Monday, February 6, 2012

Charles Dickens: A Man of his Times

Admirers of English literature mark Charles Dickens bicentenary on February 7, 2012.

There cannot be any comprehensive discussion on English literature without mentioning the name of Charles Dickens. He was a living legend from the very beginning of his career. He managed his popularity with great skill, which never fell during his life time. By the age of thirty, he made a sensation when he went to the United States.

Dickens was a pioneer of serializing his novels, with accompanying cliffhangers, which easily captured the attention of his readers. But he could not have made a huge impact if he was not writing on topics close to the people. It was this that made him perhaps the most popular living writer from late 1830s to 1870.

The famous poet T. S. Eliot once stated that “Charles Dickens excelled in character, in the creation of characters with greater intensity than human beings.” His characters had appropriate, sometimes funny names, such as Oliver Twist, ‘The Artful Dodger’, Fagin, Ebenezer Scrooge etc. These names were so skillfully used that the character was described by the name itself.

These characters had the advantage of being intimately known to their creator, Mr. Charles Dickens. Some of his stories are autobiographical in nature as they were a portrait of either himself or someone he knew very well. Even when they were not exactly based on actual people, they generally portrayed the numerous groups of people in the Early and mid-Victorian era. They revealed the plight of the poor workers, the children, the women and all oppressed classes during the heyday of industrial revolution and imperial might of Great Britain.

Dickens wrote to the people. His novels first appeared not as big expensive books but as serials in magazines and newspapers, which were more readily available to the man on the street. They felt the writer’s feeling for them, a feeling which was reciprocated instantaneously. Dickens was their hero in the literary world.

Charles Dickens left a lasting mark in English literary scene. He was praised by a multitude of writers during and after his lifetime, including Tolstoy and Orwell, themselves literary giants. Dickens is still widely read, including in many foreign languages. He has never gone out of print and never will be for the foreseeable future. Dickens, as Simon Callow wrote, is Britain’s “first and favourite literary superstar.”

Image: George Herbert Watkins, Dickens at his Desk, Wikimedia Commons

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