Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

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“A Christmas Carol” is published

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a more

How Charles Dickens Helped the English Get Fresh Air

Charles Dickens is best known for his sagas of poverty and beauty in London—stories that contain slice-of-life details only a man who had lived in such conditions could capture. But Dickens did more than raise awareness of the plight of the poor in England. More than once, his more

8 Historical Figures with Unusual Work Habits

1. Charles Dickens The author of such beloved books as “A Tale of Two Cities” and “A Christmas Carol” was notoriously fussy about his working conditions. He kept to a military-strict schedule, always writing in his study between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. before striking off on more

7 Amazing Rags to Riches Stories

1. Catherine I The life of Empress Catherine I of Russia could easily be confused with something out of a fairy tale. The future queen was born in 1684 into a family of Lithuanian peasants, and was orphaned at the age of 3 after both her parents died from the plague. Taken in by more

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Charles Dickens

“I am born.”Born in 1812 to middle-class parents in the English city of Portsmouth, Charles Dickens—like several of his protagonists—entered the workforce at a young age. When his father was sent to debtors’ prison, 12-year-old Boz (Charles’ childhood nickname) helped more

Final installment of “A Tale of Two Cities” is published

On November 15, 1859, Charles Dickens’ serialized novel, A Tale of Two Cities, comes to a close, as the final chapter is published in Dickens’ circular, All the Year Round. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was more

Charles Dickens - HISTORY

ickens was not only the first great urban novelist in England, but also one of the most important social commentators who used fiction effectively to criticize economic, social, and moral abuses in the Victorian era. Dickens showed compassion and empathy towards the vulnerable and disadvantaged segments of English society, and contributed to several important social reforms. Dickens’s deep social commitment and awareness of social ills are derived from his traumatic childhood experiences when his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison under the Insolvent Debtors Act of 1813, and he at the age of twelve worked in a shoe-blacking factory. In his adult life Dickens developed a strong social conscience, an ability to empathise with the victims of social and economic injustices. In a letter to his friend Wilkie Collins dated September 6, 1858, Dickens writes of the importance of social commitment: &ldquoEverything that happens […] shows beyond mistake that you can’t shut out the world that you are in it, to be of it that you get yourself into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it that you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yourself into the bargain&rdquo (Marlow, 132).

Dickens believed in the ethical and political potential of literature, and the novel in particular, and he treated his fiction as a springboard for debates about moral and social reform. In his novels of social analysis Dickens became an outspoken critic of unjust economic and social conditions. His deeply-felt social commentaries helped raise the collective awareness of the reading public. Dickens contributed significantly to the emergence of public opinion which was gaining an increasing influence on the decisions of the authorities. Indirectly, he contributed to a series of legal reforms, including the abolition of the inhumane imprisonment for debts, purification of the Magistrates’ courts, a better management of criminal prisons, and the restriction of the capital punishment.

The Novel a Repository of Social Conscience

Dickens was a great moralist and a perceptive social commentator. He was by no means completely under the influence of Carlyle, but he followed his teaching when he exposed the ills of Victorian society. Although his fiction was not politically subversive, he called to remedy acute social abuses. After Dickens’s death his social theory was long regarded as oversimplified, but as Jane Smiley pointed out in The Guardian , in recent years it has been reassessed:

For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the era of the new left, Dickens was considered well-meaning but naive his &ldquoprogramme&rdquo was thought to be poorly worked out and inconsistent — not Marxist enough (though Marx was a great fan of Dickens). After Marxism went out of fashion, Dickens’s amorphous social critique came to seem more universally true because it was not programmatic but based on feelings of generosity and brotherhood combined with specific criticisms of practices common in England during his lifetime. [June 24, 2006]

Dickens was not the first novelist to draw attention of the reading public to the deprivation of the lower classes in England, but he was much more successful than his predecessors in exposing the ills of the industrial society including class division, poverty, bad sanitation, privilege and meritocracy and the experience of the metropolis. In common with many nineteenth-century authors, Dickens used the novel as a repository of social conscience. However, as Louis James argues:

Dickens is at once central and untypical in the ‘social novel’. A novelist universally associated with social issues, he was attacked for allowing his imagination to come between his writing and his subject, and his underlying attitudes can be evasive. In his fiction, most characters have a job but Dickens rarely shows them at work. His novels are centrally about social relationships, yet his model for this would seem, as Cazamian noted, a perpetual Christmas of warm feelings, and the benevolent paternalism of Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol (1843). Even his explicit working-out of class and industrial issues in Hard Times (1854), based on a hasty visit to a factory strike in Preston, identified the factory problem not with economics but with the Utilitarian denial of human imagination, and juxtaposed the factories of Coketown against the bizarre world of Sleary’s travelling circus. [548]

However much radicals admired him, Dickens was never a radical author, but he was much more sensitive to social abuse than William Makepeace Thackeray, and responded readily to the concerns of the Condition of England Question.

The Condition of England

One example of Dickens's ideal world and two of his darker visions in Phiz's illustrations, which Dickens closely supervised: (a) Christmas Eve at Mr. Wardle's . Two scenes in debtor's prison: (b) Mr. Pickwick sits for his Portrait . (c) The Warden's Room . [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

In The Pickwick Papers (1837) Dickens created a utopian and nostalgic vision of pre-Victorian and pre-industrial England prior to a rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Although the novel was designed to be comic, it is not free of Dickens’s characteristic social commentary, which would become more pronounced in his later novels. The descriptions of Eatanswill (Chapter 13) and the grim Fleet prison (Chapter 41) anticipate some of Dickens’s preoccupations with the Condition of England, which are revealed in his subsequent novels dealing with the darker and more disgusting side of Victorian times. The following passage from The Pickwick Papers anticipates Dickens’s lifelong concern with the effects of industrialisation on English society.

It was quite dark when Mr. Pickwick roused himself sufficiently to look out of the window. The straggling cottages by the roadside, the dingy hue of every object visible, the murky atmosphere, the paths of cinders and brick-dust, the deep-red glow of furnace fires in the distance, the volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring everything around the glare of distant lights, the ponderous wagons which toiled along the road, laden with clashing rods of iron, or piled with heavy goods — all betokened their rapid approach to the great working town of Birmingham.

As they rattled through the narrow thoroughfares leading to the heart of the turmoil, the sights and sounds of earnest occupation struck more forcibly on the senses. The streets were thronged with working people. The hum of labour resounded from every house lights gleamed from the long casement windows in the attic storeys, and the whirl of wheels and noise of machinery shook the trembling walls. The fires, whose lurid, sullen light had been visible for miles, blazed fiercely up, in the great works and factories of the town. The din of hammers, the rushing of steam, and the heavy clanking of engines was the harsh music which arose from every quarter. [632-33]

Dickens’s later novels contain some of his most trenchant pieces of social commentary. Beginning with his second novel, Oliver Twist , through Nicholas Nickleby , A Christmas Carol , The Chimes , Dombey and Son , Bleak House , Hard Times , and ending with Little Dorrit , Dickens totally rejected the claims of classical economics and showed his moral concern for the social well-being of the nation. His early novels expose isolated abuses and shortcomings of individual people, whereas his later novels contain a bitter diagnosis of the Condition of England.

Oliver Twist (1837-39), which represents a radical change in Dickens’s themes, is his first novel to carry a social commentary similar to that contained in the subsequent Condition-of-England novels. According to Louis Cazamian, &ldquothe success of Twist confirmed Dickens’ determination to write on social topics, and the inception of Chartism means that the burning social issue of the day was the problem of the working class &rdquo (164). Dickens explores many social themes in Oliver Twist , but three are predominant: the abuses of the new Poor Law system, the evils of the criminal world in London and the victimisation of children. The critique of the Poor Law of 1834 and the administration of the workhouse is presented in the opening chapters of Oliver Twist . Dickens gives the most uncompromising critique of the Victorian workhouse, which was run according to a regime of prolonged hunger, physical punishment, humiliation and hypocrisy.

