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Charles Dickens

1812–1870
Novels, stories, plays, poetry, history, travelogues, essays, memoirs
Greatest Literature list: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Oliver Twist (1838)

A Christmas Carol (1843)

David Copperfield (1850)

Bleak House (1853)

Little Dorrit (1857)

A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Great Expectations (1861)

Greatest Novels list: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Oliver Twist (1838)

Nicholas Nickleby (1839)

David Copperfield (1850)

Bleak House (1853)

Hard Times (1854)

Little Dorrit (1857)

A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Great Expectations (1861)

Our Mutual Friend (1865)

Oliver Twist [SHOW] [HIDE]

Oliver Twist is probably the novel most associated with Dickens, though not nearly his best nor most admired. It is also the first novel to take a child as the central character, which.... more

A Christmas Carol [SHOW] [HIDE]

Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol, if not from reading Dickens, then from incessant showings of the many film versions, especially around the holiday season.... more

David Copperfield [SHOW] [HIDE]

The first half of David Copperfield, concerning the struggles of the young boy against repressive step-parents and draconian schoolmasters, is one of the greatest, most.... more

Bleak House [SHOW] [HIDE]

Bleak House has both its ardent admirers who declare it among Dickens's masterpieces, as well as its detractors who call it one of his most grotesque potboilers. The.... more

Hard Times [SHOW] [HIDE]

What's to like about Hard Times: A lot. It's short, for a Dickens novel. It's accessible—anyone can read it without a great deal of learning and without getting lost in.... more

Little Dorrit [SHOW] [HIDE]

You could make a case that every Charles Dickens novel is atypical in some way, but Little Dorrit really is a special case. For one thing, it's been called his most political novel.... more

A Tale of Two Cities [SHOW] [HIDE]

It's the most political of Charles Dickens's novels, it's the least political—even anti-political—of Dickens's novels in some ways. But its position on politics, revolution.... more

Great Expectations [SHOW] [HIDE]

The greatest expectation to be quashed in Great Expectations may be our assumption that the innocent lad at the centre of the story will turn out to be another David.... more

Charles Dickens

COMMENTARY | BIBLIOGRAPHY | AUTHOR'S COMMENTS

On writing, writers and books

1841

It is, it seems, a very coarse and shocking circumstance, that some of the characters in these pages are chosen from the most criminal and degraded of London's population; that Sikes is a thief, and Fagin a receiver of stolen goods; that the boys are pickpockets, and the girl is a prostitute.

I confess I have yet to learn that a lesson of the purest good may not be drawn from the vilest evil. I have always believed this to be a recognised and established truth, laid down by the greatest men the world has ever seen, constantly acted upon by the best and wisest natures, and confirmed by the reason and experience of every thinking mind. I saw no reason, when I wrote this book, why the very dregs of life, so long as their speech did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral, at least as well as its froth and cream. Nor did I doubt that there lay festering in Saint Giles's as good materials towards the truth as any flaunting in Saint James's....

I had read of thieves by scores—seductive fellows (amiable for the most part), faultless in dress, plump in pocket, choice in horseflesh, bold in bearing, fortunate in gallantry, great at a song, a bottle, pack of cards or dice-box, and fit companions for the bravest. But I had never met (except in Hogarth) with the miserable reality. It appeared to me that to draw a knot of such associates in crime as really do exist; to paint them in all their deformity, in all their wretchedness, in all the squalid poverty of their lives; to show them as they really are, for ever skulking uneasily through the dirtiest paths of life, with the great, black, ghastly gallows closing up their prospect, turn them where they may; it appeared to me that to do this, would be to attempt a something which was greatly needed, and which would be a service to society. And therefore I did it as I best could.

In every book I know, where such characters are treated of at all, certain allurements and fascinations are thrown around them. Even in the Beggar's Opera, the thieves are represented as leading a life which is rather to be envied than otherwise; while Macheath, with all the captivations of command, and the devotion of the most beautiful girl and only pure character in the piece, is as much to be admired and emulated by weak beholders, as any fine gentleman in a red coat who has purchased, as Voltaire says, the right to command a couple of thousand men, or so, and to affront death at their head....

In fact, Gay's witty satire on society had a general object, which made him careless of example in this respect, and gave him other, wider, and higher aims. The same may be said of Sir Edward Bulwer's admirable and most powerful novel of Paul Clifford, which cannot be fairly considered as having, or being intended to have, any bearing on this part of the subject, one way or other....

Preface to Oliver Twist

1843

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Preface to A Christmas Carol

1847

It is a great comfort, to my thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet [Shakespeare]. It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come out. If he had had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but would calmly have had his skull in the phrenological shop-windows.

Letter to William Sandys

1850

I do not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from this Book, in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it, is so recent and strong; and my mind is so divided between pleasure and regret—pleasure in the achievement of a long design, regret in the separation from many companions—that I am in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal confidences, and private emotions.

Preface to David Copperfield

1852

Not to play the sage or the critic (neither of which parts, I hope, is at all in my line), but to say what is the friendly truth, I may assure you that I have read the book [Basil] with very great interest, and with a very thorough conviction that you have a call to this same art of fiction. I think the probabilities here and there require a little more respect than you are disposed to show them, and I have no doubt that the prefatory letter would have been better away, on the ground that a book (of all things) should speak for and explain itself. But the story contains admirable writing, and many clear evidences of a very delicate discrimination of character. It is delightful to find throughout that you have taken great pains with it besides, and have "gone at it" with a perfect knowledge of the jolter-headedness of the conceited idiots who suppose that volumes are to be tossed off like pancakes, and that any writing can be done without the utmost application, the greatest patience, and the steadiest energy of which the writer is capable.

For all these reasons, I have made "Basil's" acquaintance with great gratification, and entertain a high respect for him. And I hope that I shall become intimate with many worthy descendants of his, who are yet in the limbo of creatures waiting to be born.

Letter to Wilkie Collins

1854

Neither you nor Catherine did justice to [Wilkie] Collins's book. I think it far away the cleverest novel I have ever seen written by a new hand. It is in some respects masterly. "Valentine Blyth" is as original, and as well done as anything can be. The scene where he shows his pictures is full of an admirable humour. Old Mat is admirably done. In short, I call it a very remarkable book, and have been very much surprised by its great merit.

Letter to Georgina Hogarth

1858

My Dear Sir

I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me...that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy, both of the humour and the pathos of those stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had the impertinence to try.

In addressing these few words of thankfulness, to the creator of the sad fortunes of Mr. Amos Barton, and the sad love-story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to assume. I can suggest no better one; but I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed what seem to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began....

Letter to George Eliot

1859

Whenever any reference (however slight) is made here to the condition of the French people before or during the Revolution, it is truly made on the faith of the most trustworthy witnesses. It has been one of my hopes to add something to the popular and picturesque means of understanding that terrible time, though no one can hope to add anything to the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle's wonderful book [The French Revolution: A History, 1837, revised 1857].

Second preface to A Tale of Two Cities

1869

Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD.

Second preface to David Copperfield

COMMENTARY | BIBLIOGRAPHY | AUTHOR'S COMMENTS

Related:

Novel
Oliver Twist

Novella
A Christmas Carol

Novel
David Copperfield

Novel
Bleak House

Novel
Hard Times

Novel
Little Dorrit

Novel
A Tale of Two Cities

Novel
Great Expectations

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Great Expectations, Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities
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Author
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Author
William Shakespeare

Author
George Eliot

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Oliver Twist
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David Copperfield
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Hard Times
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A Christmas Carol
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Bleak House
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Little Dorrit
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The Complete Works (Oxford)
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The Quincunx
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Middlemarch
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