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Introduction ...... 5
Chapter I. Charles Dickens - His Life and Work ..... 7
1.1. The Growth of Man and Writer ... 7
1.2. Charles Dickens - A Social Critic .............. 11
1.3. The Effects of Dickens`s childhood experience on his
work ... 14
Chapter II. The Child - Hero .............. 19
2.1. Dickens`s Deep Sympathy for the Most Innocent of His
Characters ........... 19
2.2. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Paul Dombey, Pip -
Small Adults ...... 23
2.3. Florence Dombey, Little Dorrit, Agnes Wickfield, Little
Nell - Little mothers ............. 33
Chapter III. Children`s Conditions of Existence .... 40
3.1. Life in the English Cities .......... 40
3.2. Contemporary Evils: the Workhouse, the Warehouse, the Debtors` Prison . 45
3.3. The Educational System .......... 51
Chapter IV. The Influence of the Adults on the Lives of the Children ........ 57
4.1 The Two Opposite Spheres of Life ............ 58
4.1.1 The Benevolent Society ...... 59
4.1.2 The Evil World . 63
4.2 Dickens`s Art of Portraying Comic and Grotesque
Characters ............ 69
4.3 An Unforgettable character - Mr. Wilkins Micawber ...... 74
Final Remarks .... 78
References ........ 79
Bibliography ...... 85
Appendix .......... 87



Charles Dickens thought it was his responsability as a writer to present the good and the bad sides of Victorian England. He dealt with many problems of his time such as poverty, education, workhouses, sanitation etc. and he tried to resolve them in his books. He appealed to his contemporaries` feelings trying to make them aware of the reality around them and urging them to take a stand.

But the thing that really affected Dickens was the situation of the children. He associated himself with the thought of suffering children more than any writer. We just have to read Dickens`s biography to understand why he was so interested in this situation. He himself suffered a lot during his childhood. He himself went through all those stages of humiliation, despair, sorrow exactly like the ones experienced by the children of his fantasy. Through his work he contributed a lot to the improvement of children`s living conditions. He could never forget his miserable childhood in London where he was forced to know all the sad realities of his time, the work in a warehouse, the debtors` prison, the squalid city. This is exactly what I`ll try to present in this paper.

I`ll begin this paper with a presentation of Dickens`s busy and full life, his desire to be a critic of his time. But I`ll concentrate more on his childhood because of its effects on his life as a famous writer.

In the second chapter I`ll present some of the children that appear in his novels and his sympathetic feeling for them. I`ll insist on the fact that all these children, boys and girls, act more like adults than like people of own age.

In the third chapter I`ll deal with the children`s conditions of living. I`ll present separately London as opposed to the bright English country side, the institutions of exploitations: the workhouse and the warehouse, as well as a reality specific of his age: the debtors` prison. In the end of this chapter I`ll try to show the problems of the English educational system. I`ll illustrate all these aspects with many excerpts from Dickens`s novels.

In the last chapter I`ll present the characters surrounding and influencing the children. I`ll deal with the two spheres of life always present in the novels which have a child as the hero: the evil world and the good society. In the next subchapter I`ll try to prove Dickens`s art of portraying comic and grotesque characters. A special subchapter will be dedicated to one of his best characters: Mr. Wilkins Micawber.



As a spokesman of his age, a social critic, a reformer and as an inexhaustible inventor of characters and plots, Charles Dickens was one of the most popular and internationally celebrated prose - writers of the Victorian age. His ability to combine comedy, pathos and social satire in his novels won him thousands of contemporary readers and many of his characters, such as Mr. Micawber, Mr. Pickwich, Quilp or Uriah Heep, etc. have entered the British national consciousness.

As a man of his age, he certainly could not have agreed with Henry James who believed that "the greater the writer, the smaller the audience"1, nor with Walter Pater or the aesthetes. Dickens believed that a writer should address the entire nation. Like the Renaissance dramatists or the great romantics, he wrote for a large public wanting to be read and understood, corresponding and collaborating with the public. The sentimentalization of certain categories of people, the emphasis on "tenderness", the frequent happy endings of his novels are due to the literary preferences of his age, as well as to his convinction that a novelist should be a "popular writer".

1.1 The Growth of Man and Writer

Charles Dickens was born al Landport (Portsea), near Portsmouth, on 2 February 1812. He was the second of eight children. His father, John, was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office at Portsmouth. The happiest period of Dickens`s troubled childhood was spent in Chatham, although the family moved around a great deal. In 1822, facing financial ruin, the family moved to London and, on 5 February 1824, Charles began to work in a blacking warehouse. His childhood came to an end in this "crazy tumble down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats" 2.Dickens recalled this painful experience in the early chapters of David Copperfield (1849 - 1850) and it seemed to haunt him all his life. A few days later, his father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison and, except for Charles, who had lodgings in Camden, all the family lived in the prison with him like the Dorrit family in the first part of Little Dorrit (1855 - 1857). John Dickens was released after three months in prison by having declared himself an insolvent debtor. Charles continued to work in the warehouse until 1825, when after a quarrel between his father and his employer, he was sent to schoot at Wellington House Academy.

At the age of 15, Dickens began working in the office of a legal firm, in Gray`s Inn. Here he taught himself shorthand, and 18 months later he started as a freelance reporter in the court of Doctors` Commons. He worked for various newspapers as Parliamentary reporter and provincial correspondent. These occupations “sharpened his observations and developed his inclination to render with minute details the speech of people, their physical presence, the look of things"3.