In contrast to Pickwick , in Oliver Twist Dickens shows England as a country of what Disraeli called &ldquothe two nations&rdquo: the rich and privileged and the poor living in abject and inhumane conditions of deprivation, misery and humiliation. Many characters of Oliver Twist function as allegories. Dickens challenges the popular Victorian beliefs that some people are more prone to vice than others. Like Frances Trollope, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens was fully aware of the victimisation of women in Victorian society. Nancy is forced into prostitution by poverty, hunger and life in a corrupt environment. John Bayley points out that

Nancy’s living is the living of England, a nightmare society in which drudgery is endless and stupefying, in which the natural affections are warped, and the dignity of man appears only in resolution and violence. It is a more disquieting picture than the carefully and methodically symbolized social panoramas of Bleak House , Little Dorrit , and Our Mutual Friend . [61]

In Oliver Twist Dickens presents a portrait of the macabre childhood of a considerable number of Victorian orphans. The orphans are underfed, and for a meal they are given a single scoop of gruel. Oliver, one of the oppressed children, dares to ask for more gruel and is severely punished.

The evening arrived the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him the gruel was served out and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ [15]

This scene, which has become &ldquothe most familiar incident in any English novel&rdquo (Sanders, 412), strongly appealed to the Victorian conscience. Dickens challenged the Victorian idea of charity for the so-called &ldquodeserving poor&rdquo. He showed persuasively that the workhouse was a failed attempt to solve the problem of poverty and unwanted children.

Oliver Twist can be read as a textbook of Victorian child abuse and a social document about early Victorian slum life. When Oliver goes with Sowerberry to fetch the body of a woman dead of starvation, he can see an appalling view of derelict slum houses.

Some houses which had become insecure from age and decay, were prevented from falling into the street, by huge beams of wood reared against the walls, and firmly planted in the road but even these crazy dens seemed to have been selected as the nightly haunts of some houseless wretches, for many of the rough boards which supplied the place of door and window, were wrenched from their position, to afford an aperture wide enough for the passage of a human body. The kennel was stagnant and filthy. The very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in its rottenness, were hideous with famine. (Ch. 5, 44)

Dickens succeeded in making Victorian public opinion more aware of the conditions of the poor. He depicted persuasively the disorder, squalor, blight, decay, and the human misery of a modern industrial city. Although the initial condition of England discourse changes into a sentimental moral fable on the subsequent pages, Oliver Twist is an important manifestation of Victorian social conscience.

Three of Phiz's illustrations for Nicholas Nickleby : (a) Nicholas Starts for Yorkshire . (b) The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall . (c) Nicholas Astonishes Mr. Squeers and Family . [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

The motif of child abuse in the context the Victorian education system is continued in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9). The novel contains a serious social commentary on the conditions of schools where unwanted children were maltreated and starved. Nicholas is sent to Dotheboys Hall, a school run by the cruel and abusive headmaster Wackford Squeers.

Pale and haggard faces, lank and bony figures, children with the countenances of old men, deformities with irons upon their limbs, boys of stunted growth, and others whose long meagre legs would hardly bear their stooping bodies, all crowded on the view together there were the bleared eye, the hare-lip, the crooked foot, and every ugliness or distortion that told of unnatural aversion conceived by parents for their offspring, or of young lives which, from the earliest dawn of infancy, had been one horrible endurance of cruelty and neglect. There were little faces which should have been handsome, darkened with the scowl of sullen, dogged suffering there was childhood with the light of its eye quenched, its beauty gone, and its helplessness alone remaining there were viciousfaced boys, brooding, with leaden eyes, like malefactors in a jail and there were young creatures on whom the sins of their frail parents had descended, weeping even for the mercenary nurses they had known, and lonesome even in their loneliness. With every kindly sympathy and affection blasted in its birth, with every young and healthy feeling flogged and starved down, with every revengeful passion that can fester in swollen hearts, eating its evil way to their core in silence, what an incipient Hell was breeding here! [88]

The novel directs this ironical attack at Victorian public opinion, which was either unaware or condoned such treatment of poor children. Dickens was critical about the Victorian education system, which is reflected not only in Nicholas Nickleby , Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend , but also in his journalism and public speeches. As a boy he was shocked to read reports about the cheap boarding schools in the North. In Nicholas Nickleby Dickens describes abusive practices in Yorkshire boarding schools. However, Dickens does not only criticise the malicious education system, but he is primarily concerned with the fates of these unfortunate children who are representatives of the most vulnerable portion of the society.

Dickens’s novella, A Christmas Carol (1843), is an anti-Malthusian tale. The author shows his disgust with the Malthusian principle of uncontrolled population growth. Scrooge speaks about charity collector like Malthus, who proposed abolition of poor laws:

&ldquoIf they would rather die,&rdquo said Scrooge, &ldquothey had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.&rdquo[21]

A Christmas Carol was Dickens’s response to the Children’s Employment Commission Report on the miseries suffered by many poor children. Dickens exposed suggestively selfishness and greed as the dominant features of his England. He described almost in a documentary manner Christmas celebrated by the working poor of early-Victorian England.

Although Dickens’s early works implied faith in the new commercial middle class as opposed to the old aristocracy, the writer saw the discrepancy between the ideas and practice of this new class and the principles of morality and ethic. As a social commentator, Dickens saw the need for the reform of English society he urged that the wealthy and privileged exhibit a greater humanitarianism towards the poor and the vulnerable.

During the 1850s Dickens’s interests shifted gradually from the examination of individual social ills to the examination of the state of society, particularly its laws, education, industrial relations, the terrible conditions of the poor. Increasingly, apart from fictional plots, his novels contained a considerable amount of social commentary similar to Henry Mayhew’s nonfictional narratives about the London poor.

Two of Phiz's illustrations for Bleak House . (a) Extreme poverty: The Visit to the Brickmaker's . (b) Treatment of poor children: Mr. Chadband 'Improving' a Tough Subject . [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Although Bleak House (1852-53) is often called England’s first authentic contribution to modern detective fiction, it also sharply indicts the inequities in Victorian society. Dickens’s finest novel, although not his most popular, it exposes the abuses of the court of Chancery and administrative incompetence. For Dickens, the Court of Chancery became synonymous with the faulty law system, expensive court fees, bureaucratic practices, technicality, delay and inconclusiveness of judgments. Apart from the critique of the Chancery courts, Dickens also criticises slum housing, overcrowded urban graveyards, neglect of contagious diseases, electoral corruption, preachers class divisions, and neglect of the educational needs of the poor. The book opens with the famous description of London in fog.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.[3]

This fog is also very symbolic. It stands for institutional oppression which penetrates into every segment of Victorian society. Dickens sees London as a place of human misery, and the world he perceives is governed by greed and money. Bleak House also carries a warning against the excesses of the laisez-faire economy. The descriptions of streets, buildings and people are realistic and reflect the living conditions of England in the mid-19th century. The colours in the novel are predominantly grey and black, and the fog becomes one of the central symbols of the novel.

Three of Phiz's dark-plate illustrations for Bleak House . (a) Urban squalor: Tom All Alone's . Darkness inside and outside Chesney Wold: (b) The Ghost's Walk . (c) Sunset in The long drawing-room at Chesney Wold . [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Bleak House provides not only a satirical look at the legal system in England, which often destroys the lives of innocent people, but also offers a vast panorama of Victorian England, which includes the foggy streets of London, filthy slums, the maze of the Inns of Court and also the peaceful countryside, with characters ranging from murderous villains, a &ldquofallen woman&rdquo (Lady Deadlock) to virtuous girls and members of landed aristocracy, all of whom are affected by the flaws of the torturous Victorian judiciary system. The atmosphere, places and events are described with great authenticity. In this view Bleak House is one of the most important novels about the condition of Victorian society. As Terry Eagleton has noted, &ldquoDickens sees his society as rotting, unravelling, so freighted with meaningless matter that it is sinking back gradually into some primeval slime &rdquo (40).

