BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
Charles Dickens, by Jane Smiley
, March 8, 2003
by Jane Smiley
Weidenfeld and Nicholson
Available from News Weekly Books for $35.00 plus p&hCharles Dickens remains one of the most popular English novelists. Commencing with the beginning of Dickens's literary career, this short study by Jane Smiley focuses upon the interplay and relationship between Dickens's life and writings.
Dickens emerged into prominence with the publication of short sketches, later collectively published as Sketches by Boz
and the serialised version of The Pickwick Papers
in the 1830s, and remained one of the most prominent English novelists until his death in 1870. The growth of the middle classes, increased literacy and the availability of cheaper, mass-produced printing facilitated Dickens's literary career.
Most of his works originally appeared in serialised form, the 19th century equivalent of a serialised TV drama. Dickens also "marketed" himself through his popular public readings, including two tours of North America, in 1842 and 1867-68. He is perhaps less well remembered for his theatrical enterprises.
In his novels, Dickens explores most aspects of human life. He is particularly well-known for his criticisms of the inequitable treatment of the poor, in novels such as Oliver Twist
Much of the inspiration for such material came from Dickens's habit of walking the streets of London, observing people and their behaviour. Smiley argues that Dickens wrote at a time when authors were beginning to explore the inner, emotional lives of their protagonists, and Dickens is an expert at this type of writing.
Many of the diverse experiences in Dickens's own life influenced his writings. David Copperfield
, one of his most popular works, is considered to be loosely autobiographical, in that many of the events in the novel parallel Dickens's life, for example David being sent to work in a factory while still a child.
Similarly, his relationship with Ellen Ternan, the exact nature of which is still debated, seems to have influenced some the themes explored and characters portrayed in his later novels. Dickens died on June 9, 1870 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.