, which were almost all gone in
early 1800’s, are making a comeback
1st Xmas card from 1840’s.
He published A Christmas Carol in 1843.
Xmas continued…
He called it, “a good time: a kind forgiving,
charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of
in the long calendar of the year, when men and
women seem by one consent to open their shut-up
hearts freely, and to think of other people below
them as if they really were fellow-passengers to
the grave, and not another race of creatures
bound on other journeys.”
 So it’s NOT about commercialized nonsense, but
in hearts and homes.
Last Slide!
Upon his death, a little girl in London said,
“Mr. Dickens dead? Then will Father
Christmas die too?”
Just a brief clarification: Is Xmas supposed
to be the most important holiday for