Bleak House does not merely refer to Mr. Jarndyce’s house but also to the Condition of England, which is represented as a &ldquo gloomy edifice&rdquo and whose judicial system must be reformed if England wants to continue as a modern nation. Dickens describes emphatically urban poverty by the example of the slum street,where poor Jo lives, in a manner similar to the Sanitary Reports. The moral corruption of Chancery is juxtaposed with the physical decay of the slums:

Jo lives — that is to say, Jo has not yet died – in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and the Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years – though born expressly to do it. Twice lately there has been a crash and a cloud of dust, like the springing of a mine, in Tom-all-Alone’s and each time a house has fallen. These accidents have made a paragraph in the newspapers and have filled a bed or two in the nearest hospital. The gaps remain, and there are not unpopular lodgings among the rubbish. As several more houses are nearly ready to go, the next crash in Tom- all-Alone’s may be expected to be a good one. [Ch. 16, 182-183]

Dickens’s description of Tom-All-Alone’s, a rookery in St Giles, east of Charing Cross Road, can be read both as historical evidence and a powerful literary symbol of the Condition of England, where uncontrolled industrialisation contributed, in Dickens’s opinion, to misery, decay and disease. Likewise, Chancery stands as a bitter metaphor of moral corruption which pervades the upper classes.

The social consequences of industrialisation and urbanisation are perhaps most persuasively depicted in Hard Times (1854), which Dickens wrote at the prompting of urgent external circumstances. Hard Times is more than any other of his Condition-of-England novels influenced by Carlyle’s social criticism. It deals with a number of social issues: industrial relations, education for the poor, class division and the right of common people to amusement. It also draws on contemporary concern with reforming divorce laws. Cazamian sees Dickens in Hard Times as an &ldquointermediary link between the social thought of Carlyle and Ruskin.&rdquo (173) Raymond Williams described Hard Times as &ldquoa thorough-going and creative examination of the dominant philosophy of industrialism — of the hardness that Mrs Gaskell saw as little more than a misunderstanding, which might be patiently broken down&rdquo (93). Similarly, in his study, &ldquoThe Rhetoric of Hard Times&rdquo, David Lodge wrote:

On every page Hard Times manifests its identity as a polemical work, a critique of mid-Victorian industrial society dominated by materialism, acquisitiveness, and ruthlessly competitive capitalist economics. To Dickens, at the time of writing Hard Times , these things were represented most articulately, persuasively, (and therefore dangerously) by the Utilitarians. [86]

Dickens, like Thomas Carlyle and many other contemporary intellectuals, criticised Utilitarianism, although they confused utilitarian ethics with laissez-faire industrial capitalism, which, like Utilitarianism, was based on the self-interest principle.

In Hard Times Dickens created a Condition-of-England novel, which directly engaged with contemporary and social issues. The volume edition of the novel bore the subtitle: &ldquoFor these Times&rdquo, which referred to Carlyle’s essay of 1829 &ldquoSigns of the Times&rdquo (text). As Michael Goldberg has pointed out, &ldquoCarlyle remained a hero to Dickens throughout his life…&rdquo (2), and his critique of Utilitarianism bears a strong affinity with Carlyle’s. Carlyle exposed the dangers of a mechanistic and inhuman system which deprived people of such human qualities as emotion, affection and imagination. Dickens echoes many of Carlyle’s arguments against the power of social machinery and materialist consciousness. However, contrary to Carlyle, Dickens shows that the positive aspects of human nature are not easily destroyed. Fancy, imagination, compassion and hope do not disappear completely. They are preserved in such characters as Sissy, Rachael and Sleary. Even Mr. Gradgrind revealed eventually some traces of humanness. Ultimately, Dickens did not take up Carlyle’s favourite theme of the aristocratic hero as the saviour of a disintegrating society.

Coketown, the city of Fact, foreshadows the emergence of a monstrous mass urban society based on rationalism, anonymity, dehumanisation. The dominant feature of the town is its inherent ugliness. Its inhabitants lack individuality and are the product of an inhuman, materialistic society.

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steamengine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next. [Ch. V,28]

In Hard Times human relationships are contaminated by economics. The principles of the ‘dismal science’ led to the formation of a selfish and atomistic society. The social commentary of Hard Times is quite clear. Dickens is concerned with the conditions of the urban labourers and the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism. He exposes the exploitation of the working class by unfeeling industrialists and the damaging consequences of propagating factual knowledge (statistics) at the expense of feeling and imagination. However, although Dickens is critical about Utilitarianism, he cannot find a better way of safeguarding social justice than through ethical means.&ldquoIn place of Utilitarianism, Dickens can offer only good-heartedness, individual charity, and Sleary’s horse-riding like other writers on the Condition of England Question, he was better equipped to examine the symptoms of the disease than to suggest a possible cure&rdquo (Wheeler, 81).

Hard Times proves that fancy is essential for human happiness, and in this aspect it is one of the best morally uplifting novels. Dickens avoided propagating employer paternalism in the manner of Disraeli, Charlotte Brontë and Gaskell, and strongly opposed commodification of labour in Victorian England. As John R. Harrison has pointed out:

The target of Dickens’s criticism, however, was not Bentham’s Utilitarianism, nor Malthusian theories of population, nor Smith’s free-market economics, but the crude utilitarianism derived from such ideas by Benthamite Philosophical Radicals, which tended to dominate social, political, and economic thinking and policy at the time the novel was written. The Gradgrind/Bounderby philosophy is that the Coketown &ldquo Hands&rdquo are commodities, &ldquo something&rdquo to be worked so much and paid so much, to be &ldquoinfallibly settled&rdquo by &ldquolaws of supply and demand,&rdquo something that increased in number by a certain &ldquo rate of percentage&rdquo with accompanying percentages of crime and pauperism in fact, “something wholesale, of which vast fortunes were made&rdquo.&rdquo [116]

Hard Times was in fact an attack on the Manchester School of economics, which supported laissez-faire and promoted a distorted view of Bentham’s ethics. The novel has been criticised for not offering specific remedies for the Condition-of-England problems it addresses. It is debatable whether solutions to social problems are to be sought in fiction, but nevertheless, Dickens’s novel anticipated the future debates concerning anti-pollution legislation, intelligent town-planning, health and safety measures in factories and a humane education system.


Dickens as a social commentator exerted a profound influence on later novelists committed to social analysis. Some of his concerns with the Condition-of-England Question were further dealt with in the novels of Charles Kingsley, George Eliot, George Gissing, George Orwell, and recently in the postmodern novels of Martin Amis and Zadie Smith.


Bayley, John. &ldquoOliver Twist: ‘Things as They Are’”, in: John Gross, Gabriel Pearson, eds., Dickens and the Twentieth Century . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962.

Cazamian, Louis. The Social Novel in England, 1830-1850: Dickens, Disraeli, Mrs. Gaskell, Kingsley .1903. Translated by Martin Fido. London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1973.

Connelly, Mark. Orwell and Gissing . New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

___. Nicholas Nickleby . Oxford: Oxford Unversity Press, 1999.

___. Bleak House . Ware, Herdfortshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

___. Oliver Twist . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

___. A Christmas Carol . Chicago: Rand McNally, 1912.

Eagleton, Terry. “Hard Times: False, Fragmented and Unfair, Dickens’s 19th-Century London Offers a Grimly Prophetic Vision of the World Today”, New Statesman , vol. 132, April 7, 2003.

Goldberg, Michael Goldberg, Carlyle and Dickens . Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1972.

Harrison, John R. Harrison. &ldquoDickens’s Literary Architecture: Patterns of Ideas and Imagery&rdquo in Hard Times. Papers on Language & Literature , Southern Illinois University Vol. 36, 2000.

James, Louis. “The Nineteenth Social-Novel in England” in: Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism , ed. by John Peck. London: Routledge, 1990.

Lodge, David. “The Rhetoric of Hard Times”, in Edward Gray, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hard Times. A Collection of Critical Essays . Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Marcus, Steven. Dickens, From Pickwick to Dombey . New York: Basic Books, 1965.

Marlow, James E. Charles Dickens: The Uses of Time . Cranbury, NJ, London, Mississauga, Ont: Associated University Presses, 1994.

Orwell, George. &ldquoCharles Dickens&rdquo, in Inside the Whale and Other Essays .

