Charles Dickens || Victorian Novelist

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      In the nineteenth century the novel assumed a new phase and acquired a new popularity. The growth of the periodicals and the rise of the middle class accounted for the phenomenal development of the novel during the Victorian era. The novel came to be looked upon as a favourite form of entertainment and the middle class reading public were attracted to it for amusement. Certainly there were many serious writers who contributed to the development of the novel as an artform.

A new and vivid realism vitalises the novels of Charles Dickens. It is a realism humorous and tender by turns. Dickens's realistic scenes are now lit up by laughter, now warmed by pity.
Charles Dickens

      Charles Dickens is the most pre-eminent among Victorian novelists. After his Preliminary sketches by Boz, he published Pickwick Papers in 1856: This is the Supreme comic novel in English language. The comedy is never superimposed, for is an effortless expression of a comic view of life: The character of Pickwick is as interesting as that of Don Quixote in Cervantes's novel. The Pickwick Papers is a parody of eighteenth century picaresque adventure. This was followed by Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol, Dombeyand Son, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend.

      In Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, A Christmas Carol, Little Dorrit and Hard Times, Dickens devoted himself to the social conditions with a reforming zeal. David Copperfield is an autobiographical novel, but the main stress is on the social conditions of the period. Bleak House is the most conscious and deeply planned novel in Dickens' whole work. Great Expectations shows his artistic capacity. Hard Times is a social tract, but in its compactness and symbolism, Dickens' art is evident. It has been called 'a flawed classic'. Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Too Cities are historical novels.

     A new and vivid realism vitalises the novels of Charles Dickens. It is a realism humorous and tender by turns. Dickens's realistic scenes are now lit up by laughter, now warmed by pity. He is a typical Victorian novelist; his genius was quickened by the industrial England of grim cities where the poor died, worn out by despair and hardship and where the bright hopes of youth were destroyed by drudgery and squalor. The Reform Act of 1832 gave some importance to the middle class and Dickens satisfied the middle class readers by mingling slapsticks with sentiment. Dickens knew from painful experience the life of the workshop, the office and the terrible life of the streets. He lays the settings of his story in London with extraordinary vividness. His characters move in all atmosphere of London fog, London smoke and pale dusty London sunshine.

      In his novels he is a social critic; he attacks the social conditions of his time and his criticism is bathed in humour and pathos. The Old Curiosity Shop shows pathos triumphing over humour specially in the death of Little Nell. He shows in his novels the torments of industrial England - the slums, the educational system, the child labour and the methods of bureaucracy. In Oliver Twist he shows the dark underworld of the poor. Child labour, Poor Law, Reform Act, Educational system, legal system, Industrial slums and prostitution come in for criticism in all his novels. Nicholas Nickelby exposes the goings on behind private schools. Hard Times is a scathing criticism of Industrial Coketown and the utilitarian education of the time. But his social criticism is never radical or revolutionary. It is diluted by humour and pathos. It therefore appealed to the middle class readers who found his novels amusing and instructive. Dickens pandered to the middle class taste by punishing the wicked and rewarding the virtuous.

      Secondly, Dickens is the great master of the art of story-telling. The brisk narration has sometimes the dynamics of drama. He gives the series of the adventures of Pickwick and his comrades in such an interesting manner as to hold the attention of the readers to the end. His story is vitalised by his creative imagination. He tums upon a great variety of English scenes and characters in his novels, but specially upot work-houses, debtor's prisons, law houses, lurking places of vice, crime and pain. He seeks to arouse the conscience of the British public. Humour is a very important thread in the web of Dickens novel. His characterisation is always vitalised by this humour which comes from his tantastic imagination. Mr. Micawber, Mr. Pickwick, Mrs. Habisham are immortal comic creations. Humour and pathos are almost always alied in his novels. Thus Dickens gives to English novel a new realism by making it a picture of industrial England and by giving it a new vitality born of characterisation with humour and satire. Dickens was immensely popular during his time. His novels had all the features that the Victorian readers wanted - melodrama, pathos, sensation, sentiment and romance. But he transcended these qualities by his creative vitality and humour. His intense comic sense ana gusto made him create a series of novels that are of lasting interest for their vivid characters and genial humour.

      Dickens has a brisk style of narration. His language has a vigour and go. He can adapt the language to the necessity of characters and situations. Pegotty in David Copperfield speaks in regional language while Micawber speaks in stilted language. His style is enlivened by humour, genial as well as satirical.

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