Charles Dickens Representative of Victorian Age

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      The Victorian Age was an age of peace, prosperity, and progress. A magnificent Queen was reigning who could easily inspire the people with love, adoration and patriotism. British empire reached the zenith of its prosperity during her regime. Darwin’s Origin of Species opened the new vistas of philosophy as the people were confident of endless progress. But the bright side of this age entails many evils which are mentioned in this section.

Dickens: A Representative Novelist

      The Victorian Age was an age of rapid flux and baffling complexity. This age is characterized by two factors. First, there were the very rapid and sweeping changes which the age witnessed. Secondly, the age encountered the complexity of social forces. As A.C. Ward remarks; “It was an Age of Faith and an Age of Doubt; an Age of Morality and of Hypocrisy, of Prosperity and Splendour and Squalor. It was a solemn age, yet it produced more humourous writers than any other single period—it was advanced in intellect yet immature in emotion”.

      Dickens was a novelist with a purpose. His purpose was to focus attention on the various evils of his time. His novels mirror his age in all its manifold contradictions. Thus, it is essential to understand the Victorian age thoroughly.

Sufferings of Factory Workers

      Dickens was living in the age of Industrial Revolution which ushered in an era of unprecedented difficulties for the common people. On the one hand, there was the voice of the great capitalist class which was a new force in national life. It was an age of expansion and progress. On the other hand, the rural population was uprooted. There was a rush to cities in search of wages and better conditions of living. The poor were encountering untold sufferings. Hence, there were frequent strikes by the factory workers who were suppressed by force. From the two novels of Dickens; David Copperfield and Oliver Twist we may get a vivid picture of the evils of the workhouses and the consequent sufferings of the poor. Dickens was a realist and a satirist. He was pre-occupied with the gallows. There is the story of a woman in Dickens’s novel Sketches by Boz. In this novel, a woman gets back the body of her son after execution hoping to revive him. In Great Expectations, we get a glimpse of the murderous New-gate. (a name of prison house). The prisoners were brutally treated like animals. The prison laws were very severe and cruel.

Dickens: A Novelist of London Life

      Dickens’s novels reflect a vivid picture of the life of the poor in London of his day. Many of his characters are typical Londoners who have the faults as well as the virtues of a particular class of London. David Copperfield is treated as the masterpiece of Dickens because of the social chronicler of the novel. Dickens is a popular novelist because he is the social chronicler of lower class of London life. All his novels reflect social conditions prevalent in the contemporary society. He did not admire the prevalent system of poor relief. He was a very accurate painter of the social conditions around him although his characters have been criticized as mere caricatures and not individuals.

      The Victorian Age has been considered a time of ugliness, i.e., “ugly religion, ugly law, ugly relations between the rich and the poor, ugly clothes and ugly furniture”.

      Nature was also ugly because of unhygienic and unhealthy environments. Dickens was deeply influenced by the prevailing conditions of London life. He tried to sublimate all this ugliness into a source of joy. He noted marvelous possibilities in everyday homely life. He wished to seek wonders in the dreary life of common streets.

The Sufferings of Children in Dickens’s Novels

      Dickens was well-conversant with sorrows and sufferings of children of his age, who were made to work for as many as thirteen hours a day. In David Copperfield, he has endeavored to awaken the conscience of an age which was insensible to the ill-treatment of its poorer children. His humor and pathos reveal the various social ills of the day. Condition of the schools reflects the general harshness of the age. The schools were mainly managed by private hands. There were private academies which provide boarding and lodging to the young students. These academies were running for profit. The students were mercilessly beaten. In David Copperfield, there is a good school like that of Dr. Strong which was rare in England in those days. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” seemed to be the motto of the age.

Snobbery and Affectation of the Victorian Age

      Dickens felt that sufferings were due to religious hypocrisy, affectation and snobbishness. He lashed at hypocrisy of every kind. His novels reflect hypocrisy, ignorance and tyranny of the poor people.

      The aristocracy of the Victorian Age was proud of its blue blood. The capitalists looked down upon the poor. In David Copperfield, Mr. Mell was dismissed from school because he quarreled with Steerforth, the member of an aristocratic family. Steerforth brought unhappiness to David’s friend at Yarmouth. Hence due to social snobbery, the rich were indifferent to the poor. Rosa, another character in David Copperfield, felt that the poor are thick-skinned and cannot be easily wounded. She was immensely happy that the poor suffered and they did not feel it.


      Dickens’s purpose was social reform in David Copperfield. He emphasized on the harsher and coarser features of the Victorian Age which required to be removed. Although, the age was making a rapid progress in sphere of science and industry, yet the literary artist like Dickens found the far-reaching repercussions of these developments leading to hardships for the poor. Hence Charles Dickens is treated as a representative novelist who was a satirist, who exposed the follies of his age.

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