History of Literature

Charles Dickens

"Great Expectations"

Illustrations by John McLenan


Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens

British novelist
in full Charles John Huffam Dickens
born Feb. 7, 1812, Portsmouth, Hampshire, Eng.
died June 9, 1870, Gad’s Hill, near Chatham, Kent

British novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period.

The defining moment of Dickens’s life occurred when he was 12 years old. With his father in debtors’ prison, he was withdrawn from school and forced to work in a factory. This deeply affected the sensitive boy. Though he returned to school at 13, his formal education ended at 15. As a young man, he worked as a reporter. His fiction career began with short pieces reprinted as Sketches by “Boz” (1836). He exhibited a great ability to spin a story in an entertaining manner and this quality, combined with the serialization of his comic novel The Pickwick Papers (1837), made him the most popular English author of his time. The serialization of such works as Oliver Twist (1838) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) followed. After a trip to America, he wrote A Christmas Carol (1843) in a few weeks. With Dombey and Son (1848), his novels began to express a heightened uneasiness about the evils of Victorian industrial society, which intensified in the semiautobiographical David Copperfield (1850), as well as in Bleak House (1853), Little Dorrit (1857), Great Expectations (1861), and others. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) appeared in the period when he achieved great popularity for his public readings. Dickens’s works are characterized by an encyclopaedic knowledge of London, pathos, a vein of the macabre, a pervasive spirit of benevolence and geniality, inexhaustible powers of character creation, an acute ear for characteristic speech, and a highly individual and inventive prose style.

English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian era. His many volumes include such works as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend.

Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity than had any previous author during his lifetime. Much in his work could appeal to simple and sophisticated, to the poor and to the Queen, and technological developments as well as the qualities of his work enabled his fame to spread worldwide very quickly. His long career saw fluctuations in the reception and sales of individual novels, but none of them was negligible or uncharacteristic or disregarded, and, though he is now admired for aspects and phases of his work that were given less weight by his contemporaries, his popularity has never ceased and his present critical standing is higher than ever before. The most abundantly comic of English authors, he was much more than a great entertainer. The range, compassion, and intelligence of his apprehension of his society and its shortcomings enriched his novels and made him both one of the great forces in 19th-century literature and an influential spokesman of the conscience of his age.

Early years
Dickens left Portsmouth in infancy. His happiest childhood years were spent in Chatham (1817–22), an area to which he often reverts in his fiction. From 1822 he lived in London, until, in 1860, he moved permanently to a country house, Gad’s Hill, near Chatham. His origins were middle class, if of a newfound and precarious respectability; one grandfather had been a domestic servant, and the other an embezzler. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was well paid, but his extravagance and ineptitude often brought the family to financial embarrassment or disaster. (Some of his failings and his ebullience are dramatized in Mr. Micawber in the partly autobiographical David Copperfield.) In 1824 the family reached bottom. Charles, the eldest son, had been withdrawn from school and was now set to manual work in a factory, and his father went to prison for debt. These shocks deeply affected Charles. Though abhorring this brief descent into the working class, he began to gain that sympathetic knowledge of their life and privations that informed his writings. Also, the images of the prison and of the lost, oppressed, or bewildered child recur in many novels. Much else in his character and art stems from this period, including, as the 20th-century novelist Angus Wilson has argued, his later difficulty, as man and author, in understanding women: this may be traced to his bitter resentment against his mother, who had, he felt, failed disastrously at this time to appreciate his sufferings. She had wanted him to stay at work when his father’s release from prison and an improvement in the family’s fortunes made the boy’s return to school possible. Happily the father’s view prevailed.

His schooling, interrupted and unimpressive, ended at 15. He became a clerk in a solicitor’s office, then a shorthand reporter in the lawcourts (thus gaining a knowledge of the legal world often used in the novels), and finally, like other members of his family, a parliamentary and newspaper reporter. These years left him with a lasting affection for journalism and contempt both for the law and for Parliament. His coming to manhood in the reformist 1830s, and particularly his working on the Liberal Benthamite Morning Chronicle (1834–36), greatly affected his political outlook. Another influential event now was his rejection as suitor to Maria Beadnell because his family and prospects were unsatisfactory; his hopes of gaining and chagrin at losing her sharpened his determination to succeed. His feelings about Maria then and at her later brief and disillusioning reentry into his life are reflected in David Copperfield’s adoration of Dora Spenlow and in the middle-aged Arthur Clennam’s discovery (in Little Dorrit) that Flora Finching, who had seemed enchanting years ago, was “diffuse and silly,” that Flora “whom he had left a lily, had become a peony.”

Early years Beginning of literary career
Much drawn to the theatre, Dickens nearly became a professional actor in 1832. In 1833 he began contributing stories and descriptive essays to magazines and newspapers; these attracted attention and were reprinted as Sketches by “Boz” (February 1836). The same month, he was invited to provide a comic serial narrative to accompany engravings by a well-known artist; seven weeks later the first installment of Pickwick Papers appeared. Within a few months Pickwick was the rage and Dickens the most popular author of the day. During 1836 he also wrote two plays and a pamphlet on a topical issue (how the poor should be allowed to enjoy the Sabbath) and, resigning from his newspaper job, undertook to edit a monthly magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, in which he serialized Oliver Twist (1837–39). Thus, he had two serial installments to write every month. Already the first of his nine surviving children had been born; he had married (in April 1836) Catherine, eldest daughter of a respected Scottish journalist and man of letters, George Hogarth.

For several years his life continued at this intensity. Finding serialization congenial and profitable, he repeated the Pickwick pattern of 20 monthly parts in Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39); then he experimented with shorter weekly installments for The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Exhausted at last, he then took a five-month vacation in America, touring strenuously and receiving quasi-royal honours as a literary celebrity but offending national sensibilities by protesting against the absence of copyright protection. A radical critic of British institutions, he had expected more from “the republic of my imagination,” but he found more vulgarity and sharp practice to detest than social arrangements to admire. Some of these feelings appear in American Notes (1842) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44).

Early years First novels
His writing during these prolific years was remarkably various and, except for his plays, resourceful. Pickwick began as high-spirited farce and contained many conventional comic butts and traditional jokes; like other early works, it was manifestly indebted to the contemporary theatre, the 18th-century English novelists, and a few foreign classics, notably Don Quixote. But, besides giving new life to old stereotypes, Pickwick displayed, if sometimes in embryo, many of the features that were to be blended in varying proportions throughout his fiction: attacks, satirical or denunciatory, on social evils and inadequate institutions; topical references; an encyclopaedic knowledge of London (always his predominant fictional locale); pathos; a vein of the macabre; a delight in the demotic joys of Christmas; a pervasive spirit of benevolence and geniality; inexhaustible powers of character creation; a wonderful ear for characteristic speech, often imaginatively heightened; a strong narrative impulse; and a prose style that, if here overdependent on a few comic mannerisms, was highly individual and inventive. Rapidly improvised and written only weeks or days ahead of its serial publication, Pickwick contains weak and jejune passages and is an unsatisfactory whole—partly because Dickens was rapidly developing his craft as a novelist while writing and publishing it. What is remarkable is that a first novel, written in such circumstances, not only established him overnight and created a new tradition of popular literature but also survived, despite its crudities, as one of the best known novels in the world.

Early years First novels Oliver Twist and others
His self-assurance and artistic ambitiousness had appeared in Oliver Twist, where he rejected the temptation to repeat the successful Pickwick formula. Though containing much comedy still, Oliver Twist is more centrally concerned with social and moral evil (the workhouse and the criminal world); it culminates in Bill Sikes’s murdering Nancy and Fagin’s last night in the condemned cell at Newgate. The latter episode was memorably depicted in George Cruikshank’s engraving; the imaginative potency of Dickens’ characters and settings owes much, indeed, to his original illustrators (Cruikshank for Sketches by “Boz” and Oliver Twist, “Phiz” [Hablot K. Browne] for most of the other novels until the 1860s). The currency of his fiction owed much, too, to its being so easy to adapt into effective stage versions. Sometimes 20 London theatres simultaneously were producing adaptations of his latest story; so even nonreaders became acquainted with simplified versions of his works. The theatre was often a subject of his fiction, too, as in the Crummles troupe in Nicholas Nickleby. This novel reverted to the Pickwick shape and atmosphere, though the indictment of the brutal Yorkshire schools (Dotheboys Hall) continued the important innovation in English fiction seen in Oliver Twist—the spectacle of the lost or oppressed child as an occasion for pathos and social criticism. This was amplified in The Old Curiosity Shop, where the death of Little Nell was found overwhelmingly powerful at the time, though a few decades later it became a byword for “Victorian sentimentality.” In Barnaby Rudge he attempted another genre, the historical novel. Like his later attempt in this kind, A Tale of Two Cities, it was set in the late 18th century and presented with great vigour and understanding (and some ambivalence of attitude) the spectacle of large-scale mob violence.

