Showing posts from November, 2006

Dickens and Society


Throughout his career, Dickens protested the abuse of children and the corruption of individual feelings. His portrayal of the destructiveness of society's institutions and values becomes more insistent and savage in his later novels. In his early, hopeful novels, the problems of his protagonists, who are often orphaned or abandoned as children, are solved by the benevolence of good men; the charitable nature of the Cheeryble Brothers in Nicholas Nickleby is indicated by their name, and David Copperfield is rescued from the Murdstones' clutches by Aunt Betsey. But Dickens lost faith in the ability of individuals to remedy the unjust treatment of individuals; he perceived that injustice, indifference, and cruelty were pervasive and incorporated into society's institutions.
Because of Dickens's moral outrage and his attacks on society's institutions and values, later critics, who were often Marxists, hailed him variously as subversive, rebellious, …

Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist"

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist

“Oliver Twist”, one of Dickens’ great social novels, depicts poverty and crime in the slums, as well as the wretched conditions in English workhouse. The workhouse scenes in the early chapters, and the later exploitation of Oliver by a gang of pickpockets, were bound up with current controversies over the Poor Laws and the care of abandoned children. Dickens’ recollections of his months as a child laborer gave authenticity to what might otherwise have been sentimental propaganda. Similarly, in dealing with the London under-world “Oliver Twist” had affinities with the crime stories of Bulwer and Ainsworth; but Dickens’ first-hand observation as court stenographer and reporter resulted in something quite different. There is no glorifying of criminals in the sinister Fagin or the brutal Sikes, though even they acquire a degree of human appeal when Dickens finally enters their minds to reveal how hallucinations and external impressions are mingled under stress…

The Victorian Novel as a Social Force in the Later Nineteenth (2)

Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell

The social problems of England found a passionate exponent in Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, the wife of a Unitarian Clergy in Manchester. Her life brought her into contact with the industrial and social difficulties growing out of the struggle between master and workman. Her novels entitled “Mary Barton” and “North and South” give a realistic view of the hardships caused by the Industrial Revolution as seen from the workers’ point of view. The hardships of the working class are poignantly presented in “Mary Baton”. Praising this novel, Arnold Kettle writes, “As an accurate and humane picture of working class life in a large industrial town in the forties, Mary Barton is without rival among the novels of the time.”

Charles Dickens

Dickens was a great social reformer and his novels belong to the humanitarian movement of the Victorian era. He was from first to last a novelist with a purpose. In nearly all his books he set out to attack some specific abuse in the existing sy…

The Victorian Novel as a Social Force in the Later Nineteenth (1)

The Golden Age of the English Novel

The reign of Queen Victoria was the golden age of the English novel. It was used as a popular medium for expressing its rapid progress in commerce, democracy and science. The material and scientific progress had its influence upon the Victorian life and it was inevitable that it should be expressed through its prose, poetry and fiction. The novel, being a popular medium of expression, sought to do for society in the age precisely what Sir Charles Lyell and Darwin sought to do for science, that is, to find the truth, and to show how it might be used to uplift humanity. Absorbing in itself a very large part of the creative energy of the time, the novel thus became a vehicle of ideas as well as a means of amusement. Writers of different schools of thought employed it to embody their general criticism of life, while it was found to lend itself equally well to the purposes of those who, having some special thesis to expound, desired to reach the largest p…

Victorian Age (3)

Intellectual and Scientific Advancement

There was an unprecedented intellectual and scientific advancement during the Victorian age. It was a period of intellectual ferment, and scientific thinking. Science was democratized, and more and more scientific enthusiasts dedicated themselves to the popularization of scientific works like Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. The man of science was regarded no more an academic recluse, but as a social figure exercising a deep and profound influence on the social and educational life of the age.


In spite of the advance of science and the various scientific discoveries, the general tenor of life was still governed by religious and moral consideration. The Victorians were moralists at heart, and religion was the sheet anchor of their lives. There was a marked conflict between religion and science, between moralists and scientists, each outdoing the other, but the current of religious thought was not chilled. It was an age in which Prime Ministers…

Victorian Age (2)

Social Unrest

Industrial advancement created social unrest and economic distress among the masses. The Industrial Revolution while creating the privileged class of capitalists and mill-owners, rolling in wealth and riches, also brought in its wake the semi-starved and ill-clad class of laborers and factory workers who were thoroughly dissatisfied with their miserable lot. National wealth was increased but it was not equitably distributed. A new class of landed aristocracy and mill-owners sprang up. They looked with eyes of disdain and withering contempt on the lot of the ragged and miserable factory hands, conditions of life held no charm for laborers and workers in the field; for they were required to dwell in slum areas with no amenities of life attending them at any stage of their miserable existence. There were scenes of horrid despair witnessed in the lives of the poor. With ulcers of this apparently opulent society were brought to the surface by the debtor’s prison, the Fleet and…

Victorian Age (1)

A Brief Account of the Social, Political, Economic and Religious Tendencies of the Victorian Age

The Victorian Age is one of the most remarkable periods in the history of England. It was an era of material affluence, political consciousness, democratic reforms, industrial and mechanical progress, scientific advancement, social unrest, educational expansion, empire building and religious uncertainty. There were a number of thinkers who were well-satisfied with the progress made by the Victorians, while from a whole class of adverse critics could be heard a scathing criticism of the values held dear by the Victorians. While Macaulay trumpeted the progress that the Victorians had achieved, Ruskin and Carlyle, Arnold, Lytton Strachey, and Trollope raised frowns of disfavour against the soul-killing materialism of the age. Carlyle, himself a hostile critic of the age, admired L.H. Myer’s reference to ‘the deep-seated spiritual vulgarity that lies at the heart of our civilization’. Symonds d…