British and Irish Literature Charles Dickens
by
Melisa Klimaszewski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0106

Introduction

Charles Dickens (b. 1812–d. 1870) lived for fifty-eight years, and his writings have impacted readers for nearly two centuries. Dickens’s novels have helped to shape the way many readers imagine Christmas, London, childhood, English society, the family, and the modern industrial city. Dickens did not just write (and read) novels; he also wrote journalism, edited journals, staged amateur theatricals, wrote letters, collaborated with others, gave speeches and public readings, and traveled fairly extensively. With a work ethic that most would find extraordinary, and seemingly inexhaustible stores of energy, the sheer amount of Dickens’s textual output is stunning. The long walks he took, in addition to the time he spent writing, not only indicate that he was vitally strong but also keep our sense of Dickens connected to a physical world. The spaces of his life—the streets of London and Paris, the countryside of Kent, the fells of the Lake District—are as much a part of his writing as his caricatures of quirky personalities. Fascination with Dickens as a figure, as a man, and as a symbol fuels scholarship as much as consideration of his characters and distinctive writing style. Over two hundred years have passed since Dickens’s birth, yet widespread popular and academic interest in his writing persists. First editions of Dickens’s novels occupy shelf space in libraries from South Africa to Montreal. Fiction writers feel, and resist, the influence of Dickens’s fiction from the Caribbean to Australia. One of the most useful websites dedicated to Dickens is based in Japan, and several American hip-hop artists refer to Dickens in their music. Welcome or not, Dickens symbolizes various things, ideas, and sentiments around the globe, and the flexibility of his canon to continue to resonate in such a multitude of contexts is part of what motivates continued inquiry. To begin to study Dickens can feel paralyzing, especially for a beginning scholar. Dickens’s writings, however, remain welcoming to new and returning readers, and they continue to act as the best starting point. Companions and collections of essays are a good next step because they often spark ideas or include assessments that clarify a particular area of concentration. One hopes that, from there, the organic development of an idea will lead to the approaches and sections in this article most fruitful for future exploration.

General Overviews

Given the expansiveness of Dickens studies and the multiplicity of theoretical approaches, there are many ways to seek a general overview of the field. The following selections provide discussion of a large number of Dickens’s works or introduce readers to important central discussions. A foundational work, Butt and Tillotson 1957 examines Dickens’s novels in the context of his writing for periodicals, illustrating that his journalistic connection to the events of his time persisted in the novels and establishing Dickens’s stature as a literary craftsman for future scholars. A classic book, Miller 1958 shaped Dickens criticism for decades as direct influence or as a work against which new studies positioned themselves. Miller’s work was a critical departure from the other approaches, including House 1941 (cited under Historical Approaches). Rather than seeing Dickens’s (or any) literature as the symptom of an already formed psychology, Miller focuses on the novels in an attempt to locate a core that yokes together Dickens’s imaginative world and argues that the novels enable self-creation. Passionately opposed to biographical readings (such as Wilson 1941, cited under Psychological and Psychoanalytic Approaches), Leavis and Leavis 1970 makes a spirited case for reading Dickens as an artist and for valuing his novels as worthy representatives of the best of English literature. Alienating any critic with whom the authors disagree, the study pays attention to historical context while contending that Dickens’s genius is not attributable to any theories about the psychological effects of events in Dickens’s life. Bowen 2000 focuses on the critically neglected early novels, asserting that their nuances merit appreciation as experimentation and eschewing a single theoretical approach that would oversimplify their complexities. Dividing Dickens’s professional life into five overlapping periods, Pykett 2002 traces his influence on the English novel as well as the trends in academic criticism of Dickens. The excellent collection Furneaux and Ledger 2011 introduces readers to Dickens’s life and works in the context of the 19th century, providing a solid base for further study of various aspects of his oeuvre. Consideration of Dickens’s legacy and post-19th-century contexts completes the collection’s thorough overview. For a survey of the history of literary criticism pertaining to Dickens, Mazzeno 2008 is indispensable. Presenting a thorough yet concise explanation of the development of various critical and theoretical responses to Dickens and his writings, Mazzeno positions key works (primarily book-length studies) in relation to each other and to the shifting trends in the field.

  • Bowen, John. Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Examines the six novels and some shorter writings published between 1836 and 1844, asserting that Dickens’s experimentation reveals these texts to be no less worthy of critical valuation than his later works. Accessible yet sophisticated; essential reading for any serious student or scholar.

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  • Butt, John Everett, and Kathleen Tillotson. Dickens at Work. London: Methuen, 1957.

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    Influential study of Dickens’s development as a novelist that explores his craft in the context of periodical publishing. Shows Dickens’s writing process at various moments in his career and attentively examines his work methods in the monthly as well as the highly taxing weekly serial formats.

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  • Furneaux, Holly, and Sally Ledger, eds. Charles Dickens in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    This comprehensive collection of brief, sharply focused essays offers important grounding for study of the range of Dickens’s work and the central issues of his lifetime. Additionally, the volume helpfully discusses Dickens’s legacy and afterlives.

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  • Leavis, F. R., and Q. D. Leavis. Dickens the Novelist. London: Chatto and Windus, 1970.

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    Studying six novels in depth (with Dombey identified as the first “great” one), argues for a view of Dickens as an intentional genius who controlled his highly effective craft. Ungenerous in its disagreements with other critics and scholars, marks a noteworthy moment in the history of literary criticism as well as in Dickens studies.

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  • Mazzeno, Laurence W. The Dickens Industry: Critical Perspectives, 1836–2005. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008.

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    Indispensable overview of critical responses to Dickens spanning 170 years. Thorough yet manageable in length, gives new scholars a solid sense of the history of the field while also serving as a reference for advanced scholars wishing to review the critical context for key works.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958.

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    A classic study that reconceptualizes Dickens’s novels, not as reflections of a material Victorian reality but as depictions of a world whose details reveal the development of Dickens’s own imaginative vision. Includes substantial attention to the city as one of the central working sites of Dickens’s imagination.

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  • Pykett, Lyn. Charles Dickens. Critical Issues. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

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    Contextualizes Dickens and his works in the 19th century and considers how later critics of the novel form contend with Dickens’s legacy. Opens with a reflection on “the Dickens industry” (p. 1) and various critical investments in the idea of Dickens.

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Reference Works

Crucial for any serious study of Dickens’s journalism are Lohrli 1973 and Oppenlander 1984. Based on the surviving Household Words office book, Lohrli 1973 identifies all known contributors to the journal and contains an excellent critical introduction as well as a title index. Although some questions of attribution remain, in part because All the Year Round’s office book has not survived, Oppenlander 1984 continues to act as an authoritative source for the authorship of that journal’s pieces. Newlin 1995 notably includes each collaborative Christmas issue of Dickens’s two journals (with the contributors identified) in its exhaustive, three-volume compendium of every character and person mentioned or appearing in Dickens’s works. The third volume presents taxonomies of various types. The Dickens Index (Bentley, et al. 1988) is a comprehensive yet impressively compact volume with a convenient alphabetical organization for its descriptions of characters, locations, and actual people from Dickens’s life and works. The Bentley index is particularly helpful in providing entries for slang terms and allusions that may be unfamiliar to a modern-day reader. Hayward 1969 covers the novels as well as the Christmas numbers of Household Words and All the Year Round and includes entries for all characters and some key places, which remain useful for quick reference if one cannot access the more recent Dickens Index. Hayward also offers photographs, illustrations, and portraits, along with “Wellerisms” and a list of the most famous (and infamous) quotations from other characters. Much different in approach is Schlicke 1999, a deeply researched and collaboratively composed companion. Authoritative as a reference guide and featuring entries such as “history: Dickens’s attitudes,” some entries in Schlicke 1999 are thorough enough to be regarded as essays.

  • Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis, eds. The Dickens Index. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    If one is reading a Dickens text and finds a confusing word, phrase, name, or topical reference that is unannotated, this authoritative index is the first place to look for clarification.

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  • Hayward, Arthur L. The Dickens Encyclopaedia. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1969.

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    Offers handy, brief summations of Dickens’s major works and their characters. For beginning scholars, the explanatory entries for key sites, such as Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, or Gray’s Inn, are helpful; for more advanced scholars, the thorough listings of Dickens’s known references to such places are of value.

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  • Lohrli, Anne. Household Words: A Weekly Journal, 1850–1859, Conducted by Charles Dickens. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

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    A well-introduced, clear, chronological presentation of each issue’s contents that notes each piece, its length, the rate paid for it, and the identity of the contributor. Includes an alphabetical guide to the contributors and thoroughly researched, informative biographical notes. Remains an authoritative and essential reference guide.

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  • Newlin, George, ed. Everyone in Dickens. 3 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.

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    As its title promises, this encyclopedic set catalogues each person referenced in Dickens’s writings, actual or fictional, with excerpts of Dickens’s descriptions. A helpful reference for those wishing to look up, for instance, how frequently a particular name or occupation appears throughout the works.

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  • Oppenlander, Ella Ann. Dickens’ All the Year Round: Descriptive Index and Contributor List. New York: Whitston, 1984.

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    Identifies the contributors of all pieces published in All the Year Round. Uses evidence from letters and business correspondence, author identifications from republished pieces, and unpublished research shared by Phillip Collins. Includes short introductory essays, a title index, and a key word index. Remains an authoritative and essential reference guide.

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  • Schlicke, Paul, ed. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Expertly addresses broad topics, such as “work” and “education”; presents short essays about people in Dickens’s life, such as Angela Burdett-Coutts; and acts as a starting point for critical study with entries such as “criticism and scholarship” (pp. 133–147).

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Essay Collections and Journals

Articles on Dickens appear frequently in many of the journals covering 19th-century literary and cultural study, such as Victorian Studies, Nineteenth-Century Literature, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and SEL: Studies in English Literature. Focusing primarily on Dickens’s work, but also on other aspects of the period, is Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction, a traditional academic journal. Combining scholarly pieces with newsletter announcements and information are Dickens Quarterly and the Dickensian. Edited essay collections range from those providing broad coverage of the field to those concentrated on a specific topic or theme. The contributors to The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens (Jordan 2001) are well established in the field of Dickens studies, and many of them have written highly influential introductions to his works or monographs on various aspects of his career. To have J. Hillis Miller thinking about “Moments of Decision in Bleak House” (pp. 49–63), Robert L. Patten writing on Sketches by Boz (pp. 16–33), and Joss Marsh analyzing film adaptations (pp. 204–223) all in one place provides a solid introduction to important approaches for a beginning scholar. Targeted at a more advanced audience, Bowen and Patten 2006 brings together an equally impressive group of established scholars at the forefront of Dickens studies to give a sense of where critical and theoretical approaches stand at the beginning of the 21st century. Furneaux and Ledger 2011 gathers brief essays from more than thirty leading scholars to situate Dickens’s life and works in careful historical context while also providing an introduction to biographical approaches and the study of adaptation. John 2012 includes long-established authorities in the field, as well as cutting-edge thinkers who have quickly become respected, in its collective consideration of the relationships between Dickens’s era and the modern world. Another bicentennial publication, Waters 2012 comprises six volumes of previously published essays, each edited by a leading scholar, to address the topics of adaptation, the city, childhood, print culture, sexuality and gender, and global approaches. This resource, which represents the development and current state of each selected topic at the time of publication, is especially valuable to libraries or scholars with limited access to academic journals or interlibrary loan services.

  • Bowen, John, and Robert L. Patten, eds. Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Authoritatively represents, via leading international scholars, major theoretical and critical approaches to the study of Dickens in the early 21st century. Each essay is well footnoted and contains helpfully explicated recommendations for essential further reading. Concluding timeline presents life events, moments from Dickens’s writing career, and historical events.

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  • Dickens Quarterly. 1970–.

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    Formerly the Dickens Studies Newsletter (1970–1983), founded as an exchange of scholarly information. Published by the Dickens Society, features articles of up to nine thousand words, book reviews, short essays, conference announcements, and a “checklist” of the most recently published work in the field.

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  • Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction. 1970–.

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    A well-edited annual featuring a comprehensive range of scholarship on the works of Dickens and his contemporaries. Annual summation of new academic work on Dickens assists in keeping abreast of developments in the field.

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  • Dickensian. 1905–.

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    Published three times per year by the Dickens Fellowship, includes scholarly articles, reviews of books about and adaptations of Dickens, and fellowship announcements. Importantly, also the venue for newly discovered Dickens letters.

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  • Furneaux, Holly, and Sally Ledger, eds. Charles Dickens in Context. Literature in Context Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    This collection is notable for the sheer number of contributors and topics, which enables beginning scholars to develop a sense of the myriad issues with which Dickens’s oeuvre engages. Includes essays on often overlooked contexts, such as European reception of Dickens, as well as consideration of adaptation and legacies.

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  • John, Juliet, ed. Dickens and Modernity. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2012.

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    Brings a wide range of disciplines, including thing theory and sexuality studies, to bear on considerations of Dickens in relation to modernity. Explores ways of interpreting Dickens’s works through a modern lens, suggesting that Dickens may, in some ways, be considered both a Victorian and a modern author.

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  • Jordan, John O., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    A compilation of brief essays from a selection of major thinkers in Dickens studies. Introduces readers to a range of critical approaches and lists helpful, brief “Further Reading” suggestions following each of the fourteen essays. Good starting point for solidly grounded further research.

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  • Waters, Catherine, ed. A Library of Essays on Charles Dickens. 6 vols. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    An expansive, six-volume set that includes full reprints of key essays in Dickens studies in six major subfields. Helpful introductions to each volume situate readers within the field and explain the trajectory of critical study in that area. The six volumes are Dickens Adapted; Dickens and the City; Dickens and Childhood; Dickens and Victorian Print Cultures; Dickens, Sexuality and Gender; and Global Dickens.

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Primary Sources

Editions of Dickens’s writings abound and are plagued with great variation in quality. Inexpensive facsimiles and reproductions of earlier editions make Dickens’s works, especially the novels, widely available. The texts in this section present the most reliable editions of Dickens’s works with well-researched and careful selections of primary and secondary source material.