To create an artistic unity out of the wide range of moods and materials included in every novel, with often several complicated plots involving scores of characters, was made even more difficult by Dickens’ writing and publishing them serially. In Martin Chuzzlewit he tried “to resist the temptation of the current Monthly Number, and to keep a steadier eye upon the general purpose and design” (1844 Preface). Its American episodes had, however, been unpremeditated (he suddenly decided to boost the disappointing sales by some America-baiting and to revenge himself against insults and injuries from the American press). A concentration on “the general purpose and design” was more effective in the next novel, Dombey and Son (1846–48), though the experience of writing the shorter, and unserialized, Christmas books had helped him obtain greater coherence.

Early years First novels Christmas books
A Christmas Carol, suddenly conceived and written in a few weeks, was the first of these Christmas books (a new literary genre thus created incidentally). Tossed off while he was amply engaged in writing Chuzzlewit, it was an extraordinary achievement—the one great Christmas myth of modern literature. His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as “Christmas philosophy,” and he himself spoke of “Carol philosophy” as the basis of a projected work. His “philosophy,” never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity. “Dickens dead?” exclaimed a London costermonger’s girl in 1870. “Then will Father Christmas die too?”—a tribute both to his association with Christmas and to the mythological status of the man as well as of his work. The Carol immediately entered the general consciousness; Thackeray, in a review, called it “a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness.” Further Christmas books, essays, and stories followed annually (except in 1847) through 1867. None equalled the Carol in potency, though some achieved great immediate popularity. Cumulatively they represent a celebration of Christmas attempted by no other great author.

Early years First novels Renown
How he struck his contemporaries in these early years appears in R.H. Horne’s New Spirit of the Age (1844). Dickens occupied the first and longest chapter, as

. . . manifestly the product of his age . . . a genuine emanation from its aggregate and entire spirit. . . . He mixes extensively in society, and continually. Few public meetings in a benevolent cause are without him. He speaks effectively. . . . His influence upon his age is extensive—pleasurable, instructive, healthy, reformatory. . . .

Mr. Dickens is, in private, very much what might be expected from his works. . . . His conversation is genial . . . [He] has singular personal activity, and is fond of games of practical skill. He is also a great walker, and very much given to dancing Sir Roger de Coverley. In private, the general impression of him is that of a first-rate practical intellect, with “no nonsense” about him.

He was indeed very much a public figure, actively and centrally involved in his world, and a man of confident presence. He was reckoned the best after-dinner speaker of the age; other superlatives he attracted included his having been the best shorthand reporter on the London press and his being the best amateur actor on the stage. Later he became one of the most successful periodical editors and the finest dramatic recitalist of the day. He was splendidly endowed with many skills. “Even irrespective of his literary genius,” wrote an obituarist, “he was an able and strong-minded man, who would have succeeded in almost any profession to which he devoted himself ” (Times, June 10, 1870). Few of his extraliterary skills and interests were irrelevant to the range and mode of his fiction.

Privately in these early years, he was both domestic and social. He loved home and family life and was a proud and efficient householder; he once contemplated writing a cookbook. To his many children, he was a devoted and delightful father, at least while they were young; relations with them proved less happy during their adolescence. Apart from periods in Italy (1844–45) and Switzerland and France (1846–47), he still lived in London, moving from an apartment in Furnival’s Inn to larger houses as his income and family grew. Here he entertained his many friends, most of them popular authors, journalists, actors, or artists, though some came from the law and other professions or from commerce and a few from the aristocracy. Some friendships dating from his youth endured to the end, and, though often exasperated by the financial demands of his parents and other relatives, he was very fond of some of his family and loyal to most of the rest. Some literary squabbles came later, but he was on friendly terms with most of his fellow authors, of the older generation as well as his own. Necessarily solitary while writing and during the long walks (especially through the streets at night) that became essential to his creative processes, he was generally social at other times. He enjoyed society that was unpretentious and conversation that was genial and sensible but not too intellectualized or exclusively literary. High society he generally avoided, after a few early incursions into the great houses; he hated to be lionized or patronized.

He had about him “a sort of swell and overflow as of a prodigality of life,” an American journalist said. Everyone was struck by the brilliance of his eyes and his smart, even dandyish, appearance (“I have the fondness of a savage for finery,” he confessed). John Forster, his intimate friend and future biographer, recalled him at the Pickwick period:

the quickness, keenness, and practical power, the eager, restless, energetic outlook on each several feature [of his face] seemed to tell so little of a student or writer of books, and so much of a man of action and business in the world. Light and motion flashed from every part of it.

He was proud of his art and devoted to improving it and using it to good ends (his works would show, he wrote, that “Cheap Literature is not behind-hand with the Age, but holds its place, and strives to do its duty”), but his art never engaged all his formidable energies. He had no desire to be narrowly literary.

A notable, though unsuccessful, demonstration of this was his being founder-editor in 1846 of the Daily News (soon to become the leading Liberal newspaper). His journalistic origins, his political convictions and readiness to act as a leader of opinion, and his wish to secure a steady income independent of his literary creativity and of any shifts in novel readers’ tastes made him attempt or plan several periodical ventures in the 1840s. The return to daily journalism soon proved a mistake—the biggest fiasco in a career that included few such misdirections or failures. A more limited but happier exercise of his practical talents began soon afterward: for more than a decade he directed, energetically and with great insight and compassion, a reformatory home for young female delinquents, financed by his wealthy friend Angela Burdett-Coutts. The benevolent spirit apparent in his writings often found practical expression in his public speeches, fund-raising activities, and private acts of charity.

Dombey and Son (1846–48) was a crucial novel in his development, a product of more thorough planning and maturer thought and the first in which “a pervasive uneasiness about contemporary society takes the place of an intermittent concern with specific social wrongs” (Kathleen Tillotson). Using railways prominently and effectively, it was very up-to-date, though the questions posed included such perennial moral and religious challenges as are suggested by the child Paul’s first words in the story: “Papa, what’s money?” Some of the corruptions of money and pride of place and the limitations of “respectable” values are explored, virtue and human decency being discovered most often (as elsewhere in Dickens) among the poor, humble, and simple. In Paul’s early death Dickens offered another famous pathetic episode; in Mr. Dombey he made a more ambitious attempt than before at serious and internal characterization. David Copperfield (1849–50) has been described as a “holiday” from these larger social concerns and most notable for its childhood chapters, “an enchanting vein which he had never quite found before and which he was never to find again” (Edmund Wilson). Largely for this reason and for its autobiographical interest, it has always been among his most popular novels and was Dickens’ own “favourite child.” It incorporates material from the autobiography he had recently begun but soon abandoned and is written in the first person, a new technique for him. David differs from his creator in many ways, however, though Dickens uses many early experiences that had meant much to him—his period of work in the factory while his father was jailed, his schooling and reading, his passion for Maria Beadnell, and (more cursorily) his emergence from parliamentary reporting into successful novel writing. In Micawber the novel presents one of the “Dickens characters” whose imaginative potency extends far beyond the narratives in which they figure; Pickwick and Sam Weller, Mrs. Gamp and Mr. Pecksniff, and Scrooge are some others.

Middle years Journalism
Dickens’ journalistic ambitions at last found a permanent form in Household Words (1850–59) and its successor, All the Year Round (1859–88). Popular weekly miscellanies of fiction, poetry, and essays on a wide range of topics, these had substantial and increasing circulations, reaching 300,000 for some of the Christmas numbers. Dickens contributed some serials—the lamentable Child’s History of England (1851–53), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1860–61)—and essays, some of which were collected in Reprinted Pieces (1858) and The Uncommercial Traveller (1861, later amplified). Particularly in 1850–52 and during the Crimean War, he contributed many items on current political and social affairs; in later years he wrote less—much less on politics—and the magazine was less political, too. Other distinguished novelists contributed serials, including Mrs. Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade, and Bulwer Lytton. The poetry was uniformly feeble; Dickens was imperceptive here. The reportage, often solidly based, was bright (sometimes painfully so) in manner. His conduct of these weeklies shows his many skills as editor and journalist but also some limitations in his tastes and intellectual ambitions. The contents are revealing in relation to his novels: he took responsibility for all the opinions expressed (for articles were anonymous) and selected and amended contributions accordingly; thus comments on topical events and so on may generally be taken as representing his opinions, whether or not he wrote them. No English author of comparable status has devoted 20 years of his maturity to such unremitting editorial work, and the weeklies’ success was due not only to his illustrious name but also to his practical sagacity and sustained industry. Even in his creative work, as his eldest son said,

No city clerk was ever more methodical or orderly than he; no humdrum, monotonous, conventional task could ever have been discharged with more punctuality, or with more businesslike regularity.