In 1829, Dickens felt deeply in love with Maria Beadnell, but she seems to have rejected him. The comic portrayal of Flora Casby in Little Dorrit is said to have been inspired by Dickens`s meeting with Maria again later in life.

At this time, Dickens wanted to follow an acting career, and he remained fascinated by the theatre throughout his life, often directing and acting in shows to raise money for charitable causes and friends in distress. However, when the Monthly Magazine accepted his story A Dinner al Poplar Walk (1833), Dickens was diverted into his subsequent literary career. He published a series of sketches of daily life in London in the Evening Chronicle, using the pseudonym "Boz", his younger brother`s childhood nickname. Through his work, he met his wife Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of the Evening Chronicle`s co - editor. They married in 1836.

Meanwhile, a London publisher had suggested reprinting a volume of similar sketches to accompany illustrations by the celebrated artist George Cruikshank. The results was the popularly acclaimed Sketches by Boz (1836). It was follwed by The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, which was serialized in twenty monthly instalments, between 1836 - 1837. The work was a tremendous success, rendering Dickens famous at only 25.

In this early phase of his literary creation, Charles Dickens wrote in the picaresque tradition of the eighteenth century and he also introduced a new genre of "social problem fiction" which was much imitated throughout the 1840s. To this period belong: Oliver Twist (1937 - 1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1838 - 1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and Barnaby Rudge (1841).

In 1842, at the height of this literary career, he visited America. There, Dickens spoke for the abolition of slavery and against the piracy of foreign books in America, the latter being a practice which had adversely affected his own earnings. The visit was generally disappointing for his expectations. The literary results of his trip were: American Notes (1842) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1843). Both included bitter remarks on the American democracy and way of life.

The same year he began his best - known short stories called Christmas Tales ( A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man) which he finished in Genoa next year. During his travels in Switzerland he wrote Dombey and Son. This is usually cited as the point where Dickens`s fiction matured. Dickens gradually changed the picaresque pattern of his earlier novels and adapted it to the requirements of subtler effects and a richer social and psychological content. In the last phase of his creation, Dickens devised his plots more carefully, focused on certain issues and themes, and gave up the episodic narrative of the earlier stage. In this period he published: David Copperfield (1849 - 1850), Bleak House (1852 - 1853), Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1856 - 1857), Great Expectations (1860 - 1861), Our Mutual Friend (1864 - 1865).

In 1858 Dickens separated from his wife, by whom he had ten children, and developed his friendship with a young actress called Ellen Ternan. Dickens`s health, adversely affected by the strain of his very popular readings, which he instituted in 1858, and a demanding tour of America in 1867 - 1868, began to fail in the late 1860s. In 1869 he began writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood which would remain unfinished. On 8 June 1870 he suffered a stroke at his home at Gad`s Hill, near Rochester, Kent, and died the next day.

Dickens was undoubtedly one of the most important literary figures of the nineteenth century. He revived and transformed the serialized, illustrated novel, and captured the public imagination with his emotive and exciting fiction. As a novelist, he can perhaps be accused of sentimentality, sensationalism, and an inability to portray female characters as other than angels or monsters, but nevertheless he must be remembered for his exposure of contemporary realities, of social injustice, of poverty etc.

1.2 Charles Dickens - A Social Critic

Charles Dickens thought it was his duty as a writer to present the picture of the England that he knew: the obscurity of lower town life, the poverty, the sorrows and misery, the social injustice, the decadence of the petty bourgeoisie, the mercantile mentality of the upper bourgeoisie etc. When he presented all these aspects of English life, he wrote with a sense of trust and responsability. As documents, his writings have often been quoted to illustrate specific institutions and realities of the nineteenth century England: child labour, the workhouses and the warehouses, the debtors` prison, schools, the Court of Law etc.

The period during which Dickens lived and wrote was a time of suffering, of conflict, of expansions, of progress. The 63 years of Queen Victoria`s reign (1837 - 1901) were years of colossal internal and external transformations: the rapid growth of industrial capital was changing the structure of the dominant class; the social and economic transformations, affected by the Industrial Revolution were increasing the difference between the rich and the labouring poor, the growth of a class consciousness among the workers determined new social relationships (e.g. the Chartist movement); externally, the incipient imperialist expansions was transforming England into the British Empire.

It was a harsh, coarse, ugly time. Let`s take for instance, the matter of hanging. Through all his work we see Dickens preoccupied with the gallows. His description of a hanging, written to a daily paper, is said to have had its part in putting an end to public executions. But that was late in his life. At his most impressionable time, the hanging served as one of the entertainments of Londoners. It was an age in which the English character seemed bent on exhibiting all its grossest, meanest and most stupid characteristics. Sheer ugliness of everyday life reached a limit not easily surpassed.

Dickens`s sense of responsability as a citizen - writer, his active humanism, his generous desire to redress the social balance made him denounce the living conditions of the paupers. In his novels, he presented the new forms of exploitation that the poors were subjected to. Prompted by the great Chartist crisis, Dickens deals with a problem of great actuality at that particular moment, the problem of workhouses. Here the paupers were subjected to a barbarous regime of 14 hours work daily, man and wife separated, so were parents from children. The industrial bourgeoisie was interested in securing the largest number of hands at the lowest possible prices.