Editions

Clarendon Dickens editions are definitive and also highly valued, as many are no longer in print. More widely available, the Oxford World’s Classics and Penguin Classics series offer reliable, well-annotated editions inclusive of scholarly introductions and often used in university courses. Texts in the Norton Critical Editions series are authoritative and include excellent footnotes, contextual introductions, historical documents, and essays from respected critics, but only five Dickens works are available. Broadview Press has four sound critical editions in print, which feature useful historical documents, as well as two facsimile editions. The Broadview facsimile of Oliver Twist is noteworthy for its inclusion of the original advertisements that accompanied the serial installments. Worth attention as well is a single work in the Bedford/St. Martin’s Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism series: Carlisle 1996 is an edition of Great Expectations featuring a biographical and historical introduction as well as exemplary essays from five schools of literary criticism. Glancy 1996, an edition of The Christmas Stories, brings together in one volume all the pieces Dickens wrote for the special Christmas issues of Household Words and All the Year Round. More recently, Hesperus Classics has published many of those pieces restored to their original context alongside the stories written by other contributors to each issue. Evidencing a shift in emphasis to include Dickens’s non-novelistic writings in widely available editions, Hesperus has published thirteen of the collaborative Christmas numbers, plus The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, in their entirety as individual volumes.

  • Broadview Press.

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    Critical editions include introductions, notes, and supplementary contextual materials. Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and Hard Times are available. In facsimile editions are David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, the latter title uniquely containing original advertisements.

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  • Carlisle, Janice, ed. Great Expectations. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

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    Introduction provides excellent contextualization, and the primary text smoothly indicates the break points for weekly installments and features superb yet unobtrusive footnotes. The critical apparatus is split into sections that provide clear introductory explanations of five schools of literary criticism (psychoanalytic, deconstruction, feminist, gender criticism, and cultural criticism) followed by essays from five authoritative scholars (Peter Brooks, Edward W. Said, Hilary Schor, William A. Cohen, and Jay Clayton, respectively).

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  • Clarendon Dickens. 1966–. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    The most authoritative editions of the novels, with superior reproductions of the original illustrations, expert introductions, documentation of variant texts, and annotations. Unfortunately, difficult to access, as many are out of print. The series includes David Copperfield, Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, Martin Chuzzlewit, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Old Curiosity Shop, and The Pickwick Papers.

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  • Glancy, Ruth, ed. The Christmas Stories. London: Everyman, 1996.

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    Collects all of the pieces Dickens wrote for the annual Christmas issues of Household Words and All the Year Round in one volume with a scholarly introduction and footnotes. Identifies the contributors of the other stories for each issue but does not contain those stories, making exceptions only for some of Wilkie Collins’s contributions.

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  • Hesperus Classics. 2002–. London: Hesperus.

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    Restoring the stories of Dickens’s collaborators to the annual Christmas numbers he published for Household Words and All the Year Round, the Hesperus editions of these texts identify all contributors. Eight of the editions include and identify all contributors, feature scholarly introductions, and are annotated; five of the editions present the complete texts without scholarly apparatus.

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  • Norton Critical Editions. 1977–. New York: Norton.

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    Critical editions furnish scholarly introductions, background documents to provide historical context, and analytical essays from scholars. Bleak House, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Hard Times, and Oliver Twist are available in the series, with some including Dickens’s number plans.

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  • Oxford World’s Classics. 1901–. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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    Maintains all of the novels in print with original illustrations, scholarly introductions, and annotations.

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  • Penguin Classics. 1946–. New York: Penguin.

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    Maintains all of the novels in print (as well as some other texts, such as American Notes and Selected Journalism 1850–1870) with critical introductions, annotations, and original illustrations.

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Journalism, Speeches, and Notes

Fielding 1960 is the only scholarly, annotated edition of Dickens’s speeches, and Collins 1975 is the authoritative and singular edition of the public readings, which Dickens drew from his previously published fiction. For those wishing to explore what documentary evidence remains of Dickens’s creative process, Stone 1987 provides the definitive, annotated, and only edition of the surviving working plans and notes that Dickens used for the novels. Also providing a peek into Dickens’s private writing is Kaplan 1981, which reproduces via facsimile Dickens’s book of memoranda. Because both Kaplan’s and Stone’s editions are out of print and expensive to purchase, and because access to the primary documents is extremely limited, the existence of the facsimile reproductions in library collections is especially valuable. An authoritative four-volume resource for the study of Dickens’s journalistic writing, the Dent Uniform Edition (Slater and Drew 1994–2000) brings together all of Dickens’s known writing for newspapers and magazines. The first two volumes are especially helpful in presenting Dickens’s nonfictional periodical writing before the establishment of his own successful journal, Household Words (later All the Year Round). A resource completed in 2012, after much anticipation, is sure to change the direction of the study of Dickens’s journalism. With the launch of Dickens Journals Online, readers and scholars now have access to fully searchable facsimile editions of Household Words and All the Year Round.

  • Collins, Philip, ed. The Public Readings. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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    Remains the authoritative edition of the texts from which Dickens read at the public readings. Includes an excellent introduction; informative footnotes; and indications of Dickens’s stage directions, marginalia, and emphasis marks.

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  • Dickens Journals Online.

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    A remarkable resource completed in 2012, Dickens Journals Online allows free access to fully searchable facsimile editions of both Household Words and All the Year Round. Includes a text-to-speech player and hosts forums on, for instance, reading fiction in weekly installments.

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  • Fielding, K. J., ed. The Speeches of Charles Dickens. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.

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    The only annotated collection of Dickens’s speeches suitable for study. Provides contextual information for the speeches. Unfortunately, this edition is out of print, and more widely available editions are not reliable.

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  • Kaplan, Fred, ed. Charles Dickens’s Book of Memoranda: A Photographic and Typographic Facsimile of the Notebook Begun in January 1855. New York: New York Public Library, 1981.

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    A photographic facsimile of Dickens’s private book of memoranda. Helpfully accompanied by transcripts of his writing, which is often difficult to decipher.

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  • Slater, Michael, and John Drew, eds. The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism. 4 vols. London: Dent, 1994–2000.

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    Highly valuable resource in which each selection is prefaced with a thorough contextual introduction, original publication information, and notes on textual variations. Volumes also include fulsome indexing, making the selected journalism especially searchable, as well as helpful glossaries and a list of all of Dickens’s known journalism.

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  • Stone, Harry, ed. Dickens’s Working Notes for His Novels. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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    Includes photographic reproductions of all of Dickens’s surviving working notes and plans for ten of the novels. Extremely valuable, particularly for quick reference, is the volume’s inclusion of transcriptions for each facsimile page. Introduction and annotations address Dickens’s work methods and provide rare commentary on the materials (such as ink and pens) of novel production.

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Letters

Stunning in its breadth and scrupulously researched annotations, the twelve-volume Pilgrim edition of Dickens’s letters (House and Storey 1965–2002) took decades to complete and will remain the authoritative edition of the letters. For those who can purchase access, a searchable electronic edition is available through the InteLex Past Masters database. Updates to the Pilgrim edition (including corrections and newly discovered letters) appear in the Dickensian (cited under Essay Collections and Journals). Dexter 1938, known as the Nonesuch Letters, is helpful for identifying previous references but has been replaced by the authoritative Pilgrim edition. For those seeking a sampling of Dickens’s letters, Hartley 2012 aims to present a representative range of these writings, all selected from the Pilgrim edition, in one volume.

Biographies

Biographies of Charles Dickens proliferate, and the urge to represent his life often reveals as much about the biographer and his or her cultural moment as it does about Dickens as a person. Listed here is a sampling of biographies that use various approaches and serve different readerly needs. Full of useful information, Forster 1872–1874 is the most complete biography of Dickens written by someone who actually knew him. All biographies must make interpretive choices, and readers from the time of the book’s publication (such as Wilkie Collins) to the early 21st century have noted that Forster seems to have purposefully avoided mention of any potentially unseemly aspects of Dickens’s life. It took close to a century for an equally influential biography to join Forster’s, and that distinction goes to Johnson 1952, which strives to provide a more balanced view of Dickens. A lengthy scholarly work that is thoroughly researched, Johnson’s presentation of Dickens’s life includes analytical essays focusing on Dickens’s writings. In what is likely to be the most lasting critical biography, Slater 2011 masterfully focuses on Dickens as an author, with important attention to his journalism alongside his fiction. Slater’s Charles Dickens discusses the events of Dickens’s life with attention not only to the published fictions but also to Dickens’s rewritings of himself and his relationships (his marriage, for instance) throughout his life. As expected, given Claire Tomalin’s earlier, authoritative work on Ellen Ternan (see Tomalin 1990, cited under and the Dickens Family and Ellen Ternan), Tomalin 2012 is particularly careful in its examination of that affair. Written with the grace of a good storyteller, yet carefully researched, this is a highly readable biography for those who seek an informed yet unacademic writing style. A pathbreaking study that reinvigorated and reshaped the way many critics conceptualize biographical inquiry, Bodenheimer 2007 explores what Dickens may have known and the various ways he knew as well as the ways in which readers’ study of his works leads to fruitful questioning of our own ways of knowing. Juxtaposing several genres, including letters, journalism, and novels, Bodenheimer’s approach reminds critics that any sense of Dickens biography as “the life” is mythical if it does not acknowledge that all understandings of Dickens’s life stem from readings of texts. Gregory and Klimaszewski 2008, a purposefully short volume in the Brief Lives series, provides a distilled starting point for those beginning to explore Dickens’s life and is appropriate for university classroom use and other time- or length-constrained contexts.

  • Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. Knowing Dickens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

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    In contemplating Dickens’s ways of knowing, Bodenheimer introduces readers to nuanced, multifaceted, and appropriately complex ways of understanding Dickens. Bodenheimer puts Dickens’s letters in conversation with his fictional and nonfictional writing to illuminate concepts that recur in his writing. Recommended for all levels of study; essential for any advanced scholar.

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  • Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. Edited by J. W. T. Ley. London: Palmer, 1872–1874.

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    Written by Dickens’s friend and business advisor, whom Dickens had asked to pen his biography, this lengthy account of Dickens’s life includes first-hand accounts from Forster and presents an overwhelmingly positive view of its subject. Was considered authoritative for decades and continues to be regarded as an important foundational source.

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  • Gregory, Melissa Valiska, and Melisa Klimaszewski. Brief Lives: Charles Dickens. London: Hesperus, 2008.

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    A succinct yet scholarly overview of the life and career of Dickens, this slim volume is appropriate for undergraduate survey courses and as a quick reference for scholars. Contains a concluding chapter on afterlives that includes commentary on literary, stage, and film adaptations as well as references to Dickens in popular music.

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  • Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.

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    Lengthy, deeply researched biography that was quickly regarded as definitive, although its analyses of Dickens’s writings rely primarily on a biographical/psychological approach. Remains important as a post-Forster (see Forster 1872–1874) account of the life that situated Dickens in the context of his times and that included controversial aspects of his life, such as his relationship with Ellen Ternan.

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  • Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

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    With a commanding knowledge of all of Dickens’s known writing in multiple genres, Slater is able to discuss Dickens’s life in the context of the nearly stupefying amount of writing he produced. This biography, scrupulously researched and with careful citations, was immediately heralded as authoritative and is likely to remain so indefinitely.

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  • Tomalin, Claire. Charles Dickens: A Life. New York: Penguin, 2012.

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    Presents a comprehensive narrative of Dickens’s life with attention to his writings but with more of a focus on trying to capture and relate his multifaceted personality to twenty-first-century readers. A good introduction to Dickens’s life for the general reader. Those seeking more in-depth critical analyses will likely prefer Slater 2011 and Bodenheimer 2007.

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The Dickens Family and Ellen Ternan

Just as Dickens’s personality tended to dominate the lives of those around him, critics and biographers have often allowed a focus on Dickens to obscure the fact that other people in his life led equally complex, exciting existences. The women in Dickens’s life have been especially marginalized in some biographical studies, beginning with Forster 1872–1874 (cited under Biographies) and continuing until the late 20th century. The main focus of Nayder 2011 is to turn biographical attention to Dickens’s wife, Catherine, decentering Charles and privileging Catherine’s own voice and self-representation rather than allowing Charles’s imaging of his wife to shape one’s understanding of her as an individual. For decades, there was an intense resistance from many biographers, critics, and aficionados to acknowledging Ellen Ternan’s importance as Dickens’s companion for over a decade at the end of his life. Storey 1939 is an early source, written from the perspective of a friend of Dickens’s daughter Kate, that provides substantial amounts of information (not always verifiable in other documents or sources) about Dickens’s family life and his relationship with Ternan. Engagingly written, Tomalin 1990 was the first book to pay sustained attention to Ternan’s life in its own right while presenting a thorough, well-researched account of Ternan’s relationship with Dickens. Drawing from previous sources, such Ada Nisbet’s Dickens and Ellen Ternan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952), but with the benefit of several additional decades of discovery, Tomalin’s The Invisible Woman is an authoritative work. Slater 2012 is extremely valuable for those wishing to pinpoint when, where, and how various pieces of information on the marital separation and the relationship with Ternan appeared into print. It is also interesting as a study of Dickens scholarship itself—of the investments of various individuals (John Forster, Georgina Hogarth) and various groups/entities (the Dickens Fellowship, academics generally) in particular narratives of Dickens’s life.

  • Nayder, Lillian. The Other Dickens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.

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    The only fully researched biography of Catherine Hogarth Dickens, this book insists upon placing Catherine at the center of her own life and points out the inequities in previous treatments of her as only a passive wife of Dickens. Although Nayder’s reading of details in the letters sometimes overreaches, this book remains an important corrective to narratives that privilege Charles’s selfhood and point of view over Catherine’s.

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  • Slater, Michael. The Great Charles Dickens Scandal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

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    Succinctly charts public discussion of the relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan from its beginnings to the early 21st century. Especially helpful in tracking the mounting chatter in the 1930s that ultimately leads to the widespread revelation of the Dickens-Ternan relationship. Also refreshingly refuses to indulge any ungrounded new speculations.

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  • Storey, Gladys. Dickens and Daughter. London: Muller, 1939.

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    Storey, a friend of Dickens’s second daughter (Kate, later Kate Perugini), published this book as a memoir of Kate and as a record of what Storey learned from Kate about Dickens’s relationship with Ellen Ternan.

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  • Tomalin, Claire. The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. London: Viking, 1990.

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    Presents a carefully researched account of Ellen Ternan’s life as well as the relationship between her and Dickens. Authoritative, Tomalin’s work helped to cement the fact that biographers and students of Dickens’s life cannot credibly ignore Ternan’s presence.

