Why was Charles Dickens so important during the Victorian age?

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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...

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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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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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