Middle years Novels
The novels of these years, Bleak House (1852–53), Hard Times (1854), and Little Dorrit (1855–57), were much “darker” than their predecessors. Presenting a remarkably inclusive and increasingly sombre picture of contemporary society, they were inevitably often seen at the time as fictionalized propaganda about ephemeral issues. They are much more than this, though it is never easy to state how Dickens’ imagination transforms their many topicalities into an artistically coherent vision that transcends their immediate historical context. Similar questions are raised by his often basing fictional characters, places, and institutions on actual originals. He once spoke of his mind’s taking “a fanciful photograph” of a scene, and there is a continual interplay between photographic realism and “fancy” (or imagination). “He describes London like a special correspondent for posterity” (Walter Bagehot, 1858), and posterity has certainly found in his fiction the response of an acute, knowledgeable, and concerned observer to the social and political developments of “the moving age.” In the novels of the 1850s, he is politically more despondent, emotionally more tragic. The satire is harsher, the humour less genial and abundant, the “happy endings” more subdued than in the early fiction. Technically, the later novels are more coherent, plots being more fully related to themes, and themes being often expressed through a more insistent use of imagery and symbols (grim symbols, too, such as the fog in Bleak House or the prison in Little Dorrit). His art here is more akin to poetry than to what is suggested by the photographic or journalistic comparisons. “Dickensian” characterization continues in the sharply defined and simplified grotesque or comic figures, such as Chadband in Bleak House or Mrs. Sparsit in Hard Times, but large-scale figures of this type are less frequent (the Gamps and Micawbers belong to the first half of his career). Characterization also has become more subordinate to “the general purpose and design”; moreover, Dickens is presenting characters of greater complexity, who provoke more complex responses in the reader (William Dorrit, for instance). Even the juvenile leads, who had usually been thinly conceived conventional figures, are now often more complicated in their make-up and less easily rewarded by good fortune. With his secular hopes diminishing, Dickens becomes more concerned with “the great final secret of all life”—a phrase from Little Dorrit, where the spiritual dimension of his work is most overt. Critics disagree as to how far so worldly a novelist succeeds artistically in enlarging his view to include the religious. These novels, too, being manifestly an ambitious attempt to explore the prospects of humanity at this time, raise questions, still much debated, about the intelligence and profundity of his understanding of society.

Middle years Personal unhappiness
Dickens’ spirits and confidence in the future had indeed declined: 1855 was “a year of much unsettled discontent for him,” his friend Forster recalled, partly for political reasons (or, as Forster hints, his political indignation was exacerbated by a “discontent” that had personal origins). The Crimean War, besides exposing governmental inefficiency, was distracting attention from the “poverty, hunger, and ignorant desperation” at home. In Little Dorrit, “I have been blowing off a little of indignant steam which would otherwise blow me up . . . ,” he wrote, “but I have no present political faith or hope—not a grain.” Not only were the present government and Parliament contemptible but “representative government is become altogether a failure with us, . . . the whole thing has broken down . . . and has no hope in it.” Nor had he a coherent alternative to suggest. This desperation coincided with an acute state of personal unhappiness. The brief tragicomedy of Maria Beadnell’s reentry into his life, in 1855, finally destroyed one nostalgic illusion and also betrayed a perilous emotional immaturity and hunger. He now openly identified himself with some of the sorrows dramatized in the adult David Copperfield:

Why is it, that as with poor David, a sense comes always crushing on me, now, when I fall into low spirits, as of one happiness I have missed in life, and one friend and companion I have never made?

This comes from the correspondence with Forster in 1854–55, which contains the first admissions of his marital unhappiness; by 1856 he is writing, “I find the skeleton in my domestic closet is becoming a pretty big one”; by 1857–58, as Forster remarks, an “unsettled feeling” had become almost habitual with him, “and the satisfactions which home should have supplied, and which indeed were essential requirements of his nature, he had failed to find in his home.” From May 1858, Catherine Dickens lived apart from him. A painful scandal arose, and Dickens did not act at this time with tact, patience, or consideration. The affair disrupted some of his friendships and narrowed his social circle, but surprisingly it seems not to have damaged his popularity with the public.

Catherine Dickens maintained a dignified silence, and most of Dickens’ family and friends, including his official biographer, Forster, were discreetly reticent about the separation. Not until 1939 did one of his children (Katey), speaking posthumously through conversations recorded by a friend, offer a candid inside account. It was discreditable to him, and his self-justifying letters must be viewed with caution. He there dated the unhappiness of his marriage back to 1838, attributed to his wife various “peculiarities” of temperament (including her sometimes labouring under “a mental disorder”), emphatically agreed with her (alleged) statement that “she felt herself unfit for the life she had to lead as my wife,” and maintained that she never cared for the children nor they for her. In more temperate letters, where he acknowledged her “amiable and complying” qualities, he simply and more acceptably asserted that their temperaments were utterly incompatible. She was, apparently, pleasant but rather limited; such faults as she had were rather negative than positive, though family tradition from a household that knew the Dickenses well speaks of her as “a whiney woman” and as having little understanding of, or patience with, the artistic temperament.

Dickens’ self-justifying letters lack candour in omitting to mention Ellen Ternan, an actress 27 years his junior, his passion for whom had precipitated the separation. Two months earlier he had written more frankly to an intimate friend:

The domestic unhappiness remains so strong upon me that I can’t write, and (waking) can’t rest, one minute. I have never known a moment’s peace or content, since the last night of The Frozen Deep.

The Frozen Deep was a play in which he and Nelly (as Ellen was called) had performed together in August 1857. She was an intelligent girl, of an old theatrical family; reports speak of her as having “a pretty face and well-developed figure”—or “passably pretty and not much of an actress.” She left the stage in 1860; after Dickens’ death she married a clergyman and helped him run a school. The affair was hushed up until the 1930s, and evidence about it remains scanty, but every addition confirms that Dickens was deeply attached to her and that their relationship lasted until his death. It seems likely that she became his mistress, though probably not until the 1860s; assertions that a child, or children, resulted remain unproved. Similarly, suggestions that the anguish experienced by some of the lovers in the later novels may reflect Dickens’ own feelings remain speculative. It is tempting, indeed, to associate Nelly with some of their heroines (who are more spirited and complex, less of the “legless angel,” than most of their predecessors), especially as her given names, Ellen Lawless, seem to be echoed by those of heroines in the three final novels—Estella, Bella, and Helena Landless—but nothing definite is known about how she responded to Dickens, what she felt for him at the time, or how close any of these later love stories were to aspects or phases of their relationship.

“There is nothing very remarkable in the story,” commented one early transmitter of it, and this seems just. Many middle-aged men feel an itch to renew their emotional lives with a pretty young girl, even if, unlike Dickens, they cannot plead indulgence for “the wayward and unsettled feeling which is part (I suppose) of the tenure on which one holds an imaginative life.” But the eventual disclosure of this episode caused surprise, shock, or piquant satisfaction, being related of a man whose rebelliousness against his society had seemed to take only impeccably reformist shapes. A critic in 1851, listing the reasons for his unique popularity, had cited “above all, his deep reverence for the household sanctities, his enthusiastic worship of the household gods.” After these disclosures he was, disconcertingly or intriguingly, a more complex man; and, partly as a consequence, Dickens the novelist also began to be seen as more complex, less conventional, than had been realized. The stimulus was important, though Nelly’s significance, biographically and critically, has proved far from inexhaustible.

Middle years Public readings
In the longer term, Kathleen Tillotson’s remark is more suggestive: “his lifelong love-affair with his reading public, when all is said, is by far the most interesting love-affair of his life.” This took a new form, about the time of Dickens’ separation from his wife, in his giving public readings from his works, and it is significant that, when trying to justify this enterprise as certain to succeed, he referred to “that particular relation (personally affectionate and like no other man’s) which subsists between me and the public.” The remark suggests how much Dickens valued his public’s affection, not only as a stimulus to his creativity and a condition for his commercial success but also as a substitute for the love he could not find at home. He had been toying with the idea of turning paid reader since 1853, when he began giving occasional readings in aid of charity. The paid series began in April 1858, the immediate impulse being to find some energetic distraction from his marital unhappiness. But the readings drew on more permanent elements in him and his art: his remarkable histrionic talents, his love of theatricals and of seeing and delighting an audience, and the eminently performable nature of his fiction. Moreover, he could earn more by reading than by writing, and more certainly; it was easier to force himself to repeat a performance than create a book.