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wheeler, Michael. English Fiction of the Victorian Period 1830-1890 . New York: Longman, 1994.

Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society, 1780-1950 . New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Miss Havisham, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens 1860)

Miss Havisham is a fictional character in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. She is portrayed as a rich, middle-aged woman who has suffered with mental wellness problems due to being jilted at the altar when she was young. In the book she lives in her once luxurious home which is now in ruins and wears her wedding dress for the rest of her life. Miss Havisham was part villain to Pip and part fairy Godmother to her adopted daughter Estella.

Gillian Anderson as “Miss Havisham” in Great Expectations -2011 (Directed by Brian Kirk)

Charles Dickens&apos Books

Throughout his career, Dickens published a total of 15 novels. His most well-known works include:

&aposOliver Twist&apos (1837-1838)

Oliver Twist, Dickens first novel, follows the life of an orphan living in the streets. The book was inspired by how Dickens felt as an impoverished child forced to get by on his wits and earn his own keep. 

As publisher of a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany, Dickens began publishing Oliver Twist in installments between February 1837 and April 1838, with the full book edition published in November 1838. 

Dickens continued showcasing Oliver Twist in the magazines he later edited, including Household Words and All the Year Round. The novel was extremely well-received in both England and America. Dedicated readers of Oliver Twist eagerly anticipated the next monthly installment.

&aposA Christmas Carol&apos (1843)

On December 19, 1843, Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The book features the timeless protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a curmudgeonly old miser, who, with the help of ghosts, finds the Christmas spirit. 

Dickens penned the book in just six weeks, beginning in October and finishing just in time for the holiday celebrations. The novel was intended as a social criticism, to bring attention to the hardships faced by England’s poorer classes. 

The book was a roaring success, selling more than 6,000 copies upon publication. Readers in England and America were touched by the book’s empathetic emotional depth one American entrepreneur reportedly gave his employees an extra day’s holiday after reading it. Despite literary criticism, the book remains one of Dickens’ most well-known and beloved works.

&aposDealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son&apos (1846 to 1848)

From October 1846 to April 1848, Dickens published, in monthly installments, Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son. The novel, which was published in book form in 1848, centers on the theme of how business tactics affect a family’s personal finances. 

Taking a dark view of England, it is considered pivotal to Dickens’ body of work in that it set the tone for his other novels.

&aposDavid Copperfield&apos (1849 to 1850)

David Copperfield was the first work of its kind: No one had ever written a novel that simply followed a character through his everyday life. From May 1849 to November 1850, Dickens published the book in monthly installations, with the full novel form published in November 1850. 

In writing it, Dickens tapped into his own personal experiences, from his difficult childhood to his work as a journalist. Although David Copperfield is not considered Dickens’ best work, it was his personal favorite. It also helped define the public’s expectations of a Dickensian novel.

&aposBleak House&apos (1852 to 1853)

Following the death of his father and daughter and separation from his wife, Dickens’ novels began to express a darkened worldview. 

In Bleak House, published in installments from 1852 to 1853, he deals with the hypocrisy of British society. It was considered his most complex novel to date.

&aposHard Times&apos (1854)

Hard Times takes place in an industrial town at the peak of economic expansion. Published in 1854, the book focuses on the shortcomings of employers as well as those who seek change.

&aposA Tale of Two Cities&apos (1859)

Coming out of his �rk novel” period, in 1859 Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel that takes place during the French Revolution in Paris and London. He published it in a periodical he founded, All the Year Round

The story focuses on themes of the need for sacrifice, the struggle between the evils inherent in oppression and revolution, and the possibility of resurrection and rebirth.

&aposGreat Expectations&apos (1861)

Great Expectations, published in serial form between December 1860 to August 1861 and in novel form in October 1861, is widely considered Dickens’ greatest literary accomplishment. 

The story, Dickens’ second to be narrated in the first person, focuses on the lifelong journey of moral development for the novel’s protagonist, an orphan named Pip. With extreme imagery and colorful characters, the well-received novel’s themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and good versus evil.

Other Novels

After the publication of Oliver Twist, Dickens struggled to match the level of its success. From 1838 to 1841, he published The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge

Another novel from Dickens’ darker period is Little Dorrit (1857), a fictional study of how human values come in conflict with the world’s brutality. Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend, published in serial form between 1864 to 1865 before being published as a book in 1865, analyzes the psychological impact of wealth on London society.

Charles Dickens Biography

Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870), probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society.

Dickens's novels criticize the injustices of his time, especially the brutal treatment of the poor in a society sharply divided by differences of wealth. But he presents this criticism through the lives of characters that seem to live and breathe. Paradoxically, they often do so by being flamboyantly larger than life: The 20th-century poet and critic T. S. Eliot wrote, "Dickens's characters are real because there is no one like them." Yet though these characters range through the sentimental, grotesque, and humorous, few authors match Dickens's psychological realism and depth. Dickens's novels rank among the funniest and most gripping ever written, among the most passionate and persuasive on the topic of social justice, and among the most psychologically telling and insightful works of fiction. They are also some of the most masterful works in terms of artistic form, including narrative structure, repeated motifs, consistent imagery, juxtaposition of symbols, stylization of characters and settings, and command of language.

Dickens established (and made profitable) the method of first publishing novels in serial instalments in monthly magazines. He thereby reached a larger audience including those who could only afford their reading on such an instalment plan. This form of publication soon became popular with other writers in Britain and the United States.

Dickens was born in Portsmouth, on England's southern coast. His father was a clerk in the British Navy pay office a respectable position, but with little social status. His paternal grandparents, a steward (property manager) and a housekeeper, possessed even less status, having been servants, and Dickens later concealed their background. Dickens's mother supposedly came from a more respectable family. Yet two years before Dickens's birth, his mother's father was caught embezzling and fled to Europe, never to return.

The family's increasing poverty forced Dickens out of school at age 12 to work in Warren's Blacking Warehouse, a shoe-polish factory, where the other working boys mocked him as "the young gentleman." His father was then imprisoned for debt. The humiliations of his father's imprisonment and his labor in the blacking factory formed Dickens's greatest wound and became his deepest secret. He could not confide them even to his wife, although they provide the unacknowledged foundation of his fiction.

Soon after his father's release from prison, Dickens got a better job as errand boy in law offices. He taught himself shorthand to get an even better job later as a court stenographer and as a reporter in Parliament. At the same time, Dickens, who had a reporter's eye for transcribing the life around him, especially anything comic or odd, submitted short sketches to obscure magazines. The first published sketch, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" (later retitled "Mr. Minns and His Cousin") brought tears to Dickens's eyes when he discovered it in the pages of The Monthly Magazine in 1833. From then on his sketches, which appeared under the pen name "Boz" (rhymes with "rose") in The Evening Chronicle, earned him a modest reputation. Boz originated as a childhood nickname for Dickens's younger brother Augustus.

Dickens became a regular visitor at the home of George Hogarth, editor of The Evening Chronicle, and in 1835 became engaged to Hogarth's daughter Catherine. Publication of the collected Sketches by Boz in 1836 gave Dickens sufficient income to marry Catherine Hogarth that year. The marriage proved unhappy.

Soon after Sketches by Boz appeared, the fledgling publishing firm of Chapman and Hall approached Dickens to write a story in monthly instalments. The publisher intended the story as a backdrop for a series of woodcuts by the then-famous artist Robert Seymour, who had originated the idea for the story. With characteristic confidence, Dickens, although younger and relatively unknown, successfully insisted that Seymour's pictures illustrate his own story instead. After the first instalment, Dickens wrote to the artist he had displaced to correct a drawing he felt was not faithful enough to his prose. Seymour made the change, went into his backyard, and expressed his displeasure by blowing his brains out. Dickens and his publishers simply pressed on with a new artist. The comic novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, appeared serially in 1836 and 1837 and was first published in book form The Pickwick Papers in 1837.