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Reception

Critical assessments of Dickens lagged behind popular assessments for about a century. General readers—those who did not identify as academics or as arbiters of elite culture—reacted positively to Dickens throughout his lifetime. Many reviewers, however, did not regard Dickens as a practitioner of “high” art, and the popularity of his novels predisposed those who associated exclusivity with artistic value to diminish Dickens’s worth. By the mid-20th century, scholarly opinion had begun to change, and the complex crafting of Dickens’s writing, with its rich language, complicated systems of representation, and sometimes nuanced social commentary, led literary critics to place increasingly heavy significance on his oeuvre. Close enough to the Victorian age to provide first-hand comment on its relationship to the shifting social dynamics of the early 20th century, Chesterton 1911 was influential as an enthusiastically appreciative early work of criticism. Its introduction provides a snapshot of a worldview that many modern-day readers may find off-putting, but it is nonetheless an early work with which most scholars remain familiar. For reception of Dickens’s early writing, Chittick 1989 is a thorough reference work that catalogues published responses (many negative or dismissive) to Dickens’s writings between 1833 and 1841. Analyzing that data mine, Chittick 1990 is essential not only for understanding early critical evaluations of Dickens’s work but also for enhancing one’s understanding of shifting generic determinations. An important early collection of reviews published mainly in Dickens’s lifetime, Collins 1971 provides a glimpse of Dickens’s contemporaries’ reactions to all of his major novels as well as the early journalism. Although few of the items are reproduced in their entirety, this resource remains valuable. Slater 1970, marking the centenary of Dickens’s death, brings together a small set of scholars to consider Dickens’s fame and reputation, beginning with Dickens’s presence as a celebrity at the time of his death and including discussion of the Ternan relationship as well as films based on Dickens’s work. Historical in approach, Gardiner 2001 contains a careful examination of the term “Dickensian,” tracing its changing meanings at various historical moments and its ability to signify seemingly contradictory things. Mazzeno 2008 is an impressively comprehensive and balanced account of 170 years of scholarship on Dickens. Charting critical discussion and prevailing methodologies, Mazzeno presents a highly valuable and easily searchable chronological overview that immediately enables readers to pursue further research with a solid understanding of the critical debates with which major pieces of scholarship have engaged.

  • Chesterton, G. K. Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens. London: Dent, 1911.

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    Revealing as much about Chesterton’s early-20th-century worldview as it does about Dickens, this was an important early work of criticism that includes, as its title suggests, warm appreciations of Dickens’s works.

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  • Chittick, Kathryn. The Critical Reception of Charles Dickens, 1833–1841. New York: Garland, 1989.

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    A reference bibliography focusing on Dickens’s early periodical fiction, a valuable resource that surveys more than a hundred periodicals. Helpfully lists all mentions of Dickens’s work chronologically, by the titles of the works, and also by periodical.

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  • Chittick, Kathryn. Dickens and the 1830s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Helpfully analyzes the ways in which critical reception of Dickens’s early work demonstrates how classification criteria for biographies, literary criticism, and novels have changed over the years. Illuminates, for instance, the fact that The Pickwick Papers was originally reviewed as a magazine and that Dickens’s early writings were critiqued on an ongoing basis in newspapers and periodicals.

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  • Collins, Philip. The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971.

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    Especially for those without archival or digital access to 19th-century periodicals, a valuable resource that collects excerpts from reviews of Dickens’s writing published primarily during his lifetime. Includes selections from obituaries as well as early reviews of Forster’s Life of Dickens (see Forster 1872–1874, cited under Biographies), published after Dickens’s death.

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  • Gardiner, John. “The Dickensian and Us.” History Workshop Journal 51 (Spring 2001): 226–237.

    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/2001.51.226Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how various developments in literary criticism and theory have affected what the term “Dickensian” signifies. Discusses adaptation and is particularly strong on the impact of the 1940s and of film on popular associations with the term “Dickensian.”

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  • Mazzeno, Laurence W. The Dickens Industry: Critical Perspectives, 1836–2005. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008.

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    Thorough yet admirably concise reflection on scholarship treating Dickens’s life and works from the start of Dickens’s publishing career to the early 21st century. Traces critical discussions and methodologies, situating each piece of scholarship within the debates of its time. An extremely valuable, well-indexed, and clearly organized resource.

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  • Slater, Michael, ed. “Dickens and Fame, 1870–1970: Essays on the Author’s Reputation.” Dickensian 66 (May 1970): 73–200.

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    Presents essays from five scholars at the one hundredth anniversary of Dickens’s death. Reflects on Dickens’s reputation and fame, beginning with a look at assessments from his own contemporaries, and considers adaptations as well as academic scholarship.

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Publishing and Print Culture

Drawing from multiple theoretical approaches and disciplines, Jordan and Patten 1995 provides an excellent grounding for understanding Dickens in the context of 19th-century publishing and reading practices. For beginners as well as advanced scholars, this coherent collection is broad yet manageable in scope, with four essays focusing on Dickens and ten others that are informative and helpful in directing future study. Sutherland 1976 provides an important historical explanation of the state of Victorian novel publishing between 1830 and 1870. Sutherland’s chapter on Dickens focuses on the power he wielded, not just as editor and writer for All the Year Round but also as its publisher. Authoritative and essential for any examination of the publication details of Dickens’s works, Patten 1978 is a scrupulously researched book that carefully documents its sources while just as carefully acknowledging the insurmountable obstacles that plague any attempts to determine firm circulation and sales data for 19th-century texts. Remaining influential in the field at the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth, Patten 2012 discusses the development of Dickens’s authorial persona in the context of 19th-century print culture and includes a wealth of detail on his negotiation of the publishing world, material and otherwise. Thornton 2009 takes an insightful approach by analyzing the bidirectional interplay between The Dickens Advertiser and the novels they accompanied as well as interrogated. In a similar vein but with a different isolated text, Williams 2010 shows how the advertisements in the original serial installments of The Pickwick Papers were as influenced by the fiction as the fiction was by the advertising. Those wishing to study a range of advertisements that accompanied the original publication of many of Dickens’s novels should consult Darwin 1930. Until high-quality reproductions of the original advertising supplements are available via online platforms, Darwin’s selection remains a helpful resource, especially for scholars who cannot access specialized archives. Sen 2012 examines print culture and visual, or “nonliterary,” culture in relation to Dickens’s artistry, with particular attention to the differences between William Makepeace Thackeray’s and Dickens’s relationship to print culture. Sen’s work is indicative of an important trend in scholarship on print culture that insists upon linkages between the print culture from which Dickens’s writings emerged, and of which they were a part, and the narrative, aesthetic, and political dimensions of his works.

  • Darwin, Bernard. The Dickens Advertiser. London: Mathews and Marrot, 1930.

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    Reproduces a selection of advertisements from the original part issues of some of the novels. In the absence of electronic access to such matter, remains one of the few sources aside from archival collections for examination of original advertisements.

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  • Jordan, John O., and Robert L. Patten, eds. Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Impressively assembled collection that addresses various aspects of textual production and consumption, considering, for instance, intersections between discourses of gender and sexuality and reading practices. Four essays focus specifically on Dickens, and the other ten provide equally important context for thorough consideration of his works in the 19th-century world of publishing and reading.

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  • Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

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    Patten’s work remains the authoritative study of the sales of Dickens’s works, including his journalism, his publication contracts, and his often prickly relationships with various publishers.

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  • Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and “Boz”: The Birth of the Industrial-Age Author. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139151702Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of Dickens’s early career; includes a plethora of scrupulously researched information on 19th-century print culture and publishing. In that context, discusses Dickens’s transformation of himself into the authorial entity (and celebrity) that would become so renowned.

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  • Sen, Sambudha. London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012.

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    Argues that print culture (especially graphic radicalism) saturates, informs, and shapes Dickens’s novels, particularly in regard to social satire and depictions of London.

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  • Sutherland, John A. Victorian Novelists and Publishers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

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    Well-researched historical study of the British publishing world between 1830 and 1870. The chapter on Dickens (“Dickens as Publisher,” pp. 166–187) provides a rare assessment of Dickens’s presence and power as publisher of All the Year Round and his influence on the reading public.

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  • Thornton, Sara. Advertising, Subjectivity and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Dickens, Balzac and the Language of the Walls. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230236745Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the many forms of print advertising that greeted 19th-century readers and explores their impact on subjectivity. Includes extensive discussion of Dickens and The Dickens Advertiser.

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  • Williams, Andy. “Advertising and Fiction in The Pickwick Papers.” Victorian Literature and Culture 38.2 (2010): 319–335.

    DOI: 10.1017/S106015031000001XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes some of the linkages between the fictional content of The Pickwick Papers and the advertisements that accompanied its original serial form. Williams traces the connections between Victorian commercialism, advertising, fiction, and reality by demonstrating that the print advertisements borrowed from Dickens’s fiction, and vice versa.

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Illustrations

The first comprehensive study of illustrators who worked with Dickens, Kitton 2004 (originally published in 1899) is also noteworthy because its author worked as an illustrator in the Victorian period. Updating Kitton’s project almost a century later, Cohen 1980 provides a thorough discussion of all of the original illustrators of Dickens’s works, including biographical information, a discussion of the artists’ interactions with Dickens, and illustrations showing the development of their artwork. Patten 1992–1996 is the most comprehensive source of information about George Cruikshank, who illustrated Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist and with whom Dickens maintained a friendship for several years. Lester 2004 is the first complete biography of Hablot Knight Browne, who worked with Dickens for far longer than Cruikshank. Lester’s Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens is an accessible treatment of his life that also draws from the Browne family’s papers, to which scholars have not had access. Steig 1978 provides a scholarly analysis of the illustrations Phiz created with Dickens, significantly impacting the field by arguing that collaboration should be the dominant lens through which one analyzes each novel’s illustrations.

  • Cohen, Jane R. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980.

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    Comprehensive and authoritative study of all original illustrators who worked with Dickens. Includes biographical information, discussion of their relationships with Dickens, and high-quality reproductions of portraits, sketches, and illustrations. Also situates Dickens within the history of the illustrated novel and comments on the genre’s trajectory after Dickens.

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  • Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2004.

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    Originally published in 1899. Kitton’s discussion of the illustrators and Dickens’s relationships with them remains valuable due to Kitton’s own work experiences in that era. Because the quality of the reproduced illustrations is low, readers are more likely to benefit from examining Cohen 1980.

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  • Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

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    Accessible biography of Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”), who illustrated ten of Dickens’s novels and worked with him for over two decades. Draws on private family papers and includes numerous high-quality illustrations.

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  • Patten, Robert L. George Cruikshank’s Life, Times and Art. 2 vols. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992–1996.

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    The definitive biography of Cruikshank, the illustrator with whom Dickens worked closely at the beginning of his career, particularly on Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist.

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  • Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

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    Argues persuasively that Browne’s illustrations need to be read as carefully as Dickens’s prose and importantly emphasizes the collaborative aspects of the Dickens-Phiz relationship. Includes 123 pages of illustrations.

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Journalism

Scholarship on Dickens’s journalism is especially vibrant, in part because of the convergence of topics and interests evident in the two publications, Household Words and All the Year Round, that Dickens edited over a span of two decades. Thomas 1982 focuses mainly on isolating Dickens’s short fictional writings and including them in critical appraisals of his oeuvre, drawing links between their thematics and the novels. The book’s supplements also include lists of all of the contributors to the collaborative Christmas numbers and discuss some of the problems of attribution that complicate analyses of periodical collaborations. Chittick 1990 is an essential and important study in part because of the sheer scope of the resources the study mines: thousands of periodical issues. In addition to the early novels, which Chittick demonstrates are texts that came to be called novels for fairly arbitrary reasons, the book considers Dickens’s work as an editor and reporter. The first major study to chart the entirety of Dickens’s known journalistic work, Drew 2003 contextualizes Dickens’s journalism and examines its central themes. In conjunction with the Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism (see Slater and Drew 1994–2000, cited under Journalism, Speeches, and Notes), Drew’s work has helped renew scholarly interest in journalism as an important part of the Dickens canon. Two works from 2008 focus strictly on Household Words and help to shift critical attention to the ways in which Dickens’s journalism did not articulate his voice alone. Rather than reading Household Words as expressive of Dickens’s individual views, or as stressing only one formulation of Englishness, Clemm 2008 impressively addresses how the essays of many writers come together to establish the journal’s view of Englishness. Waters 2008 analyzes how the range of writing about commodities in Household Words participates in discourses surrounding Victorian culture’s changing relationships with the objects it makes, sells, and uses. Considering the role of Dickens’s collaborators, Gregory 2010 examines Dickens’s writings with other men to suggest that, especially in composite pieces, his writing with others for journalistic venues showcases a less firmly authoritative Dickens. Bledsoe 2012 breaks new ground in the first book-length study of music in Dickens’s journals, illustrating that Dickens’s views of, and tastes in, music shift over the two decades of his journals’ publication. Acknowledging the educational and culturally influential role of Dickens’s journals as well as his editorial choices, Bledsoe also takes a biographical approach to considerations of Dickens’s friendships with musicians and music enthusiasts.

  • Bledsoe, Robert Terrell. Dickens, Journalism, Music: Household Words and All the Year Round. New York: Continuum, 2012.

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    The first critical analysis of the topic of music in Dickens’s journals, Bledsoe demonstrates that All the Year Round includes more coverage of opera and classical music than Household Words, whose attention is devoted mostly to popular music. Also discusses the influence of Dickens’s friendships with music enthusiasts on his editorship of All the Year Round.

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  • Chittick, Kathryn. Dickens and the 1830s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Provides much-needed discussion and contextualization of Dickens’s early work as a parliamentary reporter as well as his editorships with Bentley’s Miscellany and Master Humphrey’s Clock. Examines early critical responses and discusses how writing for the periodical form impacted the development of the novel as well as its political impact.

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  • Clemm, Sabine. Dickens, Journalism, and Nationhood: Mapping the World in Household Words. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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    A crucial study of Household Words that pays attention to how it, as an entity, both represents and constructs a national English identity. Also helpfully compares Household Words with similar publications of the time, including Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal and the Times.

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  • Drew, John M. L. Dickens the Journalist. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230006102Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ambitious in scope, this book acts as a comprehensive guide to Dickens’s known journalism as well as a consideration of journalistic writing as a central aspect of Dickens’s oeuvre. Contains some analysis of Dickens’s journalistic style and themes.

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  • Gregory, Melissa Valiska. “Dickens’s Collaborative Genres.” Dickens Studies Annual 41 (2010): 215–236.