His initial repertoire consisted entirely of Christmas books but was soon amplified by episodes from the novels and magazine Christmas stories. A performance usually consisted of two items; of the 16 eventually performed, the most popular were “The Trial from Pickwick” and the Carol. Comedy predominated, though pathos was important in the repertoire, and horrifics were startlingly introduced in the last reading he devised, “Sikes and Nancy,” with which he petrified his audiences and half killed himself. Intermittently, until shortly before his death, he gave seasons of readings in London and embarked upon hardworking tours through the provinces and (in 1867–68) the United States. Altogether he performed about 471 times. He was a magnificent performer, and important elements in his art—the oral and dramatic qualities—were demonstrated in these renderings. His insight and skill revealed nuances in the narration and characterization that few readers had noticed. Necessarily, such extracts or short stories, suitable for a two-hour entertainment, excluded some of his larger and deeper effects—notably, his social criticism and analysis—and his later novels were underrepresented. Dickens never mentions these inadequacies. He manifestly enjoyed the experience until, near the end, he was becoming ill and exhausted. He was writing much less in the 1860s. It is debatable how far this was because the readings exhausted his energies, while providing the income, creative satisfaction, and continuous contact with an audience that he had formerly obtained through the novels. He gloried in his audiences’ admiration and love. Some friends thought this too crude a gratification, too easy a triumph, and a sad declension into a lesser and ephemeral art. In whatever way the episode is judged, it was characteristic of him—of his relationship with his public, his business sense, his stamina, his ostentatious display of supplementary skills, and also of his originality. No important author (at least, according to reviewers, since Homer) and no English author since who has had anything like his stature has devoted so much time and energy to this activity. The only comparable figure is his contemporary, Mark Twain, who acknowledged Dickens as the pioneer.

Last years Final novels
Tired and ailing though he was, he remained inventive and adventurous in his final novels. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was an experiment, relying less than before on characterization, dialogue, and humour. An exciting and compact narrative, it lacks too many of his strengths to count among his major works. Sydney Carton’s self-sacrifice was found deeply moving by Dickens and by many readers; Dr. Manette now seems a more impressive achievement in serious characterization. The French Revolution scenes are vivid, if superficial in historical understanding. Great Expectations (1860–61) resembles Copperfield in being a first-person narration and in drawing on parts of Dickens’ personality and experience. Compact like its predecessor, it lacks the panoramic inclusiveness of Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend, but, though not his most ambitious, it is his most finely achieved novel. The hero Pip’s mind is explored with great subtlety, and his development through a childhood and youth beset with hard tests of character is traced critically but sympathetically. Various “great expectations” in the book proved ill founded—a comment as much on the values of the age as on the characters’ weaknesses and misfortunes. Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), a large inclusive novel, continues this critique of monetary and class values. London is now grimmer than ever before, and the corruption, complacency, and superficiality of “respectable” society are fiercely attacked. Many new elements are introduced into Dickens’ fictional world, but his handling of the old comic-eccentrics (such as Boffin, Wegg, and Venus) is sometimes tiresomely mechanical. How the unfinished Edwin Drood (1870) would have developed is uncertain. Here again Dickens left panoramic fiction to concentrate on a limited private action. The central figure was evidently to be John Jasper, whose eminent respectability as a cathedral organist was in extreme contrast to his haunting low opium dens and, out of violent sexual jealousy, murdering his nephew. It would have been his most elaborate treatment of the themes of crime, evil, and psychological abnormality that had recurred throughout his novels; a great celebrator of life, he was also obsessed with death.

How greatly Dickens personally had changed appears in remarks by friends who met him again, after many years, during the American reading tour in 1867–68. “I sometimes think . . . ,” wrote one, “I must have known two individuals bearing the same name, at various periods of my own life.” But just as the fiction, despite many developments, still contained many stylistic and narrative features continuous with the earlier work, so, too, the man remained a “human hurricane,” though he had aged considerably, his health had deteriorated, and his nerves had been jangled by travelling ever since his being in a railway accident in 1865. Other Americans noted that, though grizzled, he was “as quick and elastic in his movements as ever.” His photographs, wrote a journalist after one of the readings, “give no idea of his genial expression. To us he appears like a hearty, companionable man, with a deal of fun in him.” But that very day Dickens was writing, “I am nearly used up,” and listing the afflictions now “telling heavily upon me.” His pride and the old-trouper tradition made him conceal his sufferings. And, if sometimes by an effort of will, his old high spirits were often on display. “The cheerfullest man of his age,” he was called by his American publisher, J.T. Fields; Fields’s wife more perceptively noted, “Wonderful, the flow of spirits C.D. has for a sad man.”

His fame remained undiminished, though critical opinion was increasingly hostile to him. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, noting the immense enthusiasm for him during the American tour, remarked: “One can hardly take in the whole truth about it, and feel the universality of his fame.” But in many respects he was “a sad man” in these later years. He never was tranquil or relaxed. Various old friends were now estranged or dead or for other reasons less available; he was now leading a less social life and spending more time with young friends of a calibre inferior to his former circle. His sons were causing much worry and disappointment; “all his fame goes for nothing,” said a friend, “since he has not the one thing. He is very unhappy in his children.” His life was not all dreary, however. He loved his country house, Gad’s Hill, and he could still “warm the social atmosphere wherever he appeared with that summer glow which seemed to attend him.” T.A. Trollope (contributor to Dickens’ All the Year Round and brother of the novelist Anthony Trollope), who wrote that, despaired of giving people who had not met him any idea of

the general charm of his manner. . . . His laugh was brimful of enjoyment. . . . His enthusiasm was boundless. . . . He was a hearty man, a large-hearted man, . . . a strikingly manly man.

Last years Farewell readings
His health remained precarious after the punishing American tour and was further impaired by his addiction to giving the strenuous “Sikes and Nancy” reading. His farewell reading tour was abandoned when, in April 1869, he collapsed. He began writing another novel and gave a short farewell season of readings in London, ending with the famous speech, “From these garish lights I vanish now for evermore . . .”—words repeated, less than three months later, on his funeral card. He died suddenly in June 1870 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Assessment Contemporary opinion
Ralph Waldo Emerson, attending one of Dickens’ readings in Boston, “laughed as if he must crumble to pieces,” but, discussing Dickens afterward, he said:

I am afraid he has too much talent for his genius; it is a fearful locomotive to which he is bound and can never be free from it nor set to rest. . . . He daunts me! I have not the key.

There is no simple key to so prolific and multifarious an artist nor to the complexities of the man, and interpretation of both is made harder by his possessing and feeling the need to exercise so many talents besides his imagination. How his fiction is related to these talents—practical, journalistic, oratorical, histrionic—remains controversial. Also the geniality and unequalled comedy of the novels must be related to the sufferings, errors, and self-pity of their author and to his concern both for social evils and for the perennial griefs and limitations of humanity. The novels cover a wide range, social, moral, emotional, and psychological. Thus, he is much concerned with very ordinary people but also with abnormality (e.g., eccentricity, depravity, madness, hallucinations, dream states). He is both the most imaginative and fantastic and the most topical and documentary of great novelists. He is unequal, too; a wonderfully inventive and poetic writer, he can also, even in his mature novels, write with a painfully slack conventionality.

Biographers have only since the mid-20th century known enough to explore the complexity of Dickens’ nature. Critics have always been challenged by his art, though from the start it contained enough easily acceptable ingredients, evident skill and gusto, to ensure popularity. The earlier novels were and by and large have continued to be Dickens’ most popular works: The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol, and David Copperfield. Critics began to demur against the later novels, deploring the loss of the freer comic spirit, baffled by the more symbolic mode of his art, and uneasy when the simpler reformism over isolated issues became a more radical questioning of social assumptions and institutions. Dickens was never neglected or forgotten and never lost his popularity, but for 70 years after his death he received remarkably little serious attention (George Gissing, G.K. Chesterton, and George Bernard Shaw being notable exceptions). F.R. Leavis, later to revise his opinion, was speaking for many, in 1948, when he asserted that “the adult mind doesn’t as a rule find in Dickens a challenge to an unusual and sustained seriousness”; Dickens was indeed a great genius, “but the genius was that of a great entertainer.”

Assessment Modern criticism
Modern Dickens criticism dates from 1940–41, with the very different impulses given by George Orwell, Edmund Wilson, and Humphry House. In the 1950s, a substantial reassessment and re-editing of the works began, his finest artistry and greatest depth now being discovered in the later novels—Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Great Expectations—and (less unanimously) in Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend. Scholars have explored his working methods, his relations with his public, and the ways in which he was simultaneously an eminently Victorian figure and an author “not of an age but for all time.” Biographically, little had been added to Forster’s massive and intelligent Life (1872–74), except the Ellen Ternan story, until Edgar Johnson’s in 1952. Since then, no radically new view has emerged, though several works—including those by Joseph Gold (1972) and Fred Kaplan (1975)—have given particular phases or aspects fuller attention. The centenary in 1970 demonstrated a critical consensus about his standing second only to William Shakespeare in English literature, which would have seemed incredible 40 or even 20 years earlier.

G.K. Chesterton’s biography of Charles Dickens appeared in the 14th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (see the Britannica Classic: Charles Dickens).