The runaway success of The Pickwick Papers, as it is generally known today, clinched Dickens's fame. There were Pickwick coats and Pickwick cigars, and the plump, spectacled hero, Samuel Pickwick, became a national figure. Four years later, Dickens's readers found Dolly Varden, the heroine of Barnaby Rudge (1841), so irresistible that they named a waltz, a rose, and even a trout for her. The widespread familiarity today with Ebenezer Scrooge and his proverbial hard-heartedness from A Christmas Carol (1843) demonstrate that Dickens's characters live on in the popular imagination.

Dickens published 15 novels, one of which was left unfinished at his death. These novels are, in order of publication with serialization dates given first: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837 1837) The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-1839 1838) The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839 1839) The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841 1841) Barnaby Rudge (1841) Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844 1844) Dombey and Son (1846-1848 1848) The Personal History of David Copperfield (1849-1850 1850) Bleak House (1852-1853 1853) Hard Times (1854) Little Dorrit (1855-1857 1857) A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Great Expectations (1860-1861 1861) Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865 1865) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished 1870).

Through his fiction Dickens did much to highlight the worst abuses of 19th-century society and to prick the public conscience. But running through the main plot of the novels are a host of subplots concerning fascinating and sometime ludicrous minor characters. Much of the humor of the novels derives from Dickens's descriptions of these characters and from his ability to capture their speech mannerisms and idiosyncratic traits.

Dickens was influenced by the reading of his youth and even by the stories his nursemaid created, such as the continuing saga of Captain Murderer. These childhood stories, as well as the melodramas and pantomimes he saw in the theater as a boy, fired Dickens's imagination throughout his life. His favorite boyhood readings included picaresque novels such as Don Quixote by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and Tom Jones by English novelist Henry Fielding, as well as the Arabian Nights. In these long comic works, a roguish hero's exploits and adventures loosely link a series of stories.

The Pickwick Papers, for example, is a wandering comic epic in which Samuel Pickwick acts as a plump and cheerful Don Quixote, and Sam Weller as a cockney version of Quixote's knowing servant, Sancho Panza. The novel's preposterous characters, high spirits, and absurd adventures delighted readers.

After Pickwick, Dickens plunged into a bleaker world. In Oliver Twist, he traces an orphan's progress from the workhouse to the criminal slums of London. Nicholas Nickleby, his next novel, combines the darkness of Oliver Twist with the sunlight of Pickwick. Rascality and crime are part of its jubilant mirth.

The Old Curiosity Shop broke hearts across Britain and North America when it first appeared. Later readers, however, have found it excessively sentimental, especially the pathos surrounding the death of its child-heroine Little Nell. Dickens's next two works proved less popular with the public.

Barnaby Rudge, Dickens's first historical novel, revolves around anti-Catholic riots that broke out in London in 1780. The events in Martin Chuzzlewit become a vehicle for the novel's theme: selfishness and its evils. The characters, especially the Chuzzlewit family, present a multitude of perspectives on greed and unscrupulous self-interest. Dickens wrote it after a trip to the United States in 1842.

Many critics have cited Dombey and Son as the work in which Dickens's style matures and he succeeds in bringing multiple episodes together in a tight narrative. Set in the world of railroad-building during the 1840s, Dombey and Son looks at the social effects of the profit-driven approach to business. The novel was immediately successful.

Dickens always considered David Copperfield to be his best novel and the one he most liked. The beginning seems to be autobiographical, with David's childhood experiences recalling Dickens's own in the blacking factory. The unifying theme of the book is the "undisciplined heart" of the young David, which leads to all his mistakes, including the greatest of them, his mistaken first marriage.

Bleak House ushers in Dickens's final period as a satirist and social critic. A court case involving an inheritance forms the mainspring of the plot, and ultimately connects all of the characters in the novel. The dominant image in the book is fog, which envelops, entangles, veils, and obscures. The fog stands for the law, the courts, vested interests, and corrupt institutions. Dickens had a long-standing dislike of the legal system and protracted lawsuits from his days as a reporter in the courts.

A novel about industry, Hard Times, followed Bleak House in 1854. In Hard Times, Dickens satirizes the theories of political economists through exaggerated characters such as Mr. Bounderby, the self-made man motivated by greed, and Mr. Gradgrind, the schoolmaster who emphasizes facts and figures over all else. In Bounderby's mines, lives are ground down in Gradgrind's classroom, imagination and feelings are strangled.

The pervading image of Little Dorrit is the jail. Dickens's memory of his own father's time in debtors' prison adds an autobiographical touch to the novel. Little Dorrit also contains Dickens's invention of the Circumlocution Office, the archetype of all bureaucracies, where nothing ever gets done. Through this critique and others, such as the circular legal system in Bleak House, Dickens also investigated the ways in which art makes meaning and the workings of his own narrative style.

A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris during the French Revolution (1789-1799). It stands out among the novels as a work driven by incident and event rather than by character and is critical both of the violence of the mob and of the abuses of the aristocracy, which prompted the revolution. The successful Tale of Two Cities was soon followed by Great Expectations, which marked a return to the more familiar Dickensian style of character-driven narrative. Its main character, Pip, tells his own story. Pip's "great expectations" are to lead an idle life of luxury. Through Pip, Dickens exposes that ideal as false.

Dickens's last complete novel is the dark and powerful Our Mutual Friend. A tale of greed and obsession, it takes place in an ill-lit and dirty London, with images of darkness and decay throughout. Only 6 of the 12 intended parts of Edwin Drood had been completed by the time Dickens died. He intended it as a mystery story concerning the disappearance of the title character.

The end of Dickens's life was emotionally scarred by his separation from his dutiful wife, Catherine, as the result of his involvement with a young actress, Ellen Ternan. Catherine bore him ten children during their 22-year marriage, but he found her increasingly dull and unsympathetic. Against the advice of editors, Dickens published a letter vehemently justifying his actions to his readers, who would otherwise have known nothing about them.

Following the separation, Dickens continued his hectic schedule of novel, story, essay, and letter writing (his collected letters alone stretch thousands of pages) reform activities amateur theatricals and readings in addition to nightly social engagements and long midnight walks through London. His energy had always seemed to his friends inhuman, but he maintained this activity in his later years in disregard of failing health. Dickens died of a stroke shortly after his farewell reading tour, while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens's social critique in his novels was sharp and pointed. As his biographer Edgar Johnson observed in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952), Dickens's criticism was aimed not just at "the cruelty of the workhouse and the foundling asylum, the enslavement of human beings in mines and factories, the hideous evil of slums where crime simmered and proliferated, the injustices of the law, and the cynical corruption of the lawmakers" but also at "the great evil permeating every field of human endeavour: the entire structure of exploitation on which the social order was founded."

British writer George Orwell felt that Dickens was not a revolutionary, however, despite his criticism of society's ills. Orwell points out that Dickens "has no constructive suggestions, not even a clear grasp of the nature of the society he is attacking, only an emotional perception that something is wrong." That instinctive feeling becomes so moving in the novels because Dickens made the injustices he hated concrete and specific, not abstract and general. His readers feel the abuses of 19th-century society as real through the life of his characters. Underlying and reinforcing that illusion of reality, however, is a rich and complicated system of symbolic imagery resulting from superb artistry.

Through his characters, Dickens also touched a range of readers, which was perhaps his greatest talent. As his friend John Forster wrote, his stories enthralled "judges on the bench and boys in the street" alike. The illiterate, often too poor to buy instalments themselves, pooled their pennies and got someone to read aloud to them.

Near the end of the serialization of The Old Curiosity Shop, crowds thronged to a New York pier to await the ship from London carrying the latest instalment. As it came to the dock people roared, "Is Little Nell dead?" The pathetic death of the novel's child-heroine, Nell Trent, became one of the most celebrated scenes in 19th-century fiction. Such public concern over Little Nell's end guaranteed that Dickens's social message would be heard, not only by his avid readers, but also by those in power.

Dickens was a careful craftsman, with a strong sense of design his books were strictly outlined. Any current notions that Dickens's novels are long because he was paid by the word, or sloppy because he wrote them under pressure of monthly deadlines, are simply untrue. What organizes Dickens's stories is sometimes not apparent at first glance, although it makes sense in novels that emphasize character. It is the logic of psychology, the tensions and contradictions of our drives and emotions, which Dickens plumbed, laying side by side the best and the worst of the human heart. This is a very different logic from the order of realism that rests on common sense. Dickens detested common sense, seeing in its seeming obviousness a form of tyranny.