    DOI: 10.7756/dsa.041.009.215-236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examining Christmas numbers and articles inspired by joint excursions, Gregory argues that, in some cases, Dickens and his male collaborators negotiated the power dynamics of collaborative authorship in ways that were not strictly hierarchical.

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  • Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and the Short Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

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    Important in helping to bring more critical attention to Dickens’s short fiction and to the Christmas issues of his periodicals, identifies common themes in the short stories while relating them to his novels. Some consideration of stylistic differences between Wilkie Collins and Dickens and on frameworks of oral narration in the Christmas numbers.

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  • Waters, Catherine. Commodity Culture in Dickens’s Household Words: The Social Life of Goods. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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    Examines the prose of Household Words (written by multiple contributors) as it describes and sometimes problematizes the production, sale, and “social life” of objects. Reminds readers that the periodical is a multivocal form.

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Historical Approaches

Historical approaches emphasize the many ways in which Dickens’s writing is deeply embedded in social issues, touching on a plethora of challenges faced by the Victorians in the areas of government, education, and sanitation, just to name a few. House 1941 charted a new path by granting Dickens serious scholarly attention and by placing emphasis on the relationship between Dickens’s reformism, the society of which he was a part, and his writing about that society. Tillotson 1954 is one of the most influential studies not only of Dickens’s work through historicized analysis of Dombey and Son but also of mid-19th-century novels more generally. Also highly influential, Butt and Tillotson 1957 provides a well-researched study of Dickens’s writing process within the realm of the periodical press, drawing links between Dickens’s literary craftsmanship and the social issues of the day. Collins 1962 considers Dickens’s fictional works as well as his journalism in the context of 19th-century thinking about crime, modeling thoroughly researched historical criticism. An important study, whose first chapter focuses on Dombey and Son, Williams 1970 argues for an understanding of Dombey as an attempt to deal with the confusion of how personal relationships connect (or fail to connect) to a perplexing society at large that sometimes feels unfamiliar. Williams holds that this understanding of the negotiation of individual versus communal relationships should shape one’s view of Dickens as a novelist. By examining Dickens’s works in their original periodical contexts, Chittick 1990 is able to investigate how the critical reception of Dickens’s work as well as his writing of novels specifically for serial publications impacted the development of the novel as a genre. Chittick also argues that the political impact of Dickens’s works is linked to the forms in which they were written and published. Sanders 1999 revisits House’s terrain more than half a century later, situating Dickens and his approach to fiction writing in the context of the political and social matters of the mid-19th century and emerging modern culture. For a survey of the wide range of contexts in which Dickens wrote, lived, and was received, Furneaux and Ledger 2011 provides introductory historical grounding from leading scholars in many fields.

  • Butt, John Everett, and Kathleen Tillotson. Dickens at Work. London: Methuen, 1957.

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    Importantly, situates Dickens in periodical contexts in order to foster understanding of the connections between his writing process, his talent, and social issues of the day. An influential study, it also advocates for Dickens as an author whose craft in serial formats merits respect.

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  • Chittick, Kathryn. Dickens and the 1830s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Crucial for scholars at all levels in order to understand the trajectory of which texts were regarded as “literary” by Victorians and how Dickens’s early work as a parliamentary reporter, sketch writer, editor, and fiction writer blurred generic and critical boundaries.

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  • Collins, Philip. Dickens and Crime. London: St. Martin’s, 1962.

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    Argues that Dickens was preoccupied with crime and considers how his views on crime relate to 19th-century laws, debates, and attitudes toward criminality. Deeply researched; remains a foundational historical study that is still cited frequently.

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  • Furneaux, Holly, and Sally Ledger, eds. Charles Dickens in Context. Literature in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Collects brief essays that provide historical context for an understanding of Dickens within the Victorian age. Treats critical reception, discourses of race and imperialism, science, genre, financial markets, and adaptations from the 19th century to the 21st, among other subjects.

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  • House, Humphry. The Dickens World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941.

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    Remains influential as the first deeply historicized consideration of Dickens’s writings in relation to the social concerns and preoccupations of the Victorian period. Positions Dickens as a critic of the class system while disagreeing with previous critics who viewed Dickens as overly radical.

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  • Sanders, Andrew. Dickens and the Spirit of the Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198183549.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers Dickens in historical context and includes a biographical approach to argue that Dickens’s novelistic writing is representative of an emergent modern culture. Contains a strong discussion of Dickens and social class/social mobility as well as a thorough comparison of Dickens and Karl Marx.

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  • Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954.

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    Deeply historicizes four novels to enhance readers’ understanding not only of each work but also of a key Victorian decade. A chapter on Dombey and Son is essential in arguing that social criticism is an integral part of the novel’s art.

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  • Williams, Raymond. “Charles Dickens.” In The English Novel: From Dickens to Lawrence. By Raymond Williams, 28–59. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

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    Carefully historicized chapter on Dombey and Son situates Dickens as one of the novelists responsible not for reflecting society but for helping to shape it through fiction, particularly in regard to the shifting understandings of the concept of community in Victorian society.

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Social Reform and Politics

Dickens’s commentary on politics appears most effectively in the satirical depictions of government and its institutions in his novels, which are also concerned with social arrangements that need reform. A classic work of historical criticism, Collins 1963 remains a foundational source for a thoroughly researched assessment of Dickens’s views on education and its reform, which found impassioned expression especially in his early novels. Contemplating the relation of the self to its culture, Trilling 1978 (originally published in 1955) identifies the fall of the Bastille as the moment that a 19th-century consciousness began, making imprisonment the dominant conceptual framework for the modern self. Little Dorrit’s representation of multiple forms of imprisonment acts as a strong case study for Trilling’s argument, which also touches briefly on other Dickens works and which was highly influential. A theoretically sophisticated text, Bodenheimer 1988 focuses on novels that address the perplexing changes accompanying industrialization, or condition-of-England-novels. Placing Dickens’s novels in conversation with the writing of others (including Benjamin Disraeli and George Eliot), Bodenheimer links analysis of narrative techniques to consideration of social reform by discussing the pastoral in Oliver Twist and questions of temporality and progress in Hard Times. More biographical in approach, Hartley 2008 provides the most thoroughly researched study of Urania Cottage, a home Dickens created with the funding of Angela Burdett-Coutts for women who had been imprisoned for prostitution, thievery, or other illegal acts. Hartley chronicles the intersection of Dickens’s life with the lives of the working-class women whom he sought to help by making them inmates of Urania Cottage, linking the stories of those women’s lives to some of Dickens’s characters. An impactful study, Ledger 2007 contains analysis of Dickens’s politics in relation to those of his friend the playwright Douglas William Jerrold and the Chartist George W. M. Reynolds, his main competitor in the periodical press. Ledger argues that regency-era political thought thoroughly informed Dickens’s methods of reaching his audience. In conversation with Ledger are John 2010 and Sen 2012. John 2010 contends that Dickens, building his celebrity presence during the advent of what we regard in the early 21st century as mass culture, purposefully attempted to shape public opinion and intervene in public affairs. Sen 2012 posits that the ways in which highly political print culture and visual culture saturated the 19th-century publishing atmosphere affected Dickens’s crafting of his novels.

  • Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

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    A nuanced and careful study of several 19th-century novels, with notable attention to Hard Times and Oliver Twist. Argues that the narrative shaping of novels reveals complex fictional responses to Victorian social problems.

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  • Collins, Philip. Dickens and Education. London: Macmillan, 1963.

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    A classic work that evaluates Dickens’s concerns about education in the context of 19th-century social history. Includes biographical information in addition to discussion of journalism and novels and asserts that Dickens’s fictional portrayals of educational inadequacies were far more impressive, and effective, than any of his other endeavors.

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  • Hartley, Jenny. Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women. London: Methuen, 2008.

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    Focuses on the way Dickens impacted the lives of the working-class women in Urania Cottage, the home for fallen women that he established with Angela Burdett-Coutts. Draws parallels between the narratives of those women and fictional characters in David Copperfield, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Bleak House, and Dombey and Son.

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  • John, Juliet. Dickens and Mass Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigates how Dickens’s attitudes toward public and political affairs are related to his navigation of literary celebrity and massive popular appeal. Includes discussion of public readings as well as journalism and also astutely assesses the politics of Dickens’s legacy.

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  • Ledger, Sally. Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Argues that Dickens draws upon models of radical political thought from the regency era, especially evident in his use of melodrama and satire, to reach the mass public successfully with a social critique that would not be regarded as extreme or off-putting.

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  • Sen, Sambudha. London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012.

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    Paying special attention to his satirical methods in the novels, considers Dickens’s aesthetic techniques in the context of the visual political discourses with which Dickens’s novels engage.

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  • Trilling, Lionel. “Little Dorrit.” In The Opposing Self: Nine Essays in Criticism. By Lionel Trilling, 44–57. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

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    Originally published in 1955. Discussion of imprisonment (bodily, economic, social, familial) in Little Dorrit was highly influential and frequently cited.

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Religion

As Dickens’s novels do not emphasize questions of religious belief more than would be expected from a moderate Anglican Christian perspective, there is less scholarship focusing exclusively on the subject of Dickens and religion than appears in other subfields. Some novels, including Hard Times and Little Dorrit, rely more heavily than others on religious language or metaphor. Dickens also wrote his own private interpretation of the life of Christ for his children titled The Life of Our Lord, which he never intended for publication but which was indeed published after Dickens’s last child died. Walder 1981 analyzes the novels and some other works in the context of 19th-century religious discourse to suggest that Dickens’s fictional writing was the vehicle through which he expressed his personal religious views. Although Walder identifies his study as the first book-length work to examine comprehensively the topic of religious belief throughout Dickens’s career, the earlier Pope 1978 focuses exclusively on evangelical philanthropy and Dickens’s attitudes toward religiously motivated reform efforts. A careful, rich analysis that scrutinizes five of the novels, Larson 1985 is generally regarded as a foundational work against which all future scholarship on Dickens and religion must position itself. Examining Dickens’s use of biblical allusions and parables, Larson illustrates that Dickens’s varied, inconsistent use of the Bible reflects the instability of biblical texts for Victorians more generally and engages with that instability. Acknowledging inconsistencies, Lewis 2011 nevertheless finds more coherence in Dickens’s biblical allusions than does Larson. Pointing out that Dickens could take for granted a shared Christian worldview with his intended audience, Lewis attends to the use of Jesus’ parables and New Testament allusions in nine novels to consider Dickens’s relationship with what Lewis envisions as Dickens’s ideal reader. Notably, many contemplations of Dickens and religion also concentrate on the topic of the city in fiction. Welsh 1971 brings together consideration of Dickens’s writing (journalism as well as novels), discourses of Christianity, and representations of the city to suggest that the heavenly and the secular city were the two main images dominating Victorian experiences of urbanity. Smith 2008 looks at Dickens and Christianity in relation to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and each chapter analyzes an image from Dickens’s symbolic London in order to assess its spiritual significance. Nord 2011 contributes to ongoing discussions of anti-Semitism in Dickens’s oeuvre by underlining the shift in his characterization of Jewish characters from the selfish and criminal Fagin in Oliver Twist to the redeemable (though only through conversion) Riah in Our Mutual Friend.

  • Larson, Janet L. Dickens and the Broken Scripture. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

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    Analyzes biblical allusions in five of the novels to argue that Dickens’s work exemplifies (and participates in) the ways in which the Bible as a text no longer provided a consistent code, or set of references, for Victorians. Essential for work on religion and Dickens; includes an especially influential and lengthy chapter on Little Dorrit (pp. 177–277).

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  • Lewis, Linda. Dickens, His Parables, and His Reader. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

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    Argues that the New Testament, and Jesus’ parables especially, are the source of the moral vision Dickens wishes to impart to his readers. Reading nine of Dickens’s novels through the lens of such parables, also attempts to speculate on how Dickens’s ideal reader would respond to his use of Christianity.

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  • Nord, Deborah Epstein. “Dickens’s ‘Jewish Question’: Pariah Capitalism and the Way Out.” Victorian Literature and Culture 39.1 (2011): 27–45.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1060150310000252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situates Dickens’s characterization of Jewish figures, such as Fagin and Riah, in relation to the historical context of perceptions of Judaism in the Victorian Age, especially Karl Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.”

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  • Pope, Norris. Dickens and Charity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

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    Examines Dickens’s views toward and representations of Christian charity, especially evangelical Christianity. Places Dickens’s views within Victorian discourses of religiosity, discussing education and housing reform in the context of evangelical Protestantism, which Dickens disliked.

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  • Smith, Karl Ashley. Dickens and the Unreal City: Searching for Spiritual Significance in Nineteenth-Century London. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230583252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the role of traditional religious symbolism in the London of Dickens’s novels, concluding that elements of the city can either obstruct or inspire spiritual revelation by obscuring or revealing connections between individuals, society, and the universe.

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  • Walder, Dennis. Dickens and Religion. London: Allen and Unwin, 1981.

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    Contends that Dickens expresses his personal religious belief through his writing and traces the development of religious themes in the novels throughout Dickens’s career. Focuses mainly on the novels but with attention to other genres as they provide historical context.

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  • Welsh, Alexander. The City of Dickens. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

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    Argues that, in order to make sense of the city, Victorian thinkers such as Dickens relied on Christian formulations of two cities: one heavenly and one earthly. Includes consideration of journalism in addition to novels.

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Empire, Race, and Globalism

Often regarded as a quintessentially English icon, Dickens and his works engage with matters of empire, colonialism, and race in multiple contexts. An early postcolonial reading of Dickens, Perera 1991 should have shifted critical understanding more fundamentally than it has. In Reaches of Empire, Perera argues convincingly that one cannot separate consideration of imperialism from general understandings of “the” English novel. Also refreshing in its unfortunately rare approach, Jacobson 2000 places essays from scholars based in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Australia alongside essays from scholars based in countries much more often represented in literary criticism, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The global perspective of the collection enhances its scope as its contributors probe the connections between constructions of childhood, race, ethnicity, and empire. Drawing from Dickens’s novels, letters, and journalism, Moore 2004 attempts to shift critical opinions of Dickens’s views on empire and race by presenting a nuanced analysis of the divergent pieces on the subjects that appeared in his journals. Developing a reading of Household Words as a conglomeration of many voices, Clemm 2008 investigates the ways in which many contributors establish the journal’s view of Englishness in a range of contexts, both geographic and cultural. As part of a project that helps to shift the paradigm of postcolonial studies into a more dialogic mode, Gagnier 2013 approaches Dickens’s global presence in the 21st century with an emphasis on intertextuality. Dialogic itself, Gagnier’s essay responds to two pieces published previously in Literature Compass to provide an illuminating discussion of the incredibly wide-ranging “revoicings” and utilizations of Dickens well beyond the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America. With a similar approach, Jordan and Perera 2012 includes the sections “Intertextuality” and “Worldly Matters,” which contain nearly double the number of essays of the “Dickens and Travel” and “Reception” sections (and even the “Reception” essays focus on locales outside North America and the United Kingdom). One of the most groundbreaking studies of Dickens from any critical approach, Hack 2008 pays attention to the ways in which the African American community not only interacted with Dickens’s Bleak House but also appropriated it (in rewritings, for instance). Hack’s argument leads critics to new, non-Eurocentric ways of reading the novel many identify as Dickens’s masterpiece and as a pinnacle of “the” Victorian novel; this approach points to the important and exciting contributions that emerge from a literary criticism deeply informed by critical race studies.