Philip Collins


Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens


Oliver Twist started life as one of  Dickens' "Mudfog" sketches, a series of papers written for the early numbers of Bentiey's Miscellany.The first two monthly parts, depicting Oliver's birth and upbringing in the workhouse, formed part of a series of radical melodramatic attacks on the 1834 New Poor Law. Oliver Twist is at once a picaresque story, a melodrama, and a fairy tale romance in which the foundling is revealed to have noble origins. It is also one of the first novels to feature a child as the central character; though in contrast with Dickens' later children Oliver both stays a pre-pubescent and remains untouched by the traumas he experiences. Oliver's curious blankness is central to Dickens's multiple purposes. It enables him to remain the passive victim of institutionalized violence in the workhouse—even the famous scene where he asks for more gruel is not an act of self-assertion, but the result of drawing lots. It allows him to remain free of corruption when he falls in with Fagin's criminal gang (in contrast with the"Artful Dodger") so that he can be recast as a middle-class child by his rescuer Mr. Brownlow. The conspiracy between the wicked master of the den of underage thieves, Fagin, and Oliver's half-brother Monks to turn Oliver into a criminal produces the tension between imprisonment and escape that drives and unites the novel. Oliver escapes from the workhouse and from Fagin's underworld den, only to be recaptured until he is finally united with his aunt Rose Maylie and adopted by Brownlow. The fact that this dismal pattern is eventually broken is entirely due to the intervention of the prostitute Nancy, who brings the two worlds together—but at the price of her violent murder by her lover Bill Sykes, in one of Dickens's most bloodthirsty scenes.





Martin Chuzzlewit

Charles Dickens


Dickens had recently returned from a lecture tour to the U.S., and Martin Chuzzlewit contains his most caustic response to this experience. He lampoons various aspects of the American character, from widespread boastfulness and aggressive nationalism, to poor manners at the dinner table. His satirical targets are not limited to America, however. From the large-scale, public fraud of the Anglo-Bengalee Assurance Company to the arch-hypocrisy of Mr. Pecksniff, the novel consistently attacks notions of self and selfishness, emphasizing the importance of a developing social consciousness.
The complex, coincidence-laden plot develops Dickens's sense of the way in which human lives interconnect by chance, the underlying order that can emerge from apparent randomness. Martin himself is overshadowed by the cast of eccentrics with whom he is surrounded. Young Martin's travels have elements of the picaresque, while the decline into villainy of the grasping, violent Jonas Chuzzlewit anticipates the more fully developed treatment of crime and detection in Bleak House.The novel also contains a typical strain of sentimentality, particularly in the characterization of the trusting, simplehearted Tom Pinch. Much of the most distinctive writing in Martin Chuzzlewit is character driven, however, and in Mr. Pecksniff and Mrs. Gamp, Dickens created two of his most memorable grotesques, both developed with an attention to detail thattranscends simple caricature.





The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

Charles Dickens


Dickens comes closest to the eighteenth-century picaresque novel in Nicholas Nickieby, which follows the fortunes of the hero and his sister Kate when they are pushed into the world after their father's disastrous financial speculation. The novel is an extended exploration of how families work as economic as much as domestic units, and of how peoples'identities are shaped by the roles they play. Nicholas and Kate are both forced into exploitative labor by their wicked uncle Ralph. Kate becomes a milliner at Madame Mantolini's, where she falls prey to the sexual advances of the decadent roue Sir Mulberry Hawk. Nicholas becomes an usher at the truly grotesque and brutal Dotheboys Hall, the private school in which unwanted children are dumped by uncaring parents. The depiction of Dotheboys Hall combines grim comedy, in the figures of proprietors Mr. and Mrs. Squeers, with pathos, in the form of Smike, the mentally stunted youth abandoned as a child in the school. After fleeing the school, Nicholas wanders the country with Smike in search of employment, including work in Crummles's Theatre, a carnival world in which even Smike can play a useful part. In a final series of stark oppositions Nicholas and Kate once again find a home together, restored to them by the Cheeryble brothers, benevolent figures that magically reverse the family's misfortune.





A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens


Over the course of a single Christmas Eve a miserly misanthrope, Ebeneezer Scrooge, relives five incidents from his past, visits scenes from the present Christmas to Twelfth Night, and is presented with a vision of a future that connects his own death to that of the child of Bob Cratchit, his long suffering clerk. Accompanied upon these journeys by a trio of supernatural guides, Scrooge finally repents and makes amends to those he has ill treated.
The story is darkly comic and tinged with pathos, making the customary Dickensian appeal to the transforming power of sentiment. While Dickens's novels became increasingly pessimistic about there ever being a society that would honor its obligations to the poor and the dispossessed, this issue is neatly sidestepped here. The prevailing fantasy of the story is that a softening of character rather than a more radical transformation of socio-economic structures is sufficient to bring about social harmony. It is perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, this collective wish fulfilment at the heart of the narrative that the novel has consolidated its reputation, not least through numerous film and stage adaptations. Ultimately, though, it is the masterful storytelling that will ensure A Christmas Carol's popularity—it would be a stony heart indeed that did not warm to its charms.





Bleak House

Charles Dickens


Bleak House begins with fog: "Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city." And at the center of the fog, but murkier still, is the High Court. Legal corruption permeates this novel like a disease, issuing in particular from the Byzantine lawsuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, with which all the book's characters have a connection.This suit, the narrator tells us, has become so complicated and of such longevity "that no man alive knows what it means." People live and die as plaintiffs in the case. Structured around Chancery's machinations, Dickens' narrative is less picaresque than other of his works but nevertheless provides his customary, witty dissection of the layers of Victorian society. Whether in the sunny aristocratic milieu of the Dedlocks in Lincolnshire or the slums of Tom-AII-Alone's in London, there is always someone with a stake in the Jarndyce case.
Really, it is the public sphere in general that Bleak House satirizes. Everything resembles Chancery: Parliament, the provincial aristocracy, and even Christian philanthropy is caricatured as moribund and self-serving. At some subterranean level, all public life is tainted with complicity between class, power, money, and law. Private and inner life is affected too. The narrative, which is spfit between the third person and the novel's heroine, Esther Summerson, concerns moral disposition as much as social criticism. Characters—from the wearyingly earnest to the brilliantly shallow, from the foolish and foppish to the vampiristic and dangerous—are all illuminated in the darkness of Dickens' outraged, urbane opus.





A Tale of  Two Cities

Charles Dickens


London and Paris, at the time of the French Revolution and the subsequent Terror, are the "two cities" of the title. Savage in its attack on the excesses of a decadent French aristocracy, this novel is equally severe in its censure of revolutionary violence and mob hysteria. Yet Dickens seems unconsciously fascinated by the violence he overtly condemns: the scenes of revolutionary upheaval are written with a verve never achieved in his descriptions of domestic happiness.
Structured according to a series of oppositions, the novel is interested in the relationship between good and evil, "the best "and" the worst." Much of the attraction of this book lies in the uncanny effects that its plethora of doubles generates. Charles Darnay, the novel's somewhat passive hero, renounces his noble origins, and comes to England where he falls in love with the equally virtuous Lucie Manette, daughter of a physician, who has languished in a French prison for eighteen years. A long period of domestic bliss ensues for all, which comes to an end when Darnay nobly returns to France to save a servant, but is himself imprisoned and condemned to death. His salvation comes from his double and alter ego, Sidney Carton, a self-confessed dissolute wastrel whose only good quality is a tender, unrequited passion for Lucie. With an act far superior to anything he has ever done before, Carton uses his physical similarity to Darnay to bring the book to a memorableconclusion.





David Copperfield

Charles Dickens


Often regarded as Dickens' most autobiographical work, David's account of his childhood ordeal working in his stepfather's warehouse, and his training as a journalist and parliamentary reporter certainly echo Charles Dickens' own experience. A complex exploration of psychological development, David Copperfield—a favorite of Sigmund Freud— succeeds in combining elements of fairy tale with the open-ended form of the bildungsroman. The fatherless child's idyllic infancy is abruptly shattered by the patriarchal "firmness" of his stepfather Mr. Murdstone. David's suffering is traced through early years, his marriage to his "child-wife" Dora, and his assumption of a mature middle-class identity as he finally learns to tame his "undisciplined heart."
The narrative evokes the act of recollection whilst investigating the nature of memory itself. David's development is set beside other fatherless sons, while the punitive Mr. Murdstone is counterposed to the carnivalesque Mr. Micawber. Dickens also probed the anxieties that surround the relationships between class and gender. This is particularly evident in the seduction of working-class Emily by Steerforth, and the designs on the saintly Agnes by Uriah, as well as David's move from the infantilized sexuality of Dora to the domesticated rationality of Agnes in his own quest for a family.



Type of work:
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Type of plot: Sentimental romance
Time of plot: Early nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1849-1850

One of the best-loved novels in the English language, David Copperfield is a devastating expose of the treatment of children in the nineteenth century. Admittedly autobiographical, it is a work of art which can be read and reread, chiefly for its gallery of immortalized characters. Though the novel has flaws, it enjoys a kind of freshness and spontaneity stemming from the first-person recounting of events and the sympathetic treatment of characters.

