- Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of the most popular English novelists, and the most popular of his lifetime. He became the recognized exponent of the English Victorian character. His conscience became the public voice of England, awakening the people to the plight of the victims of industrial progress. He expressed a simplified worldview in which good and evil are clear-cut opposites, and his characters, like the world they operate in, have a simplicity of motivation and emotion. These characters, described in such detail that they seem larger than life, are certainly more memorable than most "realistic" characters. They were cruel or suffering, comic or repugnant, as only Dickens could delineate. The characters possessed a myriad of odd gestures, speech patterns, and physiognomies. His general style is usually powerful and persuasive in direct narrative and description.As a social critic, Dickens focused sharply on the iniquities and inequities of his environment. He revealed the masses to the classes. Because of Dickens's novels, English people have made noticeable progress in many fields, for he faced the stupefying platitudes of anonymous human fates and gave them value, humor, and incident. His overview of the condition of England led him to see the dead weight of conservatism for its own sake, which tended not to preserve but to stifle the essential genius of the people.His was a lifelong crusade against illiteracy that, once eradicated, would enable the people to educate themselves for self-government through various social organizations. He fought against the vile industrial conditions and the slums. He viewed contemptuously the misuse of the rich men of parliamentary opportunities and their procrastination. Dickens devoted himself through his writings to fight for humanity and justice— and his thoughts were pervasive in influence.Dickens had an unhappy childhood. He was born in Landport, Portsmouth, England, and his family moved to Chatham and then to London. His father, a happy-go-lucky man, fell deeply into debt. Dickens went to work in a warehouse, blacking bottles. After working for about a year, he was able to go to school for two years. He then spent some time in a lawyer's office, learned shorthand, and became a reporter of debates in the House of Commons. He contributed to the Old Monthly Magazine (1833-1835) and to the Evening Chronicle sketches of London life, under the pen name Boz.Dickens wrote fourteen novels and many shorter works. The Tale of Two Cities alone would have distinguished him as a great author, as would Great Expectations, considered by many as his finest work. The Pickwick Papers of the Pickwick Club, better known simply as Pickwick Papers, a comic episodic novel, was written in monthly issues, beginning in 1836, and made Dickens successful at the age of twenty-four. Pickwickian remarks were esoteric, not to be taken seriously. The Papers aroused so much interest that its main character, Sam Weller, became world-famous. A saying or action of loyalty and cockney-like shrewdness is a Wellerism.Characters in Dickens's works have given the English language many eponyms. In Oliver Twist, a melodramatic tale of criminal life, Mr. Brownlow saves Oliver Twist from a gang of thieves, and then adopts him. In that novel, Fagin is a receiver of stolen goods, and "You're a Fagin" is still an expression heard on the street. Think also of the miserly curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge in a Christman Carol; Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, epitomizing a sanctimonious hypocrite and full of sharp practices; Little Nell; and Pecksniff, pecksiffian meaning characterized by hypocrisy of unctuous insincerity.In 1842, Dickens traveled to the United States and Canada. From that sojourn came American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit, a powerfully satiric novel of selfishness, hypocrisy, and financial speculation. The novel stirred up a good deal of feeling against him in the United States, but when he visited again, in 1867, he was greeted by large audiences. Unfortunately, traveling was hard on Dickens's health. He died at age fifty-eight.The remarks of G. K. Chesterton are worth repeating: "There can be no question of the importance of Dickens as a human event in history ... a naked flame of mere natural genius, breaking out in a man without culture, without tradition, without help from historic religions or philosophies or from the great foreign schools; and revealing a light that never was on sea or land, if only in the long fantastic shadows that it threw from common things."
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.