  • Clemm, Sabine. Dickens, Journalism, and Nationhood: Mapping the World in Household Words. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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    Considering Ireland, India, and nations within as well as outside of Europe, delineates Dickens’s own views on empire and English identity from those represented in his periodical. Fruitfully compares Household Words with similar publications of the time.

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  • Gagnier, Regenia. “The Global Circulation of Charles Dickens’s Novels.” In Special Issue: The Future of Women in Modernism. Edited by Tory Young and Jeff Wallace. Literature Compass 10.1 (2013): 82–95.

    DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12021Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Breaking out of critical models that stress influence, Gagnier argues that similarities between Dickens’s novels and more recently published works are less the result of Dickens’s influencing those societies and more the result of comparable historical forces producing similar literary aesthetics. Evidences an important new dialogic direction in the field of postcolonial studies. Available online for purchase.

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  • Hack, Daniel. “Close Reading at a Distance: The African Americanization of Bleak House.” Critical Inquiry 34.4 (2008): 729–753.

    DOI: 10.1086/592542Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests a groundbreaking new reading of Bleak House that disrupts the novel’s exclusion of African Americans by paying careful attention to African American and abolitionist engagements with the novel in varied forms, such as reprinting, rewriting, and performance.

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  • Jacobson, Wendy S., ed. Dickens and the Children of Empire. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230294172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A strong collection of essays from international scholars that dislodges a Eurocentric perspective of Dickens and his critics. Causes one to reevaluate representations of children, colonialism, race, and empire as well as the interconnected nature of those discourses in the 19th century.

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  • Jordan, John O., and Nirshan Perera, eds. Global Dickens. A Library of Essays on Charles Dickens. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    Gathers previously published essays from books, collections, and journals to capture a sense of where the study of Dickens stands, from a global perspective, at the bicentennial of his birth. Essays consider Dickens’s own travels, the representation of non-English people and places in his works, the reception of Dickens’s writing outside the United Kingdom and United States, and intertextual relationships. One volume in Waters 2012 (cited under Essay Collections and Journals).

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  • Moore, Grace. Dickens and Empire: Discourses of Class, Race and Colonialism in the Works of Charles Dickens. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

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    Moore investigates the degree to which Dickens influenced public opinion while he also reacted to public discourse on colonial topics in speedy, shifting ways. Attempts to shift critical views away from Dickens as an extreme racist and proposes a corrected reading of his “The Noble Savage” as an ironic piece.

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  • Perera, Suvendrini. Reaches of Empire: The English Novel from Edgeworth to Dickens. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

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    Through perceptive close textual analysis, Perera demonstrates that empire is embedded in the language of English novels regardless of whether the texts—or their characters—confront empire directly. Includes analysis of Dombey and Son and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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Transatlantic Approaches

Thorough transatlantic studies are few in number compared to other areas of Dickens scholarship, in part because of the massive amount of research necessary to carefully contextualize Dickens’s works in such disparate cultures and locations. Flint 2000 is a brief but important survey of Dickens’s fictional and nonfictional references to Native Americans that examines Dickens’s awareness of Native Americans, his encounters with them (primarily during his travels in the United States), and his views on the American government’s treatment of them. McParland 2010 delves into the dominant culture of 19th-century America, suggesting that readers’ experiences of Dickens assisted in the development of a unified American community by bridging historical and regional divisions and helping to create common cultural ground. Hack 2008 considers African American engagement with the novel many identify as Dickens’s masterpiece, Bleak House. Hack’s argument, which analyzes African American comment on and rewriting of Bleak House despite the novel’s exclusion of African Americans, opens up important new possibilities for reading this novel and others from a non-Anglophilic perspective. Two of the strongest book-length studies in this field are McGill 2003 and Lee 2010. Situating Dickens’s outrage over a lack of international copyright legislation within the context of American debates about national identity (including local versus centralized control and slavery), McGill 2003 examines reprinting and “piracy” with a view that includes consideration of how individual-centered copyright laws may have negatively impacted literary culture. McGill’s analysis of Dickens and his American Notes dramatically recontextualizes his comments about reprinted editions. Pathbreaking, Lee 2010 reverses the usual trajectory of British literature influencing American writing by illustrating how American slave narratives affected Victorian novels. The work of Hack, Lee, and McGill indicates that transatlantic studies is, in the early 21st century, one of the most stimulating areas of Dickens studies.

  • Flint, Kate. “Dickens and the Native American.” In Dickens and the Children of Empire. Edited by Wendy S. Jacobson, 94–104. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230294172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes Dickens’s representation of and references to Native Americans, particularly in the context of his views on American policies and his conceptualization of savagery. Argues that the figure appears in multiple and inconsistent forms as it is invoked to support arguments on a wide range of other subjects.

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  • Hack, Daniel. “Close Reading at a Distance: The African Americanization of Bleak House.” Critical Inquiry 34.4 (2008): 729–753.

    DOI: 10.1086/592542Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes African American interest in and engagement with Bleak House to demonstrate that the transatlantic presence of Dickens’s text was about far more than Anglophilia. Also discusses the utilization of Bleak House by both sides of the abolitionist debate.

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  • Lee, Julia Sun-Joo. The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Groundbreaking new work arguing that American slave narratives influenced British novels as much as the reverse. Introduction includes analysis of Dickens’s views on Frederick Douglass, and chapter 5 (pp. 113–130) focuses specifically on Great Expectations to suggest that Dickens reworks the fugitive slave plot through the figure of the convict.

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  • McGill, Meredith. American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834–1853. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

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    Urges readers to question their acceptance of individual, author-centered copyright (for which Dickens strongly advocated) as a single, idealized alternative to vilified literary piracy. A chapter on Dickens and American Notes (pp. 109–140) links questions of copyright to literary form and contributes a new analysis to the field.

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  • McParland, Robert. Charles Dickens’s American Audience. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010.

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    Relying upon fairly broad concepts of American community, McParland claims that the creation of a shared cultural language, particularly in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Civil War, was influenced by wide exposure to Dickens’s novels, plays, and readings. Uses reactions to Dickens’s works recorded in American historical documents, such as memoirs, letters, and library/reading group records.

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Genre and Realism

Psychological realism, sentimentalism, detective fiction, picaresque, and gothic are all generic terms that sometimes describe Dickens’s fiction. Locating Dickens’s entire body of work within one genre or tradition is even more impossible than settling on a single genre for one specific work, and literary critics have rigorously debated Dickens’s place in the canon (see Leavis and Leavis 1970, cited under General Overviews). Multiple methodological approaches inform appraisals of the genres in which Dickens writes. Rena-Dozier 2010 uses analysis of how David Copperfield represents and constructs gender roles inside and outside of the home to bring together masculinity and the traditionally feminized domestic novel. Also considering a frequently feminized genre, Purton 2012 reconsiders the sentimentality present in each of Dickens’s novels from a critical perspective that contextualizes the genre historically. Examining another genre, and with rare attention to Dickens in European traditions, Hollington 1984 deals with all of the novels and discusses Dickens’s use of the grotesque in relation to tragicomedy, the historical novel, and narrative technique. Realism, a term that often dominates classifications of Dickens, has been interrogated in various ways. In an essay for a collection marking the centennial of Dickens’s death, J. Hillis Miller published an argument that impacted considerations of realism permanently. Noting that Sketches by Boz would seem to be unquestionably realist, as all critical comment up to that point had taken for granted, Miller 1971 then demonstrates that the Sketches actually illustrate the profoundly unstable nature of all meaning making. Differing respectfully from Miller’s deconstruction of reality, Romano 1978 recuperates Dickens as a realist writer, carefully reconsiders the term realism itself, and includes analysis of Dickens’s form as part of generic determinations. A brief study of Dickens’s narrative method, Reed 2010 argues that some techniques appearing to characterize Dickens’s novels as realist are actually ways in which Dickens controls his narratives to work against realism. A stimulating work, Greiner 2012 examines the complicated relationship between sympathy, emotion, and thought in literary realism, making a strong case for the influence—sometimes indirect—of Adam Smith on 19th-century formulations of sympathy. One of the most influential works treating the 19th-century novel, Woloch 2003 provides a study of characterization that has shifted most thinking to enhance critical understanding of nonprotagonist characters as essential to the aesthetics of the realist novel. Woloch’s extended analysis of Great Expectations and consideration of several Dickens novels in his argument linking economic systems to narrative systems continues to impact assessments of Dickens in the realist tradition.

  • Greiner, Rae. Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

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    Argues for fellow feeling and sympathy as a centrally important, and determinative, aspect of realism. Features a chapter that analyzes sympathy and form in Dickens through close readings of Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit (pp. 86–121).

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  • Hollington, Michael. Dickens and the Grotesque. London: Croom Helm, 1984.

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    Notably, places Dickens’s use of the grotesque in the European tradition rather than an isolated English one. Argues not only that the grotesque appears in Dickens’s works as an important aspect of characterization but also that it is an important element in his social satire.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. “The Fiction of Realism: Sketches by Boz, Oliver Twist, and Cruikshank’s Illustrations.” In Dickens Centennial Essays. Edited by Ada Nisbet and Blake Nevius, 85–153. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

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    Claims that the persistence of imitation and theatricality in Sketches by Boz should clue readers into the pieces’ fictionality as well as the ways in which the significance attributed to things in “real life” is also an interpretive fiction-making process. A classic and highly regarded essay in the field.

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  • Purton, Valerie. Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition. New York: Anthem, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7135/UPO9780857289070Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situates Dickens’s style of sentimentality in relation to earlier works of literature and theater, with a focus on departures from tradition. Considers the differing uses of sentimentality at various moments in Dickens’s career, opposes the use of sentimentalism as a reason for dismissing Dickens from serious critical appraisals, and includes a chapter on theatricals (pp. 69–90).

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  • Reed, John. Dickens’s Hyperrealism. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010.

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    Identifies narrative techniques, such as present-tense narration, that work against realism in order to suggest that Dickens resisted the genre. Sees Dickens as exerting control over his readers as well as his writing with what Reed (borrowing from Umberto Eco) calls a hyperrealist approach.

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  • Rena-Dozier, Emily. “Re-gendering the Domestic Novel in David Copperfield.” Studies in English Literature 50.4 (2010): 811–829.

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    Examines the validity of modern and Victorian critical reactions to Dickens’s works that find Dickens’s writing to be feminine because of its associations with domesticity. Provides analysis of the ways in which David Copperfield may be considered a masculine domestic novel.

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  • Romano, John. Dickens and Reality. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

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    Disagreeing with perspectives that isolate Dickens’s fictional worlds from the actual world in which he lived, reappraises Dickens as a realist writer with attention to analysis of form.

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  • Woloch, Alex. The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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    Maintains that minor characters are important for enhancing our understanding not only of Dickens’s novels but also of the genre of the realist novel itself. Analyzes parallels to the economic system of the time as the 19th-century novel negotiates the distribution of limited “character-space.”

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Collaboration

Scholarly interest in the ways Dickens wrote, performed, and interacted with others is on the rise. Dickens’s journals, Household Words and All the Year Round, are full of collaborative pieces. His editorship often functioned as a form of collaboration, and he produced eighteen collaborative Christmas numbers as well as amateur theatrical productions that, of course, involved the efforts of many. Still, most studies of Dickens and collaboration have focused only on his relationship with Wilkie Collins. Collins was Dickens’s closest collaborator, and they cowrote several pieces, but future scholarship is sure to include more consideration of Dickens’s writings with others. An engaging, historicized essay, Trodd 1999–2000 places the 1856 Christmas number for which Collins and Dickens composed the frame narrative in the context of the nautical discourse that informs its shipwreck story. Although Trodd does not consider at length the contributions of the five writers whose pieces comprise the center of the number, her analysis is an important early work that begins to contemplate the dynamics of Dickens’s collaborations. The first book-length study of collaboration, Nayder 2002 takes a biographical and historical approach to Dickens’s relationship with Collins, examining the plays, Christmas numbers, and journalism they cowrote. Although neither novel was written as a collaborative endeavor, Nayder’s concluding chapter (pp. 163–197) analyzes Dickens’s unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood in conjunction with Collins’s The Moonstone. Voicing a counterbalanced critical view, Gregory 2010 argues that not all of Dickens’s collaborative works should be regarded in the context of hierarchical power struggle, as some of his collaborative writing evidences fluid power dynamics between Dickens and his male friends. Similarly, Waters 2008, the first book-length study of Household Words, argues that the multiple voices permeating Victorian journalism require readers to remain aware of the dialogic form of Dickens’s periodical.

  • Gregory, Melissa Valiska. “Dickens’s Collaborative Genres.” Dickens Studies Annual 41 (2010): 215–236.

    DOI: 10.7756/dsa.041.009.215-236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examining excursion articles and other collaboratively conceived pieces, Gregory claims that Dickens and the male writers with whom he wrote enjoyed a complicated reconfiguring of hierarchical models of authorship.

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  • Nayder, Lillian. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

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    The first book focusing on Dickens’s relationship with Collins, this study emphasizes power struggle and hierarchy in their joint writings. Includes consideration of letters, journalism, and plays to argue that Collins resisted and resented Dickens’s authority. Minimal consideration of the other collaborators who contributed to some of the joint pieces.

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  • Trodd, Anthea. “Collaborating in Open Boats: Dickens, Collins, Franklin, and Bligh.” Victorian Studies 42.2 (1999–2000): 201–225.

    DOI: 10.2979/VIC.1999.42.2.201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes Dickens’s work with Wilkie Collins on the framing narrative for The Wreck of the Golden Mary, the Household Words Christmas number for 1856. Relates the figure of the Tar to the hierarchical dynamics of collaboration.

