illustrated portrait of English author Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

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What is the importance of Charles Dickens in the Victorian era's literary context?

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Charles Dickens was one of the most prominent and most important writers of the Victorian era, and his novels provide great insight into Victorian society. He was an advocate for social justice and fought for the rights of the poor and underprivileged, and his works often reflect the need for social change and reform.

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Charles Dickens was perhaps the most popular author of the Victorian era. He certainly remains one of that period's most-read and most-adapted novelists today. The secret to his popularity was his ability to blend entertaining characters and stories with potent social commentary regarding the marginalized of Victorian society. He championed the vulnerable and satirized the powerful and the hypocritical, all without making his books feel like glorified lectures.

Dickens's own unhappy childhood, in which he was forced to work in a blacking factory to help his family after his father was thrown into debtor's prison, gave him a keen understanding of how the poor were treated. His mother and younger siblings were also put into the debtor's prison along with Dickens's father, a common practice at the time. Incidents such as this inspired Dickens in his later career: he could write credibly about social injustice because he had suffered it himself.

Dickens's books often brought attention to social problems of the day. By thrusting sympathetic characters such as Oliver Twist, Nell Trent, David Copperfield, or Amy Dorrit into situations where their poverty, class, or situation made them vulnerable to existing injustices, Dickens was able to bring such issues to the attention of the greater public. The sorts of people who would often be looked over by respectable middle-class people were made into the heroes of his novels, and therefore, inspired some to bring about social change in the real world, such as in the later modification of the Poor Laws, which Dickens savagely criticized in A Christmas Carol. Few authors have had such a profound effect and for this alone, Dickens is a major figure in the Victorian era's literary context.

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Charles Dickens often wrote about the conditions in Victorian society and its socioeconomic, political, and cultural climate. He incorporated various socially relevant themes such as child labor, poverty, prostitution, squalor, the struggles of the lower social classes, corruption, as well as social injustice and inequality.

His most notable novels, such as Oliver Twist, Hard Times and Little Dorrit, paint a very realistic picture of Victorian society and allow readers to understand how the people lived back then, especially the poor; he pays special attention to the victimization of children and the selfishness of the people. In Great Expectations, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens expresses his displeasures with the political system and the failure of the English justice system to protect all citizens from harm. His famous novella A Christmas Carol explains the importance of morality and the urgent need for social reform.

Dickens openly criticized the way the government operated and the way society treated the lower classes. While his works might not have been the main motivation or reason for the social changes that happened in the English society during and after the Industrial Revolution, Dickens was certainly a very powerful voice, and his views and opinions inspired many social activists to stand up for justice and equality. He was the writer of the people and for the people. Dickens was a pioneer of the radical satire genre, and his characterization was and still is greatly praised.

In this context, it is easy to determine Dickens's importance as one of the most influential Victorian writers of all time and conclude that his works provide crucial information about the Victorian Era. It is also safe to mention that Dickens's influence goes well beyond literature.

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An immensely popular author during the Victorian era, an era that wrought the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens also was a social reformer as well as a critic and satirist in his literary works. In fact, Dickens was himself influential in the modification of the Poor Laws, an underlying subject of his novels Oliver Twist and his novella, A Christmas Carol in which Dickens describes the squalid, dirty conditions of London in vivid detail. In his novel Bleak House, Dickens sharply criticizes utilitarianism, pointing to the difference between the ideal and the reality. He believed that in practical terms, the pursuit of an unimaginative, totally rationalized society led to misery.  His character Mr. Gradgind speaks the beginning words of the novel, "Now what I want is facts"; however, his own daughter, Louisa Gradgind, given a practical education without imagination or any artistic endeavors, has a life that parallels the real-life advocate of utilitarianism, John Stuart Mills.  For, in only his twenties, Mills, who believed in the ideal of "the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest numbers" suffered a nervous breakdown from such a stringent, analytical education himself.

Further, in his novel Bleak House, Dickens satirizes the injustice of delay in court proceedings. Dickens's attack upon the flaws of the British judiciary system is based partly on his own experiences as a law clerk as a young man, as well in part on his experiences as a Chancery litigant as he sought to enforce his copyright on his earlier books. In Great Expectations he continues his assault upon the corruption of the judicial system that has a justice for the rich and a different one for the poor, by using Magwitch and the "gentleman" Compeyson to portray this corrupt system of justice that gives a poor man a greater sentence for a lesser crime.

