Faults & Limitations in Charles Dickens Novels

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      Cecil has framed the heaviest charge-sheet against Dickens in his book Early Victorian Novelists. He pointed out the following faults and limitations which are typically Victorian in character.

No Organic Unity

      His books have no organic unity; there are detachable episodes, and characters who serve no purpose in furthering the plot. Mr. Micawber, Mrs. Gamp, Flora Einching, and Mr. Grummels, Dickens’s most brilliant figures, are given hardly anything to do; they are almost irrelevant to the action of the books in which they appear. More than any other novelist he is the slave of convention imposed on the novel by Fielding and Richardson. After pages of humorous conversation the plot is remembered and then lost again in a jungle of elaborate intrigue.

No Unity of Tone

      He does not preserve the unity of tone. His books are full of melodrama. He wedges melodramatic figures between solid blocks of reality.

Exploitation of the Pathos

      He exploits the pathos till it becomes artificial. He tries to wring an extra tear from the situation; he never lets it speak for itself. The death of little Nell is remarkable case in point.

Characters: The Conventional Virtues and Vicious Dummies

      He often fails over his characters. His serious characters, with a few brilliant exceptions like David Copperfield, are the conventional virtuous and vicious dummies of melodrama. He cannot draw the educated or the aristocratic type. And even in his memorable figures he shows sometimes uncertain grasp of psychological essentials. He at time, wrote outside his range and brought in types of characters about which he knew very little. He obeyed the demand of convention, introduced the hero and the heroine who generally remained waxwork, wearisome, and impeccable dummies.

Not Penetrating to the Bottom

      Dickens is not calm enough to penetrate to the bottom of what he is dealing with. He takes sides with it as friend or enemy, laughs or cries over it, making it odious or touching, repulsive or attractive, and is too vehement and not enough inquisitive to paint a likeness. His imagination is at once too vivid and not sufficiently large. Dickens: Not an Intellectual

      Indeed he was not an intellectual at all. Intellectual weakness is the cause of his uncertain grip on character. He sees his figures and he can make the reader see them too, but he cannot reason from their external personality to discover their determining elements.

Treatment of Love: Not in Details

      The Victorian required too much morality and religion for genuine art. This made Dickens treat love, not only as holy or sublime in itself, but as subordinate to marriage; compelled him to display not the progress, ardor, and intoxication of passion, but only the remorse, misery, and despair. He gets angry over vices of his characters.

Conventional Treatment of Pathos

      The pathos of Dickens was always regarded as slightly conventional and unreal by critical judges. But his worst melodrama is less dreadful than his pathos. He has a natural gift for homely pathos. But almost always he sins as he overstates. He tries to wring an extra tear from the situation; he never let it speak for itself. He adds detail after detail and sentence after sentence, heaping pathos upon pathos in his ardent desire to impress his own sense of tears upon his readers.

Dickens’s Characters are Caricature

      His novels, while they contain many realistic details, seldom give the impression of reality. His characters are sometimes only caricatures, an exaggeration of some peculiarity.

Flaw in Prose Style of Dickens

      Fault has also been found with his prose style for its frequent lapses in grammar and in taste, for its rhetorical flourishes and tendency to fall into blank verse and bombast.

Dickens under the Influence of Strong Emotion

      The gravest of his faults is the habit of writing metrically. Dickens wrote under the influence of strong emotion.


      A pioneer-writer of lower middle class society and of the life of the town-folk in their varied ways, Dickens is a social novelist as well as a social reformer, a writer who moralizes with a smile on his lips. This is what made Dickens an apostle, and his work a gospel of humanitarianism. It is in this respect that Dickens’s work contributes to the idealistic reaction of the time. A staunch believer in progress in a moderate way and with an optimistic turn of mind, Dickens is also a prophet of sentimentalism, taking his stand against the advocates of rationalism. He is a representative writer too, not merely because in some of his novels he portrays contemporary problems, but because his opinions and ideas were in complete accord with the middle class opinions of his day. While the background of his novels conforms with the life of the middle class, his character delineation finds itself in harmony with typical English temperament. Humour and humanity are two other outstanding characteristics of Dickens as a novelist.

      No other writer has touched with pity and tenderness the spring of English national life as Dickens has done. Dickens is not a great and consummate literary artist, not a great psychological writer, not a thorough-going realist, not a great psychological writer not a seductive tale-teller, but he is the greatest of the national novelists of England. A man of the people who wrote for the people, Dickens is the spokesman of the masses and the creator of the democratic novel.

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