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  • Waters, Catherine. Commodity Culture in Dickens’s Household Words: The Social Life of Goods. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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    Helps to shift the critical ground of scholarship on journalism to avoid emphasis on Dickens as a singular voice and argues that Household Words as an entity expressed a vexed, sometimes contradictory, relationship to the commodity culture of which it was a part. Treatment of Household Words as dialogic allows for collaborative analyses.

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Gender and Sexuality

Twenty-first-century readers may associate Dickens with restrictive stereotypes of Victorian gender and sexuality, but those views often reveal more about readers’ own preconceptions than about Dickens’s actual works. An early study focusing on gender relations, Slater 1983 pays substantial attention to biography, offering information about several women in Dickens’s life and making comparisons between actual women Dickens knew and his fictional characters. Slater sees a development in Dickens’s depictions of women that is inclusive of more complexity as his career progresses, yet never free from contradiction. Turning attention to male characters and masculinity, Cohen 1993 notes Victorian parallels between novel reading and masturbation to launch discussion of the hand as a particularly overdetermined part of the body that—in or out of pockets and sometimes under gloves—often enables Victorian novels to represent, obscure, and influence sexuality. Focusing on a more external signifier, Dorré 2006 examines not just Dickens’s but Victorian culture’s more general displacement of multiple anxieties onto the figure of the horse, considering how industrialism and other societal shifts impacted the ways in which masculinity was negotiated through images of travel. For studies of sexuality, both within and outside of structures variously referred to as families, Eve Kosofky Sedgwick’s work is foundational. A classic, Sedgwick 1985 broke new ground in the field of literary studies generally and also introduced the first queer readings of male desire in Dickens’s novels; the field of sexuality studies remains indebted to Sedgwick’s essential and continuously relevant work. As important to literary theory as it is to Dickens studies, Furneaux and Schwan 2005 is a forward-thinking, theoretical yet accessible set of essays addressing the persistently understudied topic of sex and the work of Dickens. Radically shifting criticism away from a view of Dickens as a writer whose work values idealized, reproductive, and heterosexual families, Furneaux 2009 breaks from the heterosexual/homosexual binary and identifies sympathetic depictions of nonbiological families throughout Dickens’s oeuvre.

  • Cohen, William A. “Manual Conduct in Great Expectations.” ELH 60.1 (1993): 217–259.

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    A provocative reading of masturbatory imagery in Great Expectations, this accessible yet sophisticated argument models careful close reading of the “silences” (p. 221) surrounding taboo subjects in Dickens’s and other Victorian texts.

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  • Dorré, Gina M. “Handling the ‘Iron Horse’: Dickens, Travel, and the Derailing of Victorian Masculinity.” In Victorian Fiction and the Cult of the Horse. By Gina M. Dorré, 21–62. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

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    Examines intersections between ideologies of class, gender, and domesticity to consider the centrality of the horse figure to Victorian formulations of masculinity and agency. Concentrating on The Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son, suggests that Dickens’s depictions of travel reveal the insecurities and instabilities of Victorian masculinity.

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  • Furneaux, Holly. Queer Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199566099.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carefully and convincingly argues that the valuing of nonbiological family structures in Dickens’s work challenges heterosexuality as a taken-for-granted aspect of ideal domesticity. Recuperates Dickens’s works as part of a long, affirmative tradition of nonbiological, or queer, family formations.

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  • Furneaux, Holly, and Anne Schwan, eds. Special Issue: Dickens and Sex. Critical Survey 17.2 (2005).

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    This impressive special issue features seven articles that explore the topic of sex in Dickens’s works from multiple critical perspectives. Illuminating to scholars of Dickens as well as to the field of sexuality studies more generally.

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  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    A classic work for the field of queer theory and literary studies; includes chapters on Our Mutual Friend (pp. 161–179) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (pp. 180–200) that crucially link studies of homosocial desire and sexuality to discourses of empire, class, and gender.

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  • Slater, Michael. Dickens and Women. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983.

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    Provides information about the women in Dickens’s life, readings (often biographical) of Dickens’s fictional women, and a final section on Dickens’s understanding of women generally, or persistent lack thereof.

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Domesticity and the Family

Many studies of the Victorian family position Dickens as an icon whose fiction exemplifies an unquestionable set of rigid values that inscribes strict separation of public and private activities as well as men’s and women’s roles in those spheres. Poovey 1988 provided what was a pathbreaking feminist analysis not only because it offered a new way of reading gender in Dickens, but also because it modeled careful analysis of the intersections between multiple ideologies, such as class and gender, in the Victorian period more generally. Poovey calls attention to the unstable cultural energies that attempted to produce, maintain, and negotiate contradictory ideologies that most previous scholars had regarded as stable. Addressing the apparent contradiction between Dickens’s reputation as a novelist who reveres the family and his actual novels, which feature broken and dysfunctional families, Waters 1997 builds upon work such as Poovey’s to argue that Dickens’s fiction helps to create an authoritative and gendered middle-class domestic ideal even when challenging it. Noting that critics looking for strong women have focused on fallen or angry characters, Schor 1999 reads Dickens’s more positive women characters, often regarded as one-dimensional and pliant, as figures who disrupt the patriarchal order. Positioning Dickens’s work in 19th-century debates about women’s legal status, Schor ultimately identifies the good daughter as the narrative authority in texts that engage in such debates with less fixity than many previous critics had acknowledged. Hatten 2010 finds contradictory tensions within novelistic representations of the family unit and its relationships to social hierarchies, attempting to shift critical thought to the Victorian era (rather than the modernist era) to locate the beginnings of domestic alienation. Acting as a corrective to the prevailing view of marriage in the Victorian novel as uneventful or plot terminating, Hager 2010 uses Dickens’s works to argue that failed-marriage plots are equally foundational to the genre. McKnight 2011 collects essays that consider how fictional representations depict and react to the challenges that the era of the Industrial Revolution posed to Victorian fatherhood. Although the collection includes essays on Mary Augusta Ward, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Missing Sewell, and Anthony Trollope (among others), it maintains a heavy emphasis on Dickens’s works.

  • Hager, Kelly. Dickens and the Rise of Divorce: The Failed-Marriage Plot and the Novel Tradition. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    Alongside convincing examples from other major 19th-century texts, several chapters demonstrate that Dickens’s novels rely on failed-marriage plots and explore marriage as a potentially monstrous institution to be avoided.

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  • Hatten, Charles. The End of Domesticity: Alienation from the Family in Dickens, Eliot, and James. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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    Placing some of Dickens’s works alongside the novels of George Eliot and Henry James, links the failures of the Victorian family to the industrial capitalist marketplace and its negative impact on individual well-being.

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  • McKnight, Natalie. Fathers in Victorian Fiction. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.

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    Essay collection with substantial emphasis on Dickens; includes consideration of the ways in which Victorian authors use fiction to suggest solutions to the social problems complicating the paternal role in familial, religious, and societal spheres of Victorian England.

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  • Poovey, Mary. “The Man-of-Letters Hero: David Copperfield and the Professional Writer.” In Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. By Mary Poovey, 89–125. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226675312.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through a reading of David Copperfield and historical documents, argues that, despite illusions of stability, the contradictions inherent in ideologies of gender and class allowed for the possibility of conflict and change. Influential examination of women’s subjectivity, specifically in relation to literary men.

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  • Schor, Hilary M. Dickens and the Daughter of the House. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Asserts that the daughter in Dickens’s novels, always defined relationally and without an individual identity of her own, must leave her home (or be cast out from it) in order to find a voice as a storyteller. That voice is subsequently able to offer a crucial revelation of the myths embedded in the patriarchal order.

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  • Waters, Catherine. Dickens and the Politics of the Family. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511583162Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With a carefully historicized approach that importantly counterbalances biographical readings of Dickens’s representations of the family, this study illustrates that his works sometimes attempt to disrupt but ultimately reinforce gendered middle-class hegemonies.

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Studies of Childhood

Most examinations of the subject of childhood in Dickens’s works have been geared toward speculation about the psychological influence of his own childhood experiences, which many critics regard as directly related to his fictional depictions of children. Given that there is a limited amount of information about this period of Dickens’s life and that interpretations of information in regard to Dickens’s psychology are unavoidably conjectural, this approach has led to a fair amount of repetition in scholarship (which is not reflected in the selections here). Adrian 1984 provides some information about the experience of childhood in the 19th century, discusses Dickens’s own childhood and fatherhood, and then briefly traces the recurrence of certain types of parent-child relationships in Dickens’s novels. More authoritatively, Andrews 1994 crucially yet respectfully shifts focus away from a general critical overemphasis on biographical influences while carefully and thoroughly historicizing Dickens’s representations of childhood. Continuing to move away from biographically (and biologically) focused readings is Kincaid 2000. A brilliant analysis of the ways in which fetishized ways of thinking about childhood act as a release valve for the desires of adults while actually endangering children, this essay identifies Dickens as a major figure in the development of such discourses. Bringing critical gender studies into conversation with historical studies of childhood, Robson 2001 analyzes how Victorian male authors represent little girls, arguing that girlhood operates as a site in which those men can identify lost versions of their previous selves and demonstrating how discourses of childhood converge with 19th-century discourses of masculinity in Dickens’s representation of Little Nell in Our Mutual Friend. Indebted to Kincaid 2000 and Kincaid’s earlier studies, Malkovich 2013 examines Dickens’s representations of flawed children in comparison with other Victorian literary depictions of such figures.

  • Adrian, Arthur. Dickens and the Parent-Child Relationship. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1984.

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    Begins with a historical and biographical approach before moving to brief analysis of fiction. Identifies orphans, unwanted children whose parents hurt them, children corrupted by parents, and exploited children as the four predominant types of relationship between parents and children in Dickens’s novels.

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  • Andrews, Malcolm. Dickens and the Grown-Up Child. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230377998Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Acting as an important corrective to oversimplified biographical readings, this study shows how Dickens’s work engages with contemporary debates about, and negotiations of, the concepts of childhood and maturity.

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  • Kincaid, James R. “Dickens and the Construction of the Child.” In Dickens and the Children of Empire. Edited by Wendy S. Jacobson, 29–42. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230294172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An incisive essay arguing that constructions of childhood as an excessively idealized realm distinct from adulthood create the conditions that imperil actual children. Examines Dickens’s role in the development of the linked discourses of childhood and sexuality in the 19th century, which persist in troubling ways.

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  • Malkovich, Amberyl. Charles Dickens and the Victorian Child: Romanticizing and Socializing the Imperfect Child. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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    Focuses primarily on six Dickens novels in relation to other Victorian texts to identify common traits in imperfect children. Also draws connections to representations of children in modern-day texts, suggesting ways in which the figure of the imperfect child has shifted with changes in cultural conceptions of childhood.

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  • Robson, Catherine. “The Ideal Girl in Industrial England.” In Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. By Catherine Robson, 46–93. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    Grounding textual analysis in a historicized examination of childhood in the Victorian period, argues that male writers figured girlhood as a realm in which they could locate their own childhood selves. Chapter includes extended consideration of the symbolic significance of Little Nell in Our Mutual Friend.

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Psychological and Psychoanalytic Approaches

Underpinning the psychological readings of Dickens’s work that permeate criticism is Wilson 1941, which claims that, in order to properly appreciate the greatness of Dickens’s art, readers must understand the formative influence of Dickens’s childhood experiences (which Wilson insists were traumatic) and other biographical events. Wilson’s view of Dickens as a troubled soul was one that generations of critics felt compelled to refute or support. The attention to Dickens’s early career in Marcus 1965, a groundbreaking study that nearly all future scholars would cite, shifted critical focus away from the late works. Marcus’s reading rejects an art/life division and argues that the effects of Dickens’s childhood memories (including a primal scene moment) profoundly affected his early development as a writer. Kucich 1981 focuses on novels to explore how various characters’ fictionalizations of identity (achieved through intentional storytelling) can be both restrictive and freeing to the self, and Kucich 1987 again examines individual subjectivity, recuperating repression as a potential source of empowerment and as an eroticized act of self-denial. Welsh 1987 emphatically shifts the thrust of biographical criticism away from Dickens’s childhood and short time working at Warren’s Blacking factory to Dickens’s adult experiences and later involvement with international copyright advocacy in order to analyze the development of Dickens’s writerly self. Informed by feminism and psychoanalysis, Sadoff 1982 examines fatherhood in Victorian fiction, and its chapter on Dickens pursues a focus on narrative killings of the father in order for the hero figure to assume a subjective role. Considering the other side of the parental relationship, Dever 1998 argues for the primacy of maternal death as a central event in Victorian literature, productively placing novels in conversation with midwifery manuals. Building on Dever’s work, and fairly unique as a book-length, single-novel study, Jordan 2011 employs psychoanalytical and narratological approaches to develop new readings of Esther Summerson/Mrs. Woodcourt, Bleak House’s narrator.

  • Dever, Carolyn. Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511585302Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a chapter on Bleak House (pp. 81–106) that informed future analyses in the field, brings psychoanalytic concepts and terminology to bear on Esther Summerson’s search for, and narrative killing of, her missing mother.

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  • Jordan, John O. Supposing Bleak House. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.

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    Uses several psychoanalytic approaches to analyze Esther in her simultaneous roles as character and narrator, carefully distinguishing Miss Esther Summerson of the novel’s events from Mrs. Woodcourt, the narrator. Includes some biographical readings and important new analyses of the novel’s illustrations.

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  • Kucich, John. Excess and Restraint in the Novels of Charles Dickens. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1981.

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    Investigates the excess/restraint dichotomy to explain the difficult-to-articulate energies that distinguish Dickens’s novels. Also argues that storytelling in Dickens is often a defiant, violent act toward readers and listeners.

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  • Kucich, John. Repression in Victorian Fiction: Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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    Kucich mounts a sort of defense of repression, asserting that in Victorian novels, it can operate to provide individual emotional agency or autonomy. Includes a chapter focusing on Our Mutual Friend (pp. 201–283).

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  • Marcus, Steven. Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey. New York: Basic, 1965.

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    Highly influential study of Dickens’s early works, arguing that they are key to understanding Dickens’s development, imagination, and social views. Discusses how childhood memories affected Dickens’s future writing and includes an oft-cited analysis of restlessness, manifested in Dickens’s travel and long-distance walking between 1844 and 1848, in relation to the composition of Dombey and Son.

