Charles Dickens was a unique English author. The author of the poor is often said of him. Charles Dickens was a popular writer also while he was alive. Today, several of his works are still alive, they stand as bauts in the history of literature. I myself am a big admirer of Charles Dickens and will in this blog try to tell a little about what he wrote, why he was so popular and that he actually got to change things in English society through his books.
It started with the Pickwick Club
It is not entirely correct to say that the first book was The Posthumous Papers of the PICKWICK CLUB, but the book is Dickens’ first major work. Like so many other of his books, it came out in 20 monthly issues. The booklets came out with the pseudonym Boz. When Dickens collected all the booklets for a book, he published the book as Charles Dickens without a pseudonym.
The first issue had a circulation of 400 interest grew strongly and the last edition was 40,000.
The book is a very humorous one. It depicts some men’s travels around England. When I first read the book, I did not get all the humorous events, it is something we do not fully understand today as they understood when the book was published in 1836-37. In the book, Charles Dickens addresses a couple of topics that become central in later works. We get acquainted with the English legal system and the use of debt imprisonment in the book.
Charles Dickens and Debt Prison
Charles Dickens’ father was in debt for a while. Debt imprisonment was a hopeless punishment for those who accumulated debts they could not pay. They were put in jail and held there until the debt was paid. There are three books in particular that Dickens writes about debt prison. It is David Copperfield, Litle Dorit and Pickwick Club.
Charles Dickens was perhaps the main reason why the debt prison system was abolished in England in the mid-1800s.
The good against the evil
Many people think the characters in some of Dickens’ books are one-sided. The characters are often good or evil. Most famous are perhaps the evil characters of Charles Dickens. I can say:
- Uriah Heep in David Copperfield: A slick person and deceiver.
- Fagin in Oliver Twist: A criminal who used street children to steal.
- Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist: A Brutal Criminal.
Charles Dickens most famous works
- Pickwick Club (1836-37) A humorous book
- Oliver Twist (1837-39) The story of the orphaned boy who is exploited by criminals in London. The book is also a story about the poorhouses and how people were exploited there.
- Nicholas Nickleby(1838-39) Is a social satire. The book has many characters and includes the boarding schools. In its time, the book led to a change in the law in the operation of boarding schools in England.
- A Christmas Carol (1843) A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most famous Christmas story ever written. Did you know, for example, that Scrooge McDuck is named after Scrooge?
- David Copperfield (1849-50) A partly autobiographical work. In the book, we meet the cunning deceiver Uriah Heep. The book addresses both deception, love and the problems surrounding debt imprisonment.
- Bleak House (1852-53) A book that addresses the bureaucracy in the civil service and an infinitely long inheritance case where in the end the entire inheritance is eaten up in fees to the lawyers.
- Litle Dorrit (1855-57) A book that once again addresses the issue of debt imprisonment.
- A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens himself thought that this was his best work. The book is a description of the French Revolution and how people could be unjustly judged. When the book was made, there were many who talked about a revolution in England and Dickens would probably warn against street justice. At the same time, he pointed to the various social conditions that made the revolution possible. Dickens did not take a position on an English revolution.
- Great Expectations (1860-61) Here we meet a famous figure in Dickens’ world, the poor boy Pip. We also meet the somewhat mysterious and bitter woman Miss Havisham. The book is considered by many to be Dickens’ perhaps best work.
- Our Mutual Friend (1864-65) This book was not really well received by critics when it was published. It was not until some time in the 20th century that it received its recognition. The book combines satire with social analysis. The story itself is exciting and apparently some different stories that are merged into a context at the end of the book.
Booklets, books and reading aloud
Most of Charles Dickens’ works were first published as monthly booklets. He did this for two reasons. One is for the books to reach as many people as possible. A booklet most people could afford to buy, a large book was reserved for those with money. Another reason was that then he could get some kind of feedback from his readers. Sometimes he obviously changed something in his books after reactions from readers.
Charles Dickens was very much convinced that his books should reach the whole people. Many people in 19th century England could not read. Dickens therefore often traveled around and read aloud from his books in order to reach them.