The writer who pricked the social conscience of Victorian England
He was called ‘The Great Inimitable’, ‘Boz’, Mr Dickens and Charles – by whichever name you know him, he was one of the greatest writers of all time. He created the Dickensian world and peopled it with unforgettable characters. He entranced rich and poor, English and foreign, with his novels, and he brought about great social change through what he wrote.
But what about the Dickens the man? I am fascinated by his life and personality and love to read biographies of him. There are times I hate him – for example, in his unkind treatment of his poor wife. At other times I love him. I admire the way he dragged himself up from a difficult childhood and used the experience to create children who suffer in his fiction. I hate the fact that he died before he turned sixty, leaving a novel that will forever be unfinished; but I rejoice that he lived as long as he did and made full use of his time in giving us such masterpieces as Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and, of course, A Christmas Carol.
My personal favourite is Bleak House because it holds so many stories which all connect so superbly at the end. I find Esther Summerson an intriguing character – secretive, damaged by her childhood, and very complex. Generally, I am not fond of Dickens’s heroines – they are far too good and dutiful for me. I prefer my heroines to have more spice and naughtiness in them. However, I love Dickens’s middle-aged women – women like Mrs Merdle and her famous bosom, or poor little Miss Flite, Miss Havisham or Aunt Betsy Trotwood.
Charles Dickens was the most famous novelist of his age and is recognised by many as the greatest English writer after Shakespeare. But Dickens was more than just a creator of memorable and colourful characters – he was essentially a subversive writer, spending his life fighting tyranny and injustice.
“We have to go back to Shakespeare to find a writer who, through fiction, has so enriched the thought of the people. Admit all Dickens’s faults twice over, we still have one of the greatest writers of modern times.”
― Jerome K. Jerome
A great place to start your Charles Dickens discovery journey is with my video talk Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol. First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella is now inextricably linked to Christmas. It is profound, archetypal, and it touches desires deep within us all for second chances and the opportunity to redeem past mistakes. In this fully illustrated 60 minute video I discuss Charles Dickens’ life and most famous work. Watch it free on my YouTube channel.
I am an active member of the Dickens Society of NSW, a literary society which aims to knit together, in a common bond of friendship, lovers of that great master of humour and pathos, Charles Dickens. The NSW Dickens Society is a branch of the International Dickens Fellowship.
Visitors are warmly welcomed to attend the society’s meetings, which are held at the City Tattersalls Club, Sydney.
Dickens and his ill-treated wife Catherine had ten children, many of whom were named for famous people and who had to live up to the very high expectations of their demanding father. Dickens could be huge fun, especially when his children were small, but as they grew older he expected success, neatness, and a display of the same drive and energy he himself possessed. Most of his children disappointed him, several inherited the ineptitude with money that Dickens’s own father had shown (he was the original for the immortal Mr Micawber) and Dickens was left paying the debts.
Today Dickens societies around the world honour his life and works, he has appeared on bank notes and postage stamps, Dickens Festivals and conferences are held regularly and his manuscripts are prized in libraries and museums. There are hundreds of books available about Charles Dickens and I’ve linked to some of these below.
If you’re keen to find materials to learn more, let me help you. Please use this search field to help find articles about Charles Dickens on this website.