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  • Sadoff, Dianne F. Monsters of Affection: Dickens, Eliot, and Brontë on Fatherhood. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

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    A Lacanian and feminist analysis of fathers in Victorian fiction that identifies a quest for, then murdering of, the father in Dickens’s novels that enables the hero to inhabit an adult—and often a writerly—identity.

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  • Welsh, Alexander. From Copyright to Copperfield: The Identity of Dickens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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    Focusing on Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, and David Copperfield, with references to other novels, Welsh argues that Dickens’s adult involvement in copyright causes and the years he spent recollecting his childhood experiences were more formative to the development of his authorial self than his childhood years.

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  • Wilson, Edmund. “Dickens: The Two Scrooges.” In The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature. By Edmund Wilson, 1–104. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

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    Claims that Dickens’s work deserves to be regarded highly in the canon of great works and that, in order to understand Dickens’s art, critics must accept that Dickens’s childhood experiences were traumatic and persistently affected his writing. Wilson’s view of Dickens as tormented was highly influential, even when disputed.

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Foucauldian Approaches and New Historicism

The works of Michel Foucault—particularly Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), Histoire de la sexualité, Vol 1: La volonté de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), and Les mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966)—impacted literary and cultural studies so strongly in the latter 20th century that an entire critical perspective has come to be known as Foucauldian. Foucauldian methods of study also influenced the development of a critical approach, New Historicism, which took recognizable shape in the 1980s. A groundbreaking study, Miller 1988 argues that Victorian novels not only represent but also enact various forms of social imprisonment. With persuasive case studies from Wilkie Collins, Dickens, and Anthony Trollope, Miller’s work remains influential. Indebted to both Miller and Trilling 1978 (cited under Social Reform and Politics) is Tambling 1995, a dense investigation of subjectivity, violence, and degrees of oppositionality, primarily in Dickens’s later novels. Gallagher 1988, an important study of the interconnectedness of literary form and discourse in 19th-century industrial novels, includes a chapter on Hard Times using a New Historicist approach informed by Foucault. Illustrating how feminism may inform Foucault, McKnight 1993 examines how four of Dickens’s novels show his increasing dissatisfaction with the imprisoning forces of language and other structures without a similar rejection of institutions that disempower women. With a focus on Dickens’s attitudes toward the marginalized that in some ways echoes McKnight, Palmer 1997 argues that Dickens’s ways of thinking about history (the 18th century in particular) anticipate New Historicism. As many psychoanalytic critics regard Dickens as a predictor of Freud, and film critics see Dickens writing montage before it existed on screen, both McKnight and Palmer view Dickens as anticipatory of their own theoretical approaches. Gallagher and Greenblatt 2000 provides an excellent account of the development of the New Historical critical perspective and its multidisciplinary complexity with an illustrative chapter focusing on Great Expectations. One can appreciate Gallagher’s and Greenblatt’s articulation of their approach in Practicing New Historicism without having done extensive previous reading in the field, and it is also valuable to advanced scholars for its clear-sighted reflection on intellectual development as it relates to historical and literary study.

  • Gallagher, Catherine. “‘Relationship Remembered against Relationship Forgot’: Family and Society in Hard Times and North and South.” In The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form, 1832–1867. By Catherine Gallagher, 147–184. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    Exemplary chapter on Hard Times argues that the contradictions in the ideologies of domesticity and social paternalism with which the novel engages are paralleled in the novel’s simultaneous use of and undermining of metaphor.

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  • Gallagher, Catherine, and Stephen Greenblatt. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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    Beginning with a reflection on the development of New Historicism as a critical perspective, an important assessment of literary study and a careful caution against pigeonholing reading practices into restrictive “schools.” Includes an insightful chapter on Great Expectations and doubt (pp. 163–210).

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  • McKnight, Natalie. Idiots, Madmen and Other Prisoners in Dickens. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

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    Uses Barnaby Rudge, Dombey and Son, Little Dorrit, and Nicholas Nickleby to argue that Dickens’s works show his awareness of the ways in which language and institutions can imprison marginalized groups, yet the novels nevertheless continue to participate in discourses that oppress women.

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  • Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    Miller’s enormously influential study establishes the Victorian novel as a participant in the disciplinary actions of middle-class domestic ideology rather than as a venue for opposition to such social control. His arguments for novels as texts that perform disciplinary functions feature Dickens’s Bleak House, David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist.

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  • Palmer, William J. Dickens and New Historicism. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.

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    Discusses Dickens’s views of history with attention to the influence of the 18th century on Dickens’s modes of thought. Claims that Dickens’s body of work interrogates history and provides an outlet for representing the voices of the marginalized.

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  • Tambling, Jeremy. Dickens, Violence, and the Modern State: Dreams of the Scaffold. London: St. Martin’s, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230378322Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Employing psychoanalytic and Foucauldian approaches, among many others, focuses mainly on the later novels to analyze Dickens’s writings in relation to various forms of violence. Dense prose, suitable for advanced scholars only.

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Post-Structuralist Approaches

Post-structuralist approaches are wide-ranging and diverse, which is unsurprising, given the vague nature and vexed meaning of the term itself (pretty much anything after structuralism). J. Hillis Miller’s work is foundational in post-structuralist theory, deconstructing the notion of reality. Miller 1971 focuses mainly on the text of Sketches by Boz but also briefly considers George Cruikshank’s illustrations and Oliver Twist in order to destabilize the notion of reality upon which more traditional realist readings rely. Ingham 1992 positions itself as a departure from biographical readings of Dickens’s women characters as versions of women in his actual life and instead takes an approach that situates the women of his novels among linguistic conventions of the day. Also concerned with language, but equally informed by solid historical research and thinkers such as Freud and Derrida, Bowen 2000 draws upon literary theory while insisting that close attention to the primary text, rather than allegiance to one critical method, remains the most important guide for a careful critic. Bowen argues persuasively that Dickens’s early novels merit serious critical attention in their own right and as individually crafted, innovative works. For advanced scholars, Wolfreys 2012 uses a challenging phenomenological and philosophical approach to rethink Dickens’s representations of London and to show that the city writes itself through the perceptions of its narrators. Focusing on processes of reading and writing as much as perception, Wolfreys argues that Dickens’s writing about London was an act of reading London, and the episodic structure of Wolfreys’s book forces readers to reflect on their own reading practices.

  • Bowen, John. Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Draws upon multiple methodologies and models the ways in which a resistance to a single theoretical school can sometimes result in the most lucid scholarship. Argues that the very points underlying dismissive critical appraisals of Dickens’s early works, such as shallow characterization and unresolved paradoxes, are actually evidence of the complexities and thoughtful experimentation of those novels.

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  • Ingham, Patricia. Dickens, Women, and Language. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

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    Analyzes Dickens’s novelistic depictions of women in the context of his contemporaries’ nonfictional representations of women to argue that contradictions signal a linguistic shift and that some of the seemingly stereotypical women are actually the most subversive.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. “The Fiction of Realism: Sketches by Boz, Oliver Twist, and Cruikshank’s Illustrations.” In Dickens Centennial Essays. Edited by Ada Nisbet and Blake Nevius, 85–153. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

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    Long and classic essay that impacted the field profoundly. Includes particularly careful attention to Dickens’s use of mimesis in Sketches by Boz to counter previous critical readings that overlook its fictionality. Further argues that recognizing the themes of imitation and theatricality throughout the Sketches reveals the artificially constructed nature of “reality” itself.

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  • Wolfreys, Julian. Dickens’s London: Perception, Subjectivity, and Phenomenal Urban Multiplicity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

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    Dense and theoretical, suitable for graduate students and advanced scholars, this study links phenomenological and topographical analysis to narrowly focused close readings. Wolfreys finds a commonality among Dickens’s narrators anchored to their relationship to the vibes of the city.

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Studies of Narrative

Studies of narrative method are not discrete from other approaches, such as ones that foreground cultural studies or feminist concerns, as the titles in this section demonstrate. Drawing from psychoanalytic theory as well as narratology, Jaffe 1991 examines Dickens novels to probe the relationships between omniscient narrators, readers, characters, and knowledge. In a more recent examination of omniscience, Tarr 2012 analyzes the trajectory of surveillance in Dickens’s works between 1836 and 1853 with a focus on the relationship between omniscience and objects, particularly those made of glass. A widely admired work that contributes to literary studies of realism and narrative theory, Woloch 2003 has been so influential that it has become difficult for any critic to credibly treat the nonprotagonist characters in Dickens’s novels as incidental. Alongside analyses of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac, Woloch considers the passivity of Dickens’s protagonists (Pip in particular) in relation to the intensity of the minor characters who surround them and develops new ways of thinking about Dickens’s methods of characterization. Historicist in its approach and full of narrowly focused textual analysis, Stewart 2009 (in a chapter focused on Little Dorrit) links various types of violence, including emotional violence, to aspects of Dickens’s prose that Stewart identifies as linguistically violent. Also using narrative theory alongside a carefully historicized approach, Grossman 2012 considers the impact of Victorian public transport technology—particularly stagecoach and railway—on Victorian consciousness; the novel; and Dickens’s shifting use of narrative techniques, such as omniscience, simultaneity, serialization, and multiplottedness. Jordan 2012 boldly opposes studies that advance confident interpretations of patterns in Dickens’s works by suggesting that many patterns do not have significant interpretive meaning and yet remain important to the reading experience. Greiner 2012, concerned with narrative techniques such as metonymy and free indirect discourse, investigates the connections (or disconnections) between thought, emotion, and sympathy to suggest that fellow feeling, or sympathetic knowledge, is a crucial determining element of Dickens’s (and all) realism. Using a methodology enabled by technologies that support massive and detailed searches of electronic texts, Mahlberg 2013 combines a corpus linguistics approach with literary criticism to consider how repetitions in language patterns function in Dickens’s techniques of characterization. The implicit critical conversation between Jordan 2012, Mahlberg 2013, and other early-21st-century works of scholarship suggests that analysis of patterns and other narrative elements in literary texts that were originally composed with ink on paper shows no sign of waning in the face of ever-increasing textual technologies.

  • Greiner, Rae. Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

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    Examines the narrative techniques of 19th-century realist novels in relation to sympathy, emotion, and thought to argue that sympathetic knowledge is a centrally important aspect of literary realism. Paying close attention to Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend, this nuanced and impressive work is appropriate for graduate-level study and beyond.

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  • Grossman, Jonathan. Charles Dickens’s Networks: Public Transport and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    Investigates not only the railroad but also coaches and previous transport systems as they relate to the circulation of 19th-century subjects and plots. Contends that developing transportation networks impacted perception of time and space in a way that affects narrative expression as well as understanding.

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  • Jaffe, Audrey. Vanishing Points: Dickens, Narrative, and the Subject of Omniscience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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    Analyzing Dickens’s use of the omniscient narrator, draws on deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and narrative theory to analyze the transmission of knowledge between narrator, character, and reader. Theoretically sophisticated and best suited to advanced students/scholars.

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  • Jordan, Joseph P. Dickens Novels as Verse. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012.

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    An exciting new direction in Dickens studies, argues that repetitions and patterns have crucial effects without having literal meaning. The study is an important reading for advanced scholars of Dickens and of the novel.

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  • Mahlberg, Michaela. Corpus Stylistics and Dickens’s Fiction. London: Routledge, 2013.

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    Uses computational and statistical methods to analyze verbal patterns in Dickens’s writing, especially repeated clusters of words. Provides information about cluster trends signifying dialogue, body language, narration, setting, and establishment of characters and themes for a wider textual understanding of individual Dickens texts and the linkages between them.

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  • Stewart, Garrett. “The Omitted Person’s Plot: Little Dorrit’s Fault.” In Novel Violence: A Narratography of Victorian Fiction. By Garrett Stewart, 31–60. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226774602.003.0003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the complex ways in which the sound and syntax of language are relevant to the communication of the Victorian novel’s plot. With a focus on language patterns conveying violence, analyzes the use of syllable, phrase, cadence, pattern, and rhythm in Little Dorrit. Dense theoretical prose; appropriate for advanced study.

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  • Tarr, Clayton Carlyle. “Knots in Glass: Dickens and Omniscience from Boz to Bucket.” Dickens Studies Annual 43 (2012): 33–66.

    DOI: 10.7756/dsa.043.002.33-66Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines narrative omniscience and its relationship to objects—particularly glass objects, such as skylights. Suggests, especially through the figure of Mr. Bucket in Bleak House, that the novel’s linking of omniscience and objects helps to figure omniscience as a way of seeing not restricted to narrators.

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  • Woloch, Alex. The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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    Develops a complex analysis of the relationships between 19th-century economic systems and narrative character systems. Considers Dickens’s novels in depth, with special attention to Great Expectations, while also discussing Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac to support claims about the 19th-century novel more generally.

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Style, Creativity, and Craft

The uniqueness of Dickens—what precisely makes his works resonate so strongly for so many readers—has motivated some brave critics to attempt to articulate how his craft, his creativity, and his style create particular effects for his audience. An important early work, Kincaid 1971 argues that literary criticism benefits from paying attention to the nuances of how laughter works as a rhetorical strategy, examining Dickens’s artful control of it as a reader response in several novels. Applying literary theory to consideration of Dickens’s craft, Stewart 1974 was groundbreaking at the time of its publication. Stewart simultaneously presents an appreciation of Dickens’s genius and a close analysis of the ways in which Dickens’s characters use language, a usage that Stewart finds to be linked to the novels’ valuation of certain types of imagination. More recent work continues to find interest in the notion of imagination, as evidenced in Hardy 2008. Hardy’s Dickens and Creativity investigates Dickens’s relationship to imagination, fantasy, and dreams, including the ways in which they broadly appear in his language, style, characters, and dialogue. Concerned primarily with how Dickens imagines and interacts with his audience is Carlisle 1981, which explores how Dickens (alongside George Eliot and William Mackpeace Thackeray) persuades his readers to share his moral views. With careful historical contextualization, Carlisle analyzes the narrative techniques Dickens uses to achieve that goal. Using Dickens’s own description of his artistic aims, “to dwell upon the romantic side of familiar things” (p. 1), Newsom 1977 expertly explicates the nuances of that principle at work in just one novel, Bleak House, to argue for Dickens’s centrality in the English canon. Newsom’s focus on how Dickens’s vision yokes together the seemingly opposite ideas of romantic and familiar continues to resonate in more recent work. Bowen 2006 uses the concept of forces—interior to Dickens but also internal in his writing—to account for Dickens’s impact, urging practitioners of literary criticism to remain aware of how Dickens’s aesthetics call for innovative rather than restrictive critical and theoretical models. Philosophical thought is of interest to Bowen, and its presence in additional studies suggests that such an approach may become prevalent in considerations of Dickens’s craft. Winter 2011 draws on the philosophical texts of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and John Stuart Mill, among others, to demonstrate how the associative thought process helps Dickens’s novels to form societal relationships conducive to social change. Multiple methodological approaches inform Sen 2012, which examines the connections between the visual print culture that dominated the 19th-century publishing world and Dickens’s aesthetics.

