Charles Dickens World Literature Analysis
Dickens is one of the accidental giants of literature: Only William Shakespeare has commanded anything like the same level of both extraordinary popularity and critical esteem. Dickens was the first mainstream nineteenth century writer to reach out to hundreds of thousands of lower-class semiliterate readers, for whom he retained a conscientious concern that was only partly paternalistic: When one reads in Our Mutual Friend that the urchin Sloppy, who turns the washer-woman’s mangle, is “a beautiful reader of a newspaper,” because “He do the police in different voices,” one can laugh yet be respectful. Dickens himself did much to bring his works within the reach of ordinary people: Monthly serial parts at a shilling (one twentieth of a pound), in an age when a standard novel cost more than thirty times as much, put fiction within the reach of the lower middle classes; the twopence (a sixth of a shilling) weekly cost of Household Words made quality entertainment and useful information available to a mass audience.
One secret of Dickens’s success, as the detective novelist and critic G. K. Chesterton wrote in 1906, was that Dickens was both genius and Everyman: He wanted what the people wanted. That helps explain why about a dozen pirated adaptations of Oliver Twist were playing popular theaters across London before Dickens had even finished writing the novel and why early cinema invested so heavily in his novels—the...
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