An advocate for the lower middle class, often Dickens's moral characters come not from what he considered a frivolous upper class, but from the commoners.  In Great Expectations, for example, the poor orphan Biddy and the barely literate Joe Gargery are exemplary characters.  And, of course, in A Christmas Carol it is Bob Crachit and his family who are the greatest Christians.

Certainly, the writings of Charles Dickens were influential in effecting awareness of social conditions as well as reform of these often deplorable conditions.

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What makes Charles Dickens important?

Charles Dickens was arguably the most important writer of the Victorian Age, an author who captured the time, and whose exposure of the period's social conditions effected significant legal and societal changes in England.

His works are renowned for their social criticisms, realism, outstanding characterizations, comedy, and style. After the publication of Oliver Twist, for instance, a novel which traces an orphan's life in the slums of London, the social conscience of the English was stirred to examine the criminality in their city. Also Dickens brought attention in the first pages to the Poor Law of 1834. Then, he exposed the cruel victimization of small children as chimney sweeps and as professional mourners, etc.

Other works of Dickens examine other laws, education, and industrial relations. For instance, in Hard Times there are detailed descriptions of an industrial town in England during the great economic expansion of England. In addition, Dickens details the limits on both employers and reformers. 

Another novel, Little Dorrit, depicts the conditions of England and what Dickens perceived as the conflict between the harshness of the world and human values. Some regard this novel as Dickens's greatest novel because of its impressive artistry.





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Why was Charles Dickens so important during the Victorian age?

Charles Dickens was one of those rare people who lived in various walks of life, so he knew firsthand what it was like to be poor, what it was like to be middle-class, and what it was like to be rich and famous. He combined these broad life experiences with artistic genius as a writer, and in so doing, caught the spirit of the Victorian age.

Dickens was able to articulate social concerns in a way people could understand and accept, and he also held up a mirror to his society that reflected the Victorian world back to people in a manner that appealed to them and seemed emotionally true.

In the Victorian age, people were concerned about the growth of cities and industrialism and the increase in poverty and social injustice that went along with this. There was a great deal of concern about what to do about the poor in those days before government social programs. Dickens did not ignore the problems of poverty and injustice. He showed great sympathy for the situation of poor people, but he also suggested solutions that were not upsetting to middle class readers: the Victorian age very much liked his idea that if people's hearts would soften and change, the problems of the poor could be alleviated without a social revolution. Dickens also wrote sentimentally about the poor, meaning he tried to tug at people's heartstrings. Today, we look down at that kind of writing, but the Victorians loved it.

Dickens had the advantage of writing his novels serially, to be printed in installments in magazines. This was similar to a popular TV miniseries coming out on a weekly basis. As with Game of Thrones, people waited with bated breath for the next issue of a magazine to come out with the latest chapter of his novel. This process gave him the opportunity to get feedback from his readers and tweak his writing as he went along to make it more appealing.

Dickens had a great gift for creating characters that seemed alive, vivid, and real to his readers. This also added to his popularity. People could see recognizable people—and a recognizable world—in what he wrote.

This can seem strange to us, because our world is not the Victorian world, but Dickens gives us a vivid glimpse into what the society felt and looked like.

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Why was Charles Dickens so important during the Victorian age?

Dickens was a major player in Victorian social reform, as lots of his stories told tales of impoverished people and criticized the exploitation of the lower classes by members of the upper class. In literature and in popular cultural narrative, poorer people often go unnoticed. Their lives have historically been undocumented and left out of writing because they were not considered interesting or worthy of attention. Dickens had a rough childhood; his father spent time in a debtors prison and young Charles worked among impoverished people in a shoeblacking warehouse.

Charles Dickens believed the novel could be used as a catalyst for change by spreading awareness about social and moral ills. He was unafraid to shine a light on child abuse, unsanitary living conditions, the dangers of factory work, poor conditions for education, and the tangled Victorian legal system. Dickens not only held up the metaphorical mirror to Victorian society, he pointed out the very real flaws he saw.

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