Charles Dickens

Melisa Klimaszewski

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online May 2014 | | DOI:
Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens (b. 1812–d. 1870) lived for fifty-eight years, and his writings have impacted readers for nearly two centuries. Dickens’s novels have helped to shape the way many readers imagine Christmas, London, childhood, English society, the family, and the modern industrial city. Dickens did not just write (and read) novels; he also wrote journalism, edited journals, staged amateur theatricals, wrote letters, collaborated with others, gave speeches and public readings, and traveled fairly extensively. With a work ethic that most would find extraordinary, and seemingly inexhaustible stores of energy, the sheer amount of Dickens’s textual output is stunning. The long walks he took, in addition to the time he spent writing, not only indicate that he was vitally strong but also keep our sense of Dickens connected to a physical world. The spaces of his life—the streets of London and Paris, the countryside of Kent, the fells of the Lake District—are as much a part of his writing as his caricatures of quirky personalities. Fascination with Dickens as a figure, as a man, and as a symbol fuels scholarship as much as consideration of his characters and distinctive writing style. Over two hundred years have passed since Dickens’s birth, yet widespread popular and academic interest in his writing persists. First editions of Dickens’s novels occupy shelf space in libraries from South Africa to Montreal. Fiction writers feel, and resist, the influence of Dickens’s fiction from the Caribbean to Australia. One of the most useful websites dedicated to Dickens is based in Japan, and several American hip-hop artists refer to Dickens in their music. Welcome or not, Dickens symbolizes various things, ideas, and sentiments around the globe, and the flexibility of his canon to continue to resonate in such a multitude of contexts is part of what motivates continued inquiry. To begin to study Dickens can feel paralyzing, especially for a beginning scholar. Dickens’s writings, however, remain welcoming to new and returning readers, and they continue to act as the best starting point. Companions and collections of essays are a good next step because they often spark ideas or include assessments that clarify a particular area of concentration. One hopes that, from there, the organic development of an idea will lead to the approaches and sections in this article most fruitful for future exploration.

Article.  21632 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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