The theater was a crucial influence on Dickens's work. As a young man Dickens tried to go on stage, but he missed his audition because of a cold. Not only did Dickens later write comic plays, melodramas, and libretti (words for musical dramas), he was also often involved in amateur theatricals for good causes, and spent his last two decades reading his own stories to packed audiences. Dickens's readings were as much a sensation in England and America as was his writing, and they proved as profitable. The readings revealed the part of the man that made him a practiced magician and hypnotist as well.

Dickens's love of the theatrical makes his works lend themselves readily to media adaptations. Motion-picture or television versions exist for almost every one of them. A Christmas Carol was one of the earliest to be adapted, first appearing as the silent film Scrooge (1901), directed by Walter R. Booth. The most notable adaptations include A Christmas Carol (1938), directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring Reginald Owen, and, probably the most famous of all, A Christmas Carol (1951), directed by Brian Desmond Hart and starring Alastair Sim. A later production titled Scrooged (1988) was directed by Richard Donner and starred Bill Murray. David Lean directed the most famous of the many versions of Great Expectations (1946). The film Oliver! (1968), a musical based on Oliver Twist and directed by Carol Reed, won six Academy Awards. Nowadays people are probably more familiar with the many BBC television miniseries productions of Dickens's works.

The Magic of Charles Dickens

Throughout the years, there have been a number of people who while famous for their different endeavours, developed a keen interest in magic. Ex-world champion boxer Muhammed Ali, movie star Orson Welles, and before his Night Court television fame, Harry Anderson were all accomplished magicians. Even his Royal Highness Prince Charles became fascinated with the art of magic that he became a member of the London Magic Circle. And then there was the literary genius, the novelist Charles Dickens. Many may not know that he is actually a part of the history of magic, but Charles Dickens was actually a conjuror.

Charles John Huffman Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on February 7 th 1812, the second of eight children. His family had a fairly humble lifestyle. Dickens became famous mostly for his literary works, which include Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Barnaby Rudge, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and The Old Curiosity Shop.

Due to difficult family circumstances (his father was imprisoned), Dickens at age 12 was forced to find work in a dreary factory where he stuck labels onto cans of boot blacking. Even at an early age, he loved the theatre and even briefly considered a stage career, but due to a slight illness, he missed the audition. Throughout his life, he maintained a keen interest in theatre. He had a fascination for circuses, wax works, pantomimes, and ghosts. His father was released from prison in 1824 and Dickens enrolled at Wellington House Academy in North London to finish his education. He left school at age 16.

Dickens began work as a law clerk then became a freelance reporter for a number of London newspapers. His writings on everyday London brought together by sketches by ‘Boz’ were published in 1836 for the Pickwick Papers. The Pickwick Papers was a specific project inspired by the adventures of gentlemen who were part of a sporting club. These were serialised from March 1836 to October 1837. Dickens also wrote a few amateur plays from 1836, but he made his real foray into acting and producing plays in the 1850s.

In April 1836, Dickens married Catherine Dickens who bore him 10 children. However, his marriage failed later on when he met the actress Ellen Ternan who became his mistress.

In 1842, Charles Dickens became fascinated with magic after attending a performance of the Viennese stage magician Ludwig Dobler at St. James Theatre in London. Dobler was then regarded as a leading performer. He greatly impressed Dickens so much so that soon afterwards, Dickens wrote to his American friend Cornelius Felton stating that he had purchased a conjuror’s ‘entire stock in trade’ and thought he might try his hand at becoming an amateur conjuror. Dickens gave his first magic show on his son’s birthday in January 1843. He continued to give magic performances for the next seven years and was known to have practiced assiduously.

At about this time, Dickens had become quite the theatre buff and no doubt his stage experience would hold him in good stead as a conjuror. However before this, his real efforts were in writing novels. Upon completion of his novels, he began to give book readings in England that became hugely popular. He visited America in 1867 where he began to give more book readings to eager audiences and these stage readings were elegant in presentation.

Perhaps his most famous magic show was in the small coastal resort of Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight in 1842. He was billed quite flamboyantly as “The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia Rhana Rhoos,” and he performed in an eastern style costume. His self-printed handbill even suggests that he used some literary license when describing his show. Salamanca is in Spain, while the Caves of Alum Bay probably refer to Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight. His rather bold statements could be seen to suggest that Dickens had a natural flair for showmanship. Look at one of his self-penned handbills here:

The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia, Rhama Rhoos

Educated cabalistically in the Orange Groves of

Salamanca and the Ocean Caves of Alum Bay.

Two cards being drawn and lent to the necromancer

by one of the company, and placed within the pack

in the necromancer’s box, will leap forth at the command

of any lady of not less than eighty years of age. *This

Wonder is the result of nine years seclusion in the mines of Russia.

A shilling being lent to the necromancer by any gentleman

of not less than 12 months and one hundred years of age

and carefully marked by the said gentleman, will disappear

from within a brazen box, at the word of command, and pass

through the hearts of an infinity of boxes, which afterwards

build themselves into pyramids and sink into a small mahogany

box at the command of the necromancers bidding.

The pyramid boxes were probably a version of the Nest of Boxes, which is still a favourite trick of many magicians.

Another effect that appealed to his audiences of the day was his vanish of a ladies watch locked in a strong box that would “fly into a half quanten loaf of bread.” His Travelling Doll that was prettily dressed was also made to vanish, leaving only the doll’s dress behind.

Perhaps his most featured magic trick was ‘The Pudding Wonder.’ In this trick, a gentleman’s hat became the receptacle for raw eggs and raw flour and minutes later, Dickens would produce a hot, cooked plum pudding that was then cut up and given to the audience. This trick was described by a friend who witnessed his performance (where Dickens was assisted by his good friend John Forster) this way:

Dickens and Forster above all exerted themselves till the perspiration was pouring down and they seemed drunk with their efforts! Only think of that excellent Dickens playing the conjuror for one whole hour—the best conjuror I ever saw (and I have paid money to see several)—and Forster acting as his servant! This part of the entertainment concluded with a plum pudding made out of raw eggs, raw flour—all the usual raw ingredients—boiled in a gentleman’s hat and tumbled out reeking all in one minute before the eyes of the astonished children and astonished grown people! That trick and his others of changing ladies pocket handkerchiefs into comfits (confectionery) and a box full of bran into a box full of live guinea pigs would enable him to make a handsome subsistence lest the bookseller trade go as it please.

Although his period of performing as a conjuror was relatively short, Dickens made a point of seeing Robert Houdin perform while visiting Paris in 1854. He was also fascinated by the French mind reader Alfred de Caston and acknowledged he lacked the real talent of these two gentlemen.

Once while on holiday on the Isle of Wight, a close friend John Leech got into difficulties while swimming, hitting his head on the rocks that left him dazed and unable to control his movements. Dickens was able to make use of his knowledge of hypnosis to place his friend into a long sleep. Upon waking, Leech found he had all his natural faculties once again.

It is not often a person can achieve such a list of achievements as Charles Dickens did. He became a renowned novelist, playwright, editor, actor, hypnotist, story reader, and poet. He is mostly remembered as one of England’s greatest novelists, but it is pleasing to know that at least for a short while, he was also one of us—a conjuror and a brother in the history of magic. Dickens gave his last magic performance in Rockingham Castle in 1849 and he passed away in Higham, UK on June 9 th 1870. He lies buried in the poets’ corner in Westminster Abbey.

I am grateful to English award-winning magician and Gold Star member of the Magic Circle Ian Keable for his kind assistance in creating this article. If you would like to read more about Charles Dickens the Conjuror, go to Ian’s website His book is titled Charles Dickens Magician: Conjuring in Life, Letters and Literature. Ian also performs a magic show called “The Secret World of Charles Dickens.”

