CHARLES DICKENS

(1812—1870)

Charles Dickens was born in Landsport, a small town near the sea, in a
middle-class family. In 1814 the family moved to London. His father was
a clerk in a navy office; he got a small salary there and usually spent
more than he earned. As a result of this he was thrown into the debtors’
prison when Charles was only ten. At that age the boy went to work at a
factory which was like a dark, damp cellar. There he stuck labels on
bottles of shoeblacking all day long, for a few pennies.

Later he went to school which he attended for only three years and at
the age of 15 he started his work in a lawyer’s office. He continued to
educate himself, mainly by reading books. At 18 he became a reporter in
Parliament. There he got acquainted with politics and never had a high
opinion of his country’s policy afterwards.

In 1833 he began to write his first short stories about London life. In
1836 those stories were published as a book, under the title of Sketches
by Boz; Boz was the penname with which he signed his first work.

In 1837 Dickens became well-known to the English readers. His first big
work appeared, written in instalments for a magazine at first, and later
published in book form. It was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick
Club. From then on Dickens was one of the best known and loved writers
of his day.

In 1842 he made his first trip to America. He said that he wanted to see
for himself what «real» democracy was like. He was rather disappointed
with it. He wrote about his trip and his impressions in his American
Notes.

Dickens travelled a lot. He visited France and Italy and later went to
America again. At the same time he continued to write. In 1858 he began
to tour England, reading passages from his works to the public. These
readings were a great success, for Dickens was a wonderful actor, but
the hard work and travelling were bad for his health. On March 15, 1870,
he made his last reading and said to the public «From these garish
lights I vanish now for evermore». He suffered a stroke on June, 8, and
died the following day at his writing desk penning a sentence for Edwin
Drude. The novel was left unfinished.

Dickens literary heritage is of world importance. He developed the
English social novel, writing about the most burning social problems of
his time. He created a wide gallery of pictures of bourgeois society and
its representative types which still exist in England; he wrote of the
workhouses of England and the tragedy of the children who lived in them
(Oliver Twist); he wrote about the problem of education and showed how
it handicapped children (Nicholas Nickleby).

After his trip to America Dickens wrote Martin Chuzzlewit. A part of
this work had an American setting. He criticized American customs and
democracy very severely. Later Dickens wrote about money and its
terrible, destructive power over men (Dombey and Son). David
Copperfield, one of the most lyrical of his works, was to some extent
autobiographical; it reflected a young man’s life in bourgeois society.
Dickens criticized some negative aspects of that society, especially
child labour and the system of education. Such problems as marriage and
love in the bourgeois world were also treated in this novel.

Dickens’ later novels were Bleak House and Little Dorrit. In Bleak House
he took up the problem of law and justice; in Little Dorrit the reader
got acquainted with the debtors’ prison of London. Those novels showed
more clearly than before the great social gap between the bourgeoisie
and the common people. In Hard Times he wrote of the class struggle
between the capitalists and the proletariat. Great Expectations and Our
Mutual Friend reflected an entirely new feeling, that of
disillusionment. That tragic feeling became stronger than Dickens’ usual
optimism.

Among his works there are two historical novels. In 1841 he wrote
Barnaby Rudge, taking a subject from English history of the year 1780,
known as the «Gordon Rebellion». In 1848 Dickens turned to history
again; he wrote

A Tale of Two Cities, a story about people closely connected with the
French Bourgeois Revolution, and the time that preceded it.

Well, I can say that Charles Dickens wrote one novel named as DOMBEY AND
SON. Truthfully speaking it is to my liking.

This novel was written in 1848. It is the story of a city business man,
whose only interest in life is his firm. According to Dombey «The earth
was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made
to give them light. Rivers and .seas were formed to float their ships;
rainbows to give them promise of fair weather;

winds blew for, or against, their enterprises; stars and planets circled
in their orbits to preserve inviolate a system of which they were the
centre».

Dombey is busy making money, and all that surrounds him is of little or
no importance. His coldness, his absolute lack of human feeling towards
people is extraordinary.

The firm, which is his life, is called Dombey and Son. He has a
daughter, Florence, whom he considers to be «a piece of base coin»
because she is a girl. He does not love her, although the little girl
loves him dearly.

When at last a son is born, it is he who becomes the centre of Dombey’s
life and interests. However, he sees in little Paul only a means to
continue his business. His main feeling now becomes his anxiety to see
Paul grown up and ready to work with him, to continue his money-making
business. He does not notice that the little boy sickens at school,
where he is sent to be made a man as quickly as possible. The little
boy’s poor health breaks under the strain of misery. He cannot get
accustomed to school life, far away from home, from his sister Florence
whom he loves so much. Little Paul feels that he will not get better,
that he will die as his mother died when he was born. He cannot
understand why the money, that his father considers to be so powerful,
could not save his mother and cannot make him strong and well.

The death of little Paul is the beginning of Dombey’s misfortunes. His
second wife, Edith, a young widow from an aristocratic family, hates
him, because he has actually bought her taking advantage of her
desperate situation. She soon leaves him, and his secretary, Mr. Carker,
runs away with his money and ruins him. Only Florence’s love for him
remains unchanged, and she and her husband take care of this lonely old
man.

When Belinsky read Dombey and Son he called it a miracle that made all
other works written by Dickens seem pale and weak. He said that it was
«something ugly, monstrously beautiful».

In a work of art he revealed the ugliness of relations based on money.
He had an eye that penetrated into the very depths of contemporary
society. Thus, the sombre and arrogant Dombey was shown as a cold and
tragic figure, a product of the money-making atmosphere. Opposed to him
are Florence and Paul, loving and lovable creatures. Dickens made them
tender, kind-hearted and despising money. That is why the novel seems at
times like a story of these two children, rather than that of their
cruel father.

Dickens possessed an immense power of generalization which made all his
characters look familiar and recognisable types. He used to repeat that
the best compliment to him was to hear his readers say that he or she
had known personally this or that one of his characters.

The critical realistic approach to society was established by him at the
very beginning of his creative life. His criticism of reality became
sharper as his outlook and art matured. In the course of time the soft
humour and light-hearted laughter of his first works gave way to mockery
and satire. His novels were socially effective because they drew the
wide public’s attention to various problems and made the authorities
consider and introduce reforms into such spheres as education, law and
others.

Up to our days Dickens has remained one of the most widely read writers.
He is loved and honoured by readers all over the world.

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