C. Dickens (1812-1870) came from a lower middle-class family. He began his career as a journalist but, after the success of his first novel he devoted himself to writing fiction. He published a succession of highly successful novels, usually in monthly instalments, which made him very popular. He was admired at all levels of Victorian society from Queen Victoria herself down. He lived a very intense life. He also worked as an editor, supported important social causes, travelled widely in Europe and in the United States, was an amateur and gave public readings of his works.
He is the foremost representative of the Victorian novel. One side of his genius was his natural sense of humour, a quality which has kept alive the characters of his novels up to the present time, when his attacks on the systems of Victorian life have lost their topicality. His humour can be found in character drawing, in dialogue and in whole episodes. The sequence of events that we find in his novels, was partly due to their serial form, and it is to be found particularly in his first great comic novel, The Pickwick Papers. Here each episode is pure humour, and Dickens rejoices in his ability to create character after character to put them in funny situations. Dickens is a subtle observer of London life, which to know during his wanderings in the town; in his boyhood he long observed streets and squares, particularly in those parts of the town where the poor lived. He knew from personal experience the life led in factories, the routine in the offices, the sordid life in a debtors prison. He gives us a minute description of British homelife, of school systems, of the procedure followed in the Law Courts, of the domestic life.
Dickens’ world is inhabited and enlivened by hundreds of characters drawn from the observation of real people. His characters may be roughly divided into good and evil, but he doesn’t create types. Each character is unlike the others, each one is an individual. They may sometimes be exaggerated and grotesque. Dickens is not concerned with the spiritual side of his characters; he is an untiring observer of the external qualities of people.
Some of Dickens’ novels are defined as social or humanitarian. He wrote fiction as he was a novelist by vocation, but he used fiction to denounce the vices and evils of his age. Some have called him a social reformer, though he did not advocate any fundamental change in the overall systems of Victorian society, or a revolutionary struggle between social classes; nor did he suggest any specific means of reform. Yet he exerted a considerable influence on the reform movement of the age by shedding light on the brutality of some schools, on the vices of the criminal world, on the dirt and squalor of London slums and on the conditions of their inhabitants in a period of industrial expansion.