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Yes. When Charles Dickens was 12 years old, his financially irresponsible father, John Dickens, was forced by his creditors to go to the Marshalsea debtors' prison in Southwark, London. Charles's mother and younger siblings joined him there while Charles went to stay with Elizabeth Roylance, an impoverished elderly friend of the family who lived in Camden Town. John Dickens was released from debtors' prison roughly three months later after his paternal grandmother died and left him £450, which gave him the means to pay his creditors.

The Man Who Invented Christmas true story reveals that John Dickens financial troubles didn't end when he was released from debtor's prison. After his son Charles found success as a writer, John would often go to Charles's publishers asking for loans. Eventually, Charles moved his parents away from London to the country, but his father still sent messages to his son's publishers asking for money. They moved back to London after a short time.

What was Charles Dickens's first story ever published?

How did Charles Dickens meet his wife Catherine?

In researching the accuracy of The Man Who Invented Christmas, we learned that Charles Dickens met Catherine Hogarth in 1835. At the time, he was working mostly as a political journalist for the Morning Chronicle, a London newspaper. Catherine's father, George Hogarth, was the paper's music critic and editor of the recently launched evening edition, aptly titled the Evening Chronicle. He asked Dickens to contribute Street Sketches. As they worked together, Dickens became a regular visitor to George's Fulham house. Dickens liked visiting because George was friends with Walter Scott, a novelist and hero of Dickens's. He also liked the company of George's three daughters, Georgina, Mary, and Catherine, 19.

How many children did Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine have?

In exploring The Man Who Invented Christmas true story, we learned that Charles and Catherine Dickens had a total of ten children, with the first, Charley, born in January 1837. Catherine was pregnant with their fifth child while Charles was writing A Christmas Carol.

Did Charles Dickens really have a number of flops before publishing A Christmas Carol?

Yes. At the time he was writing A Christmas Carol in 1843, his previous works were not earning much. He hadn't had a hit since 1838's Oliver Twist. He was overspending and struggling to make ends meet. One of his most popular literary failures was his historical novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty, which was published in his 1840-1841 weekly serial Master Humphrey's Clock. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a less-than flattering review of the novel for Graham's Magazine, saying that the raven in Barnaby Rudge should have been more symbolic in meaning. Ironically, Grip the raven is what inspired Poe to pen his most well-known poem, "The Raven."

Did observing the poor inspire Dickens to write A Christmas Carol?

Yes. During a visit to Manchester, Dickens observed the manufacturing workers and their squalid living conditions. What he saw helped inspire his idea for A Christmas Carol. Also helping to shape the story was what he had witnessed at the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several charitable institutions that provided free education to Britain's most destitute children. Teachers in ragged schools were mostly volunteers who worked in the poorest districts, holding class in lofts, stables, and railway arches if they had to. In writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens hoped to "strike a sledge hammer blow" for the poor. To make the novel more accessible to the masses, he reduced the price to just five shillings.

We can't forget that Dickens's own life was a huge inspiration for the novel as well. When Dickens was 10 years old, he had to leave school because his parents could no longer afford the relatively inexpensive fees. He went to London to work in a blacking factory where they made polish for various metal surfaces. He hated the fumes and harsh conditions of the factory, where he was often bullied by his coworkers. To learn more about Dickens's struggles and how he strived to make his stories fun while being a voice for social reform, watch this short Charles Dickens documentary.

Did Dickens really become obsessed with writing A Christmas Carol?

Yes. Like in the movie, he was often swept up in the emotion of the story as it unfolded. Dickens wrote that he "wept and laughed, and wept again" as he "walked about the back streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed."

Where did the filmmakers get their information from?

The movie is based on Les Standiford's 2008 non-fiction book The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. The book traces the writing and enduring legacy of Dickens's classic Christmas story, including its significant influence on the holiday as we know it today. Included in the revised version of the New York Times Best-Seller is Charles Dickens's iconic story A Christmas Carol.

Did Charles Dickens really write A Christmas Carol in just six weeks?

Did many of the people in Dickens's life provide the inspiration for his characters?

Yes. Like Christopher Plummer's role as the fictional Scrooge, who in the film is inspired by the rich, grumpy old man who Dickens hears exclaiming, "Humbug!", it is well known that many of Dickens's characters were inspired by people in his life. For example, his first love, Maria Beadnell, is thought to have inspired the character Dora in his semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield. His wife Catherine's younger sister Mary was the basis for Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist. He depicted his father, John Dickens, in the character of Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield. As for Scrooge, the character is believed to have been inspired by several people, most notably the eccentric miserly moneylender John Elwes.

Did Charles Dickens really claim to be visited by the spirits of his characters as he wrote?

Yes. Similar to Scrooge in the story, Dickens claimed that the characters he invented would haunt his waking hours, and in many ways tell him what to write. However, the movie takes this quite literally and mimics the story he is creating by turning his characters into actual spirits that provide him with his ideas. This bit of fiction seems to somewhat detract from Dickens's genius as a writer, implying that his ideas were not of his own accord. In the least, Dickens did comment that the characters in his stories were more real to him than the people in his life.

Did Charles Dickens really self-publish A Christmas Carol?

Yes. Dickens was frustrated with his publishers, Chapman and Hall, over how little money he had made from his recent book Martin Chuzzlewit. With a mortgage payment due and a fifth child on the way, Dickens decided to self-publish A Christmas Carol. The book endured production problems and ended up costing him more than he'd anticipated, which diminished his initial profits. It was released during the Christmas season of 1843, December 19 to be exact, and the initial run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. Despite his first printing selling out, he earned only £137 of an expected £1000. -Mental Floss

Did the publication of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol really help to "invent" Christmas?

The novel was a huge success and while it did help to invent some new traditions around Christmas, it mainly helped to revive the traditions and enthusiasm for Christmas, which had been in decline prior to the Oxford Movement of the Victorian era. In the movie, when Dickens goes to his publishers with his idea for the book, they tell him that Christmas is but a "minor holiday," a point that is largely accurate for the time, though the movie misses the fact that celebrating the Christmas season had already been growing in popularity prior to A Christmas Carol, which helped to cement the movement. For example, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had helped to popularize the use of the Christmas tree in homes, which had been introduced in Britain in the 18th century.

As it helped to revive Christmas, the book was also influential in inspiring various seasonal foods, including turkey and mashed potatoes, and it promoted the notion of family gatherings, games and festivities. It popularized the use of the existing term "Merry Christmas," which can be traced back to the 1500s. It helped to define the spirit of Christmas, with an emphasis on joy and charity instead of wealth and material things. Terms like "Tiny Tim" and "Scrooge," which originated from the book, emphasize these contrasting meanings of Christmas and are still widely used today. In addition, A Christmas Carol has permeated popular culture, inspiring many movies and stories.

Did Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine stay together until his death in 1870?

No. In 1857, Dickens fell in love with Ellen Ternan, one of the professional actresses he had hired to star in the play The Frozen Deep, written by Dickens and Wilkie Collins, his protégé. Ellen, 19, was 27 years his junior. Dickens and Catherine separated but did not divorce, as it was still unthinkable for someone that famous. His passion for Ellen is said to have lasted up until his death, but the extent of their affair is not known, since Ellen destroyed all of their correspondence in a bonfire, with Dickens destroying many of his personal letters in the fire too, sparing only business letters.

Was A Christmas Carol Dickens's only Christmas novel?

No. He followed 1843's A Christmas Carol with four other Christmas stories, The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848).

Broaden your knowledge of The Man Who Invented Christmas true story by watching the short documentary below.

Research Sources

Broomfield, Andrea L. (2007). Food and Cooking in Victorian England – A History. Praeger, Westport, CT.

Dickens, Cedric (1984). Dining with Dickens. Elvendon Press, UK.

Dickens, Cedric (1980). Drinking with Dickens. Elvendon Press, UK.

Dickens, Charles (republished 2011). The Complete Works of Charles Dickens, Kindle Edition. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Herbst, Sharon Tyler and Ron (2009). The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY.

Pool, Daniel (1993). What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew. Touchstone, New York, NY.