Principal Characters

David Copperfield, the orphaned hero-narrator whose story of Viis early years and growing maturity comprises one of the best-known works of fiction in the English language. A posthumous child, extremely sensitive in retrospect, he first experiences cruelty and tyranny when his young widowed mother marries stern Mr. Murdstone, and he quickly forms emotional alliances with the underprivileged and the victimized. His loyalties are sometimes misplaced, as in the case of Steerforth, his school friend who seduces Little Em'ly, but his heart remains sound and generous toward even the erring. As he passes from childhood to disillusioned adolescence, his perceptions increase, though he often misses the truth because he misreads the evidence before him. His trust is all the more remarkable when one considers the recurrence of error which leads him from false friends to false love and on to near catastrophe. Finally, unlike his creator, David finds balance and completion in his literary career, his abiding friendships, and his happy second marriage.
Clara Copperfield, David's childlike but understanding and beautiful mother, destined to an early death because of her inability to cope with life. Strong in her own attachments, she attributes to everyone motives as good and generous as her own. Misled into a second marriage to an unloving husband, she is torn between son and husband and dies soon after giving birth to another child. Mother and child are buried in the same coffin.
Edward Murdstone, Clara Copperfield's second husband and David's irascible stepfather, who cruelly mistreats the sensitive young boy. Self-seeking to an extreme degree, Murdstone has become a synonym for the mean and low, the calculating and untrustworthy. His cruelty is touched with sadism, and his egoism borders on the messianic.
Jane Murdstone, Edward Murdstone's sister. Like her brother, she is harsh and unbending. Her severe nature is symbolized by the somber colors and metallic beards she wears. Her suspicious mind is shown by her belief that the maids have a man hidden somewhere in the house.
Oara Peggotty, Mis. Copperfie\d's devoted servant and David's nurse and friend. Cheerful and plump, she always seems about to burst out of her clothing, and when she moves buttons pop and fly in all directions. Discharged after the death of her mistress, she marries Barkis, a carrier.
Daniel Peggotty, Clara Peggotty's brother, a Yarmouth fisherman whose home is a boat beached on the sands. A generous, kind-hearted man, he has made himself the protector of a niece and a nephew, Little Em'ly and Ham, and of Mrs. Gummidge, the forlorn widow of his former partner. His charity consists of thoughtful devotion as much as material support.
Ham Peggotty, Daniel Peggotty's stalwart nephew. He grows up to fall in love with his cousin, Little Em'ly, but on the eve of their wedding she elopes with James Steerforth, her seducer. Some years later, during a great storm, Ham is drowned while trying to rescue Steerforth from a ship in distress off Yarmouth beach.
Little Em'ly, Daniel Peggotty's niece and adopted daughter, a girl of great beauty and charm and David's first love. Though engaged to marry her cousin Ham, she runs away with James Steerforth. After he discards her, Daniel Peggotty saves her from a life of further shame, and she and her uncle join a party emigrating to Australia.
Barkis, the carrier between Blunderstone and Yarmouth. A bashful suitor, he woos Peggotty by having David tell her that "Barkis is willin'!" This tag line, frequently repeated, reveals the carter's good and simple nature.
Mrs. Gummidge, the widow of Daniel Peggotty's fishing partner. After he takes her into his home she spends most of her time by the fire, meanwhile complaining sadly that she is a "lone, lorn creetur."
Miss Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield's great-aunt, eccentric, sharp-spoken, but essentially kindhearted. Present on the night of David's birth, she has already made up her mind as to his sex and his name, her own. When she learns that the child is a boy, she leaves the house in great indignation. Eventually she becomes the benefactress of destitute and desolate David, educates him, and lives to see him happily married to Agnes Wick-field and established in his literary career.
Richard Babley, called Mr. Dick, a mildly mad and seemingly irresponsible man befriended by Miss Trot-wood. He has great difficulty in keeping the subject of King Charles the First out of his conversation and the memorial he is writing. Miss Trotwood, who refuses to admit that he is mad, always defers to him as a shrewd judge of character and situation.
Dora Spenlow, the ornamental but helpless "child-wife" whom David loves protectively, marries, and loses when she dies young. Her helplessness in dealing with the ordinary situations of life is both amusing and touching.
Agnes Wickfield, the daughter of Miss Trotwood's solicitor and David's staunch friend for many years. Though David at first admires the father, his admiration is soon transferred to the sensible, generous daughter. She nurses Dora Copperfield at the time of her fatal illness, and Dora on her deathbed advises David to marry Agnes. The delicacy with which Agnes contains her love for many years makes her an appealing figure. Eventually she and David are married, to Miss Trotwood's great delight.
Uriah Heep, the hypocritical villain who, beginning as a clerk in Mr. Wickfield's law office, worms his way into the confidence of his employer, becomes a partner in the firm, ruins Mr. Wickfield, and embezzles Miss Trotwood's fortune. His insistence that he is a very humble person provides the clue to his sly, conniving nature. His villainy is finally uncovered by Wilkins Micawber, whom he has used as a pawn, and he is forced to make restitution. After Mr. Wickfield and Miss Trotwood refuse to charge him with fraud, he continues his sharp practices in another section of the country until he is arrested for forgery and imprisoned.
Wilkins Micawber, an impecunious man who is "always waiting for something to turn up" while spending himself into debtors' prison, writing grandiloquent letters, indulging in flowery rhetoric, and eking out a shabbily genteel existence on the brink of disaster. David Copperfield lodges with the Micawbers for a time in London, and to him Mr. Micawber confides the sum of his worldly philosophy: "Annual income twenty pounds; annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen, six—result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds; annual expenditure twenty pounds nought six—result misery." He tries a variety of occupations in the course of the novel and is for a time employed by Uriah Heep, whose villainy he contemptuously unmasks. Miss Trotwood aids him and his family to immigrate to Australia, where he becomes a magistrate. A figure of improvidence, alternating between high spirits and low, well-meaning but without understanding of the ways of the world, Mr. Micawber is one of Dickens' great comic creations.
Mrs. Emma Micawber, a woman of genteel birth (as she frequently insists) and as mercurial in temperament as her husband. She is capable of fainting over the prospect of financial ruin at three o'clock and of eating with relish breaded lamb chops and drinking ale, bought with money from two pawned teaspoons, at four. Loyal in nature, she says in every crisis that she will never desert Mr. Micawber.
Master Wilkins and Miss Emma, the Micawber children.
James Steerforth, David Copperfield's fellow student at Salem House. The handsome, spoiled son of a wealthy widow, he hides his true nature behind pleasing manners and a seemingly engaging disposition. Introduced by David into the Peggotty household at Yarmouth, he succeeds in seducing Little Em'ly and persuading her to elope with him on the eve of her marriage to Ham. Later he tires of her and plans to marry her off to Littimer, the servant who aids him in his amorous conquests. He is drowned when his ship breaks up during a storm off Yarmouth.
Mrs. Steerforth, James Steerforth's mother, a proud, austere woman, at first devoted to her handsome, wayward son but eventually estranged from him.
Rosa Dartle, Mrs. Steerforth"s companion. Older than Steerforth but deeply in love with him, she endures humiliation and many indignities because of her unreasoning passion. Her lip is scarred, the result of a wound suffered when Steerforth, in a childish fit of anger, threw a hammer at her.
Littimer, Steerforth"s valet, a complete scoundrel. Tired of Little Em'ly, Steerforth plans to marry her to his servant, but the girl runs away in order to escape this degradation.
Miss Mowcher, a pursy dwarf. A hairdresser, she makes herself "useful" to a number of people in a variety of ways. Steerforth avails himself of her services.
Markham and Grainger, Steerforth's lively, amusing friends.
Francis Spenlow, a partner in the London firm of Spenlow and Jorkins, proctors, in which David Copperfield becomes an articled clerk. During a visit at the Spenlow country place David meets Dora, Mr. Spenlow's lovely but childlike daughter and falls in love with her, but her father opposes David's suit after Miss Trotwood loses her fortune. Mr. Spenlow dies suddenly after a fall from his carriage and Dora is taken in charge by two maiden aunts. Following the discovery that Mr. Spenlow's business affairs were in great confusion and that he died almost penniless, David marries Dora.
Miss Clarissa and Miss Lavina Spenlow, Mr. Spenlow's sisters, who take Dora into their home after her father's death.
Mr. Jorkins, Mr. Spenlow's business partner.
Mary Anne Paragon, a servant to David and Dora during their brief married life.
Mr. Tiffey, an elderly, withered-looking clerk employed by Spenlow and Jorkins.
Mr. Wickfield, a solicitor of Canterbury and Miss Trotwood's man of business, brought to ruin by Uriah Heep's scheming and adroit mismanagement of the firm's accounts. He is saved from disaster when Wilkins Micawber exposes Heep's machinations. Mr. Wickfield is a weak, foolish, but high-principled man victimized by a scoundrel who exploits his weaknesses.
Mr. Creakle, the master of Salem House, the wretched school to which Mr. Murdstone sends David Copper-field. Lacking in scholarly qualities, he prides himself on his strict discipline. Years later he becomes interested in a model prison where Uriah Heep and Littimer are among the inmates.
Mrs. Creakle, his wife, the victim of her husband's tyranny.
Miss Creakle, their daughter, reported to be in love with Steerforth.
Charles Mell, a junior master at Salem House, discharged when Mr. Creakle learns that the teacher's mother lives in an almshouse. Immigrating to Australia, he eventually becomes the head of the Colonial Salem-House Grammar School.
Mr. Sharp, the senior master at Salem House.
George Demple, one of David Copperfield's schoolmates at Salem House.
Thomas Traddles, another student at Salem House. As an unhappy schoolboy he consoles himself by drawing skeletons. He studies law, marries the daughter of a clergyman, and eventually becomes a judge. He, with David Copperfield, acts for Miss Trotwood after Uriah Heep's villainy has been revealed.
Miss Sophy Crewler, the fourth daughter of a clergyman's family, a pleasant, cheerful girl who marries Thomas Traddles. Her husband always refers to her as "the dearest girl in the world."
The Reverend Horace Crewler, a poor clergyman and the father of a large family of daughters.
Mrs. Crewler, his wife, a chronic invalid whose condition mends or grows worse according to the pleasing or displeasing circumstances of her life.
Caroline, Sarah, Louisa, Lucy, and Margaret, the other Crewler daughters. They and their husbands form part of the family circle surrounding happy, generous Traddles.
Dr. Strong, the master of the school at Canterbury where Miss Trotwood sends her great-nephew to be educated. After Miss Trotwood loses her money. Dr. Strong hires David to help in compiling a classical dictionary.
Mrs. Strong, a woman much younger than her husband.
Mrs. Markleham, the mother of Mrs. Strong. The boys at the Canterbury school call her the "Old Soldier."
Mr. Quinion, the manager of the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby, where David Copperfield is sent to do menial work after his mother's death. Miserable in these surroundings, David finally resolves to run away and look for his only relative, Miss Betsey Trotwood. in Dover.
Tipp, a workman in the Murdstone and Grinby warehouse.
Mealy Potatoes and Mick Walker, two rough slum boys who work with David at the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby.
Miss Larkins, a dark-eyed, statuesque beauty with whom David Copperfield falls in love when he is seventeen. She disappoints him by marrying Mr. Chestle. a grower of hops.
Miss Shepherd, a student at Miss Nettingall's Establishment for Young Ladies and another of David Copperfield's youthful loves.
Mrs. Crupp, David Copperfield's landlady while he is an articled clerk in the firm of Spenlow and Jorkins. She suffers from "the spazzums" and takes quantities of peppermint for this strange disorder.
Martha Endell, the unfortunate young woman who helps to restore Little Em'ly to her uncle.
Janet, Miss Betsey Trotwood's servant.
Jack Maldon, Mrs. Strong's cousin, a libertine for whom her kindhearted husband finds employment.