  • Bowen, John. “Dickens and the Force of Writing.” In Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies. Edited by John Bowen and Robert L. Patten, 255–272. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Discusses not only what makes Dickens unique to read but also how his style has presented distinct challenges to literary critics. Discusses Dickens’s characteristic impact, or force, as well as internal and sometimes contradictory forces within his writing to suggest that literary criticism approach Dickens flexibly.

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  • Carlisle, Janice. The Sense of an Audience: Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot at Mid-Century. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1981.

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    Linking the historical to the aesthetic, investigates how the narrative techniques of Victorian novels attempt to gain readers’ moral investments and argues for a view of Victorian novelists as heavily invested in the moral connections between life and art. Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son receive extended attention.

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  • Hardy, Barbara. Dickens and Creativity. London: Continuum, 2008.

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    Examines Dickens’s interest in the concepts of creativity, fantasy, and dreams and their impact on his prose. Includes broad consideration of Dickens’s opus, including some journalism, with Little Dorrit receiving the most in-depth analysis. Also explores, somewhat tangentially, connections between Dickens and William Shakespeare as well as Dickens and Virginia Woolf.

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  • Kincaid, James R. Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

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    The first book-length study of Dickens’s use of laughter; attends to eight novels to demonstrate that humor is not concentrated in the early works but rather spans Dickens’s career. Illustrates convincingly that laughter is a strategic aspect of Dickens’s art that causes readers to invest in the novels’ central and varied concerns.

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  • Newsom, Robert. Dickens on the Romantic Side of Familiar Things: Bleak House and the Novel Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

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    Focusing on Bleak House, Newsom’s study continues to be one of the most cogent explanations of how Dickens’s writing achieves its unique impact. Discusses the uncanny; features an especially strong chapter (pp. 11–45) on circular patterns in Bleak House; and positions Dickens as a central figure in the English literary, and novelistic, tradition.

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  • Sen, Sambudha. London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012.

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    Argues that visual culture profoundly impacted Dickens’s imagination, methods of characterization, and craft as a novelist.

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  • Stewart, Garrett. Dickens and the Trials of Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

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    A combination of appreciation and close readings (especially of The Pickwick Papers); investigates what makes Dickens’s novelistic prose unique. Pays special attention to linguistic usage as an aspect of characterization and argues that Dickens’s works are heavily invested in valuing the imagination positively. Theoretical prose; most suitable for advanced scholars.

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  • Winter, Sarah. The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823233526.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Studies the relationships between reading, memory, and experience in Dickens’s fiction, particularly The Pickwick Papers, The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickleby, and Our Mutual Friend. Quite difficult for undergraduates without a strong grasp of philosophy; important for advanced scholars.

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Theater and Performance

Dickens himself was a fan of the theater, even contemplating a career as an actor in his youth. Throughout his life, he staged amateur theatricals and attended performances of all sorts. Many discussions of Dickens and theater consider the relationship between his interest, or participation, in popular entertainment and his fiction. At a moment when there was serious concern over and opposition to entertainment aimed at large public audiences, Dickens’s support of it, Schlicke 1985 argues, was due as much to his valuing a sense of community among spectators as to his high regard for selflessness on the part of entertainers. Vlock 1998 encourages critics to regard novel reading and theatergoing experiences as linked, suggesting that readers’ expectations and ways of reading, as well as Dickens’s methods of depicting characters on the page, were impacted by conventions of the popular theater. Focusing expertly on a particular performative genre, Eigner 1989 remains the only extended study of the effect of pantomime on Dickens’s works, including his methods of characterization. Considering theater in many forms and contexts, MacKay 1989 gathers essays from practitioners of multiple theoretical and critical approaches in a collection that acts as a good starting point for those who seek a grounding in the various lines of inquiry that have developed in the field. Acting as a corrective to some critical approaches that regard “theatrical” Dickens and “macabre” Dickens as separate, John 2003 argues that the use of melodramatic characterization in Dickens is crucial to understanding his representation of villains. John’s text, praised highly for its originality, also importantly notes that psychology itself is deviant in Dickens’s works, as he resisted the era’s increasing emphasis on the individual over the community. Ferguson 2001 analyzes Dickens’s performance notes and opening speeches, especially for A Christmas Carol, to illustrate how Dickens interacted with his audiences and formed a new authorial identity. Two works, Glavin 1999 and Andrews 2006, move the study of Dickens and performance past the boundaries of traditional literary criticism. Drawing from several disciplines (including literary studies, psychoanalysis, performance studies, and playwriting), Glavin 1999 urges readers to consider how their own readings are acts of adaptation that might fruitfully be developed into performances. With a plethora of carefully researched detail, Andrews 2006 takes the daring approach of a well-established scholar by reconstructing various elements of Dickens’s public readings; this approach opens up new avenues for critical linkages between acts of performance, acts of self-creation, and acts of reading.

  • Andrews, Malcolm. Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    A unique, richly detailed contemplation of the ways in which Dickens’s readings impacted his audience’s sense of community, his readers’ interpretations and understandings of his novels, and Dickens’s own sense of himself.

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  • Eigner, Edwin. The Dickens Pantomime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

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    Argues that Dickens was well aware of the conventions of pantomime and that they affected his characterization. Also includes discussion of the history of Victorian pantomime more generally.

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  • Ferguson, Susan L. “Dickens’s Public Readings and the Victorian Author.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 41 (2001): 729–749.

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    Examines Dickens’s roles as actor, reader, and writer in the context of the public readings. Maintains that the performances allowed Dickens to participate in his audiences’ experiencing of the novels through a method other than direct explication, which impacted Dickens’s emerging image as a new type of author more personally connected with readers.

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  • Glavin, John. After Dickens: Reading, Adaptation, and Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484810Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provocatively suggests that reading can be thought of as a type of adaptive performance and, relying heavily on Jerzy Grotowski’s “poor theater,” encourages readers to include performance in their adaptive reading practices.

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  • John, Juliet. Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Insightful study showing that Dickens draws from melodramatic character types in his villains and cautioning against a dismissal of Dickens’s theatricality as unserious. Argues that, for Dickens, popular entertainment (and drama especially) most effectively advances an inclusive and nonelitist culture.

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  • MacKay, Carol Hanbery, ed. Dramatic Dickens. New York: St. Martin’s, 1989.

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    Showcasing multiple critical approaches to Dickens and the subject of theater, a strong collection of fifteen essays from leading scholars. Includes consideration of theatrical adaptations, working-class audiences, melodrama, and The Frozen Deep.

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  • Schlicke, Paul. Dickens and Popular Entertainment. London: Allen and Unwin, 1985.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203206768Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Covering a selection of novels, journalism, and public readings, argues that understanding Dickens’s views on popular entertainment, and his sense of himself as an entertainer, are central to understanding his writing.

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  • Vlock, Deborah. Dickens, Novel Reading, and the Victorian Popular Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    Claims that popular theater heavily influenced Victorian reading practices and that Dickens’s methods of characterization were impacted by this way of reading (which he shared). Suggests that an awareness of Victorian reading practices can enhance modern-day reading experiences and includes analysis of Victorian theatrical adaptations of Dickens’s works.

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Film and Adaptation

The starting point for most critical discussions of Dickens and film is Eisenstein 1996 (originally published in 1944). Eisenstein’s “Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves” famously illustrates the ways in which some elements of Dickens’s writing are cinematic. Taking Eisenstein’s point several steps further, Smith 2003 not only notes that Dickens’s writing style appears cinematic in retrospect but also argues that Dickens’s impact on his readers’ ways of thinking contributed at least in part to the environment from which cinema was able to emerge. Also in clear conversation with Eisenstein is Johns 2009, which compares Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities to D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation in order to evaluate limited depictions of social change. For those beginning to study Dickens and film, Marsh 2001 provides a solid, concise overview of how film grew out of Victorian modes of entertainment and spectacle. Marsh discusses early screen adaptations of Dickens and models how to develop nuanced readings that understand all adaptations as interpretive endeavors. Also emphasizing a need for literary critics to set aside approaches that stress “fidelity,” Glavin 2003 takes a fresh look at screen adaptations of Dickens, reminding readers that Dickens’s novels (and Dickens’s London) were, and are, just as fictional and invented as any subsequent cinematic imaginings of them. The Glavin collection illustrates that, because of the ways in which film has shaped thought from the early 20th century onward, “Dickens film now shapes Dickens’s fiction” (p. 5). With a similar approach but in a much longer volume, Glavin 2012 includes essays originally published between 1992 and 2012, in their entirety, to present a view of the field of adaptation studies as it relates to Dickens.

  • Eisenstein, Sergei. “Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves.” In Selected Works. Vol. 3, Writings, 1934–1947. Edited by Richard Taylor. Translated by William Powell, 193–212. London: British Film Institute, 1996.

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    Originally published in 1944. The essay on film off of which most other scholarship on Dickens and cinema bounces, Eisenstein’s piece identifies Dickens as a precinematic but nevertheless filmic writer. He argues that Dickens’s prose acts as montage and that his works were influential to the development of film and to D. W. Griffith especially.

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  • Glavin, John, ed. Dickens on Screen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484827Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unique opening section includes psychotherapists in a roundtable discussion on Dickens, psychoanalysis, and film. Edited collection includes contributions from literary and film critics as well as those directly involved in filmmaking (a director, for instance) and importantly resists approaches that emphasize fidelity to a mythologized original text.

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  • Glavin, John, ed. Dickens Adapted. A Library of Essays on Charles Dickens. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    A collection of essays (in their entirety) that considers reworkings of Dickens in multiple genres, including screen, stage, and print adaptations. Presents studies of adaptation that reject the notion of fidelity to a fixed source text in favor of more nuanced contextual approaches. One volume in Waters 2012 (cited under Essay Collections and Journals).

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  • Johns, Timothy. “Birth of a Medium: Dickens, Griffith, and the Advent of Sentimental Cinema.” Victorian Studies 52.1 (2009): 76–85.

    DOI: 10.2979/VIC.2009.52.1.76Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes techniques common to Dickens and the filmmaker D. W. Griffith (juxtaposition of opposites, parallel plots, focus on individual or family characterization) and notes the limited representations of societal tension and historical change, particularly in Griffith.

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  • Marsh, Joss. “Dickens and Film.” In The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. Edited by John O. Jordan, 204–223. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521660165Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thoroughly researched introduction to the topic of Dickens and film; clearly explains film’s development out of various forms of Victorian spectacle.

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  • Smith, Grahame. Dickens and the Dream of Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    An investigation of the relationship between Dickens’s cinematic writing style, film, and the role that Dickens and his fiction may have played in shaping a popular consciousness that led to the development of cinema.

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Afterlives and Legacies

The appearance of Dickens himself, his characters, and his plots in so many different cultural texts and sites indeed confirms that the afterlife or legacy of Charles Dickens should be conceptualized in the plural. Rewritings, reproductions, and reimaginings of the Dickens icon and of his characters surface in novels, films, stage performances, and music; they are woven into or printed upon blankets, tea towels, and mugs; and in societies celebrating Christmas, many people find it difficult to avoid miniature Dickens-themed villages and references to A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge in the month of December. As cultures around the globe continue to negotiate their relationships with Dickens and his works, critics and scholars are also interested in what might be learned from Dickens’s persistent presence in our artistic, intellectual, and social lives. Glavin 1999 exhorts readers to abandon the “myth of the authentic original” (p. 191) in order to understand that all envisionings of Dickens are essentially adaptations. In what feels like a rather experimental approach, although it is rooted in Jerzy Grotowski’s “poor theater” of the 1960s, Glavin encourages readers to take active roles in staging Dickens’s legacy. Not limited to Dickens, Clayton 2003 draws linkages between developments in science, literature, and technology in 19th-century Britain and postmodern American culture. Drawing from additional theoretical perspectives, the collected essays in David and Gillooly 2009 illustrate how a wide range of concerns (from environmentalism to sexuality) were as present and debated in Dickens’s fiction as they are in our own times. John 2010 links Dickens’s unique and massive popularity to the timing of his career during the advent of mass culture, arguing that Dickens not only became hugely popular but also used new media forms to advance a celebrity image in which he reveled. John then shifts focus to an insightful analysis of Dickens’s continued presence in mass culture. John 2012 continues to move scholarship past approaches that simply identify precursors of the modern world in Dickens’s works in order to contemplate a more dynamic relationship between the two eras that helps to break down binary ways of thinking.

  • Clayton, Jay. Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Discussing Charles Babbage and Frankenstein in comparison to computers and clones, Clayton argues that connections between postmodernism and 19th-century moments will enable early-21st-century thinkers to bridge perceived divides between the humanities and the sciences.

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  • David, Deirdre, and Eileen Gillooly, eds. Contemporary Dickens. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2009.

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    The “contemporary” of the collection’s title refers to its argument that Dickens’s writings reveal his concerns to be similar to early-21st-century preoccupations and that an understanding of such nonchronological contemporaneity will benefit developing criticism.

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  • Glavin, John. After Dickens: Reading, Adaptation, and Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484810Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Maintains that, in making meaning from a Dickens text, a reader is akin to any other adapter, who also must make interpretive choices. Glavin urges readers to develop their own adaptations of Dickens as active participants in his legacy.

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  • John, Juliet. Dickens and Mass Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Building on the work of Schlicke (see Schlicke 1985, cited under Theater and Performance) and others, identifies important prefilmic techniques in Dickens’s writings and situates his career in the context of 19th-century mass culture. Astutely assesses Dickens’s legacy and examines how mass culture since Dickens’s death continues to construct him. Includes important attention to journalism and public readings and features an especially strong chapter (pp. 240–272) on the heritage industry.

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  • John, Juliet, ed. Dickens and Modernity. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2012.

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    Investigates elements of Dickens’s fiction that resonate between the Victorian period and the modern world. Includes discussion of adaptations and consideration of the evolution of societal and interpersonal relationships, technologies, ideologies, and publication mediums from the Victorian era to the early 21st century.

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