You can uncover more fascinating food history on Tori’s website: The History Kitchen.

Charles Dickens Biography

Charles Dickens (Charles John Huffam Dickens) was born in Landport, Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812. Charles was the second of eight children to John Dickens (1786–1851), a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and his wife Elizabeth Dickens (1789–1863). The Dickens family moved to London in 1814 and two years later to Chatham, Kent, where Charles spent early years of his childhood. Due to the financial difficulties they moved back to London in 1822, where they settled in Camden Town, a poor neighborhood of London.

young Dickens The defining moment of Dickens's life occurred when he was 12 years old. His father, who had a difficult time managing money and was constantly in debt, was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor's prison in 1824. Because of this, Charles was withdrawn from school and forced to work in a warehouse that handled 'blacking' or shoe polish to help support the family. This experience left profound psychological and sociological effects on Charles. It gave him a firsthand acquaintance with poverty and made him the most vigorous and influential voice of the working classes in his age.

After a few months Dickens's father was released from prison and Charles was allowed to go back to school. At fifteen his formal education ended and he found employment as an office boy at an attorney's, while he studied shorthand at night. From 1830 he worked as a shorthand reporter in the courts and afterwards as a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.

In 1833 Dickens began to contribute short stories and essays to periodicals. A Dinner at Popular Walk was Dickens's first published story. It appeared in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833. In 1834, still a newspaper reporter, he adopted the soon to be famous pseudonym Boz. Dickens's first book, a collection of stories titled Sketches by Boz, was published in 1836. In the same year he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle. Together they had 10 children before they separated in 1858.

Although Dickens's main profession was as a novelist, he continued his journalistic work until the end of his life, editing The Daily News, Household Words, and All the Year Round. His connections to various magazines and newspapers gave him the opportunity to begin publishing his own fiction at the beginning of his career.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was published in monthly parts from April 1836 to November 1837. Pickwick became one of the most popular works of the time, continuing to be so after it was published in book form in 1837. After the success of Pickwick Dickens embarked on a full-time career as a novelist, producing work of increasing complexity at an incredible rate: Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge as part of the Master Humphrey's Clock series (1840-41), all being published in monthly instalments before being made into books.

In 1842 he travelled with his wife to the United States and Canada, which led to his controversial American Notes (1842) and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens's series of five Christmas Books were soon to follow A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). After living briefly abroad in Italy (1844) and Switzerland (1846) Dickens continued his success with Dombey and Son (1848), the largely autobiographical David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-53), Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1857), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861).

In 1856 his popularity had allowed him to buy Gad's Hill Place, an estate he had admired since childhood. In 1858 Dickens began a series of paid readings, which became instantly popular. In all, Dickens performed more than 400 times. In that year, after a long period of difficulties, he separated from his wife. It was also around that time that Dickens became involved in an affair with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, but it was clearly central to Dickens's personal and professional life.

In the closing years of his life Dickens worsened his declining health by giving numerous readings. During his readings in 1869 he collapsed, showing symptoms of mild stroke. He retreated to Gad's Hill and began to work on Edwin Drood, which was never completed.

Charles Dickens died at home on June 9, 1870 after suffering a stroke. Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, he was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads:


The City of Rochester has grown from a small Saxon village to one of England’s finest cities. Romans came over in 43AD and made Rochester one of their most important towns by building a stronghold and a bridge over the River Medway.

It wasn’t until 1088 after the Norman invasion that Rochester had its first stone castle built on the remains of the old Roman Fort.

The then King, Rufus asked his Bishop Gundulf, an architect, to build him a stone castle and later a magnificent Cathedral, which is the second oldest in the country. Bishop Gundolf also built a leper hospital namely St. Bartholomew’s which was the oldest hospital in the country, albeit the original hospital has since disappeared.

One of Rochester most famous connections is that with Charles Dickens. His family moved to Chatham when his was five years of age. After moving away from Chatham he later returned to Gad’s Hill place in Higham. By then many of his novels were published and read around the world. However, he died whilst writing his novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. Many of Dickens novels included references to Rochester and the surrounding area where today two festivals are held in his honour, the Dickens and Dickensian Christmas Festival.

Many other festivals are held in Rochester: from May, with the ‘Sweeps Festival’ , July with the Summer Concerts held in the castle grounds, through to the ‘Dickensian Christmas’ and the lamp light procession through the streets of Rochester.

Not only are there celebrations and festivals going on throughout the year, there is also Rochester’s quaint Victorian High Street containing many of the original shops of the time.

The City of Rochester in the county of Kent is situated some 20 miles south east of the capital of England, London. The City of Rochester is also within easy reach of mainland Europe and is only one and half hours from France by train.

Sweeps Festival

This celebration held on May Day weekend can only be described as “the only typical English Day” of the year.

The annual Sweeps Festival brings an extravaganza of colour, music and atmosphere, attracting thousands of visitors to Rochester. The festival owes its roots to age old traditions. Sweeping chimneys was a dirty but necessary trade nearly 300 years ago. It was hard work for the sweeps and even harder toil for the chimney boys.

The Sweeps annual holiday on May 1st represented a much welcomed break and they celebrated it with a procession through the streets accompanied by the Jack-in-the-Green. This seven foot character is traditionally woken at dawn on May Day from his slumber on Bluebell Hill and then travels to Rochester to start the festivities.

The celebrations were vividly described by Charles Dickens in his “Sketches by Boz”.

With the passing of the Climbing Boys Act in 1868 making it illegal to employ young boys to clean inside chimneys, the tradition gradually waned and finally died. The celebrations in Rochester stopped in the early 1900’s.

It was revived in the 1980’s by historian, Gordon Newton, who, as well as being the Festival Director, plays melodeon for several Morris dancing teams. His Morris team, the Motley Morris, are custodians of the Jack-in-the-Green. Gordon researched the sweeps’ tradition and in 1981 organised a small parade, featuring a group of Morris dancers.

The Festival has now further grown in popularity and attracts many thousands of revellers, keen to either dress up and take part in the Sweeps Parade or to simply watch and take in the atmosphere.

Dance teams from throughout the UK perform a variety of styles of dance while bands and musical groups perform at various venues, playing music from folk to guitar to traditional singing styles. At the end of the day, the music continues late through the evening in many of Rochester’s public houses.

Dickens Festival

Rochester comes alive with the celebration of Charles Dickens in the first week of June celebrating the works of the great novelist with the ‘Dickens Festival.’ Many visitors from all over the country and across the globe come to Rochester to see this extraordinary festival.

The Dickens Fellowship Society and many others join in the celebrations by dressing up in Victorian costume and parading the streets of Rochester and the Castle gardens. There is nowhere in the world you can see this festival of all Dickens characters, which include, good old Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Magwitch, Pip, Miss Havisham, Bill Sykes with his faithful dog Bullseye and many more other characters that Dickens portrayed in his novels.

Walk back in time along Rochester High Street and feel the atmosphere. Visit the Victorian shops and the craft stalls to find that unusual gift.

Mr. Pickwick arrives by train to Rochester and heads the Saturday afternoon parade along Rochester High Street towards the Norman Castle. People line the High Street to cheer and wave as the parade passes.

In the evening, all the local drinking houses are full of entertainment or visit one of the restaurants for an evening meal.

Dickensian Christmas

Again Rochester comes alive with the Dickensian Christmas. Very much similar to the summer festival but with the emphasis on the Christmas novel “A Christmas Carol.” Join in with the Dickens characters, street entertainers, the atmosphere is full of Christmas tunes.

It always snows in Rochester with the addition of an artificial snow machine, unless the real stuff turns up! The smell of roasting chestnuts fills the high street, skate on the ice rink in the castle gardens. The finale of the festival is the Dickensian candlelight Parade through the High Street culminating in Christmas carols outside the Cathedral.

Getting here
Rochester is easily accessible by both road and rail, please try our UK Travel Guide for further information.

View our interactive map of Museums in Britain for details of local galleries and museums.

Watch the video: Charles Dickens Home - Room by Room Tour of Dickens Museum London (January 2023).

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