The Story

David Copperfield was born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, six months after his father's death. Miss Betsey Trotwood, an eccentric grandaunt, was present on the night of his birth, but she left the house abruptly and indignantly when she learned that the child was a boy who could never bear her name. David spent his early years with his pretty young mother, Clara Copperfield, and a devoted servant named Peggotty. Peggotty was plain and plump; when she bustled about the house, her buttons popped off her dress.
The youthful widow was soon courted by Mr. Murdstone, who proved to be stingy and cruel after marriage. When his mother married a second time, David was packed off with Peggotty to visit her relatives at Yarmouth. There her brother had converted an old boat into a seaside cottage, where he lived with his niece, Little Em'ly, and his sturdy young nephew, Ham. Little Em'ly and Ham were David's first real playmates, and his visit to Yarmouth remained a happy memory of his lonely and unhappy childhood. After Miss Jane Murdstone arrived to take charge of her brother's household, David and his mother were never to feel free again from the dark atmosphere of suspicion and gloom the Murdstones brought with them.
One day in a fit of childish terror, David bit his stepfather on the hand. He was immediately sent off to Salem House, a wretched school near London. There his life was more miserable than ever under a brutal headmaster named Creakle; but in spite of the harsh system of the school and the bullyings of Mr. Creakle, his life was endurable because of his friendship with two boys whom he was to meet again under much different circumstances in later life—lovable Tommy Traddles and handsome, lordly James Steerforth.
His school days ended suddenly with the death of his mother and her infant child. When he returned home, he discovered that Mr. Murdstone had dismissed Peggotty. Barkis, the stage driver, whose courtship had been meager but earnest, had taken Peggotty away to become Mrs. Barkis, and David was left friendless in the home of his cruel stepfather.
David was put to work in an export warehouse in which Murdstone had an interest. As a ten-year-old worker in the dilapidated establishment of the wine merchants Murdstone and Grinby, David was overworked and half-starved. He loathed his job and associates such as young Mick Walker and Mealy Potatoes. The youngster, however, met still another person with whom he was to associate in later life: Wilkins Micawber, a pompous ne'er-do-well in whose house David lodged. The impecunious Mr. Micawber found himself in debtor's prison shortly afterward. On his release, he decided to move with his brood in Plymouth. Having lost these good friends, David decided to run away from the environment he detested.
When David decided to leave Murdstone and Grinby, he knew he could not return to his stepfather. The only other relative he could think of was his father's aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, who had flounced indignantly out of the house on the night of David's birth. Hopefully, he set out for Dover where Miss Betsey lived, but not before he had been robbed of all his possessions. Consequently, he arrived at Miss Betsey's home physically and mentally wretched.
At first, David's reception was not cordial. Miss Betsey had never forgotten the injustice done her when David was born a boy instead of a girl; however, upon the advice of Mr. Dick, a feebleminded distant kinsman who was staying with her, she decided to take David in, at least until he had been washed thoroughly. While she was deliberating further about what to do with her bedraggled nephew, she wrote to Mr. Murdstone, who came with his sister to Dover to claim his stepson. Miss Betsey decided she disliked both Murdstones intensely. Mr. Dick solved her problem by suggesting that she keep David.
Much to David's joy and satisfaction, Miss Betsey planned to let the boy continue his education and almost immediately sent him to a school in Canterbury, run by a Mr. Strong, a headmaster quite different from Mr. Creakle. During his stay at school, David lodged with Miss Betsey's lawyer, Mr. Wickfield. David became very fond of Agnes, Wickfield's daughter. At Wickfield's he also met Uriah Heep, Mr. Wickfield's cringing clerk, whose hypocritical humility and clammy handclasp filled David with disgust.
David finished school when he was seventeen years old. Miss Betsey suggested that he travel for a time before deciding on a profession. On his way to visit his old nurse Peggotty, David met James Steerforth and went home with his former schoolmate. There he met Steerforth's mother and Rosa Dartle, a girl passionately in love with Steerforth. Years before, the quick-tempered Steerforth had struck Rosa, who carried a scar as a reminder of Steerforth's brutality.
After a brief visit, David persuaded Steerforth to go with him to see Peggotty and her family. At Yarmouth, Steerforth met Little Em'ly. In spite of the fact that she was engaged to Ham, she and Steerforth were immediately attracted to each other.
At length, David told his grandaunt that he wished to study law. Accordingly, he was articled to the law firm of Spenlow and Jorkins. At this time, David saw Agnes Wickfield, who told him she feared Steerforth and asked David to stay away from him. Agnes also expressed a fear of Uriah Heep, who was on the point of entering into partnership with her senile father. Shortly after these revelations by Agnes, David encountered Uriah himself, who confessed that he wanted to marry Agnes. David was properly disgusted.
On a visit to the Spenlow home, David met and instantly fell in love with Dora Spenlow, his employer's pretty but childish daughter. Soon they became secretly engaged. Before this happy event, however, David heard some startling news—Steerforth had run away with Little Em'ly.
This elopement was not the only blow to David's happiness. Shortly after his engagement to Dora, David learned from his grandaunt that she had lost all her money, and Agnes informed him that Uriah Heep had become Mr. Wickfield's partner. David tried unsuccessfully to be released from his contract with Spenlow and Jorkins. Determined to show his grandaunt he could repay her, even in a small way, for her past sacrifices, he took a part-time job as secretary to Mr. Strong, his former headmaster.
The job with Mr. Strong, however, paid very little; therefore, David undertook to study for a position as a reporter of parliamentary debates. Even poor, simple Mr. Dick came to Miss Betsey's rescue, for Traddles, now a lawyer, gave him a job as a clerk.
The sudden death of Mr. Spenlow dissolved the partnership of Spenlow and Jorkins, and David learned to his dismay that his former employer had died almost penniless. With much study on his part, David became a reporter. At the age of twenty-one, he married Dora, who, however, never seemed capable of growing up. During these events, David had kept in touch with Mr. Micawber, now Uriah Heep's confidential secretary.
Though something had finally turned up for Mr. Micaw-ber, his relations with David and even with his own family were mysteriously strange, as though he were hiding something.
David soon learned the nature of the trouble; Mr. Micawber's conscience got the better of him. At a meeting arranged by him at Mr. Wickfield's, he revealed in Uriah's presence and to an assembled company including Agnes, Miss Betsey, David, and Traddles, the criminal perfidy of Uriah Heep, who for years had robbed and cheated Mr. Wickfield. Miss Betsey discovered that Uriah was also responsible for her own financial losses. With the exposure of the villainous Uriah, partial restitution for her and for Mr. Wickfield was not long in coming.
Mr. Micawber's conscience was cleared by his exposure of Uriah Heep's villainy, and he proposed to take his family to Australia. There, he was sure something would again turn up. Mr. Peggotty and Little Em'ly also went to Australia; Little Em'ly had turned to her uncle in sorrow and shame after Steerforth had deserted her. David watched as their ship put out to sea. It seemed to him that the sunset was a bright promise for them as they sailed away to a new life in the new land. The darkness fell about him as he watched.
The great cloud now in David's life was his wife's delicate health. Day after day she failed, and in spite of his tenderest care, he was forced to see her grow more feeble and wan. Agnes Wickfield, like the true friend she had always been, was with him on the night of Dora's death. As in his earlier troubles, he turned to Agnes in the days that followed and found comfort in her sympathy and understanding.
Upon her advice, he decided to go abroad for a while. First, however, he went to Yarmouth to put a last letter from Little Em'ly into Ham's hands. There he witnessed the final act of her betrayal. During a storm, the heavy seas battered a ship in distress off the coast. Ham went to his death in a stouthearted attempt to rescue a survivor clinging to a broken mast. The bodies washed ashore by the rolling waves were those of loyal Ham and the false Steerforth.
David lived in Europe for three years. On his return, he discovered again his need for Agnes Wickfield's quiet friendship. One day, Miss Betsey Trotwood slyly suggested that Agnes might soon be married. Heavy in heart. David went off to offer her his good wishes. When she burst into tears, he realized that what he had hoped was true—her heart was already his. To the great delight of matchmaking Miss Betsey, Agnes and David were married, and David settled down to begin his career as a successful novelist.

Critical Evaluation

"But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield."
This is Charles Dickens' final, affectionate judgment of the work that stands exactly in the middle of his nov-elistic career, with seven novels before and seven after (excluding the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood). When he began the novel, he was in his mid-thirties, secure in continuing success that had begun with Sketches by Boz (1836) and Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). It was a good time to take stock of his life and to make use of the autobiographical manuscript he had put by earlier; nor did he try to conceal the personal element from his public, which eagerly awaited each of the nineteen numbers of David Copperfield. The novel was issued serially from May, 1849, through November, 1850. Charles Dickens, writer, is readily identified with David Copperfield, writer, viewing his life through the "long Cop-perfieldian perspective," as Dickens called it.
Although much in the life of the first-person narrator corresponds to Dickens' own life, details are significantly altered. Unlike David, Dickens was not a genteel orphan but the eldest son of living and improvident parents; his own father served as the model for Micawber. Dickens' childhood stint in a shoeblacking factory seems to have been somewhat shorter than David's drudgery in the warehouse of the wine distributors Murdstone and Grinby, but the shame and suffering were identical. Young Dickens failed in his romance with a pretty young girl, but the author Dickens permits David to win his Dora. Dickens, however, inflicts upon Dora as Mrs. Copperfield the faults of his own Kate, who, unlike Dora, lived on as his wife until their separation in 1858.
However fascinating the autobiographical details, David Copperfield stands primarily on its merits as a novel endowed with the bustling life of Dickens' earlier works but controlled by his maturing sense of design. The novel in its entirety answers affirmatively the question posed by David himself in the opening sentence: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life."
In addition to the compelling characterization of the protagonist, the novel abounds with memorable portrayals. The square face and black beard of Mr. Murdstone, always viewed in conjunction with that "metallic lady," Miss Murdstone, evoke the horror of dehumanized humanity. Uriah Heep's writhing body, clammy skin, and peculiarly lidless eyes suggest a subhuman form that is more terrifying than the revolting nature of his "umble-ness." Above all the figures that crowd the lonely world of the orphan rises the bald head of Wilkins Micawber, flourishing the English language and his quizzing glass with equal impressiveness, confidently prepared in case some opportunity turns up.

David Copperfield, nevertheless, is very definitely the hero of his own story. This is a novel of initiation, organized around the two major cycles of the hero's development—first in childhood, then in early manhood. He makes his own choices, but each important stage of his moral progress is marked by the intervention of Aunt Betsey Trot wood.
Initially, David is weak simply because he is a child, the hapless victim of adult exploitation; but he is also heir to the moral weakness of his childish mother and his dead father, who was an inept, impractical man. Portentously, David's birth is the occasion of a conflict between his mother's Copperfieldian softness and Aunt Betsey's firmness, displayed in her rigidity of figure and countenance.
From a state of childish freedom, David falls into the Murdstone world. The clanking chains of Miss Murd-stone's steel purse symbolize the metaphorical prison that replaces his innocently happy home. Indeed, for David, the world becomes a prison. After his five days of solitary confinement at Blunderstone, he enters the jail-like Salem House School. After his mother's death, he is placed in the grim warehouse, apparently for life; nor is his involvement with the Micawbers any real escape, for he is burdened with their problems and retains his place in the family even after their incarceration in the King's Bench Prison.
Although David repudiates the tyrannical firmness of which he is a victim, he does not actively rebel except for the one occasion when he bites Mr. Murdstone. Instead, like his mother, he indulges his weakness; he submits, fearfully to the Murdstones and Creakle, worshipfully to the arrogant Steerforth. In addition, he escapes into the illusory freedom of fantasy—through books and stories and through the lives of others, which he invests with an enchantment that conceals from him whatever is potentially tragic or sordid.
David's pliant nature, nevertheless, shares something of the resolute spirit of Aunt Betsey, despite her disappearance on the night of his birth. Looking back upon his wretched boyhood, David recalls that he kept his own counsel and did his work. From having suffered in secret, he moves to the decision to escape by his own act. The heroic flight is rewarded when Aunt Betsey relents and takes him in. Appropriately, she trusses up the small boy in adult clothes and announces her own goal of making him a "fine fellow, with a will of your own," with a "strength of character that is not to be influenced, except on good reason, by anybody, or by anything." The first cycle of testing is complete.
The conventionally happy years in Dover and Canterbury mark an interlude before the second major cycle of the novel, which commences with David's reentry into the world as a young man. Significantly, he at first resumes the docile patterns of childhood. Reunited with Steer-forth, he once again takes pride in his friend's overbearing attitude. He allows himself to be bullied by various inferiors. He evades the obligation to choose his own career by entering into a profession that affects him like an opiate. In Dora's childlike charms, he recaptures the girlish image of his mother. At this point, however, the firm Aunt Betsey, having cut short his childhood trials, deliberately sets into motion his adult testing with her apparent bankruptcy.
In response to his new challenges. David is forced back upon his childhood resources. At first, he unconsciously imitates Murdstone in trying to mold Dora; but he again rejects tyranny, choosing instead resignation, understanding that she can be no more than his "child-wife." He responds with full sympathy to the tragedy of Little Em'ly's affair with Steerforth, but he is finally disenchanted with the splendid willfulness that had captivated his boyish heart. Most important, he recovers the saving virtue of his childhood, his ability to suffer in secrecy, to keep his own counsel, and to do his work. As his trials pile up—poverty, overwork, disappointment in marriage, his wife's death, and the tribulations of the friends to whom his tender heart is wholly committed—he conquers his own undisciplined heart.
The mature man who emerges from his trials profits from his experiences and heritage. His capacity for secret suffering is, for him as for Aunt Betsey, a source of strength; but his, unlike hers, is joined to the tenderheartedness inherited from his parents. Her distrust of mankind has made her an eccentric. His trusting disposition, though rendering him vulnerable, binds him to humanity.
While Aunt Betsey sets a goal of maturity before David, Agnes Wickfield is the symbol of the hard-won self-discipline which he finally achieves. She is from the beginning his "better angel." Like him, she is tenderhearted and compliant; yet, though a passive character, she is not submissive, and she is always in control of herself in even the most difficult human relationships. Moreover, her firmness of character is never distorted by fundamental distrust of mankind; thus hers is the only influence that David should accept, "on good reason," in his pursuit of the moral goal that Aunt Betsey sets before him.
By the time David has recognized his love for Agnes, he has also attained a strength of character like hers. The appropriate conclusion to his quest for maturity is his union with Agnes—who is from the beginning a model of the self-disciplined person in whom gentleness and strength are perfectly balanced. Furthermore, the home he builds with her is the proper journey's end for the orphaned child who has grasped at many versions of father, mother, family, and home: "Long miles of road then opened out before my mind, and toiling on, I saw a ragged way-worn boy forsaken and neglected, who should come to call even the heart now beating against him, his own." He has outgrown the child-mother, the child-wife, the childhood idols, even the childhood terrors, and he is a mature man ready to accept love "founded on a rock."
In the context of a successful completed quest, the novel ends with a glimpse of the complete man, who writes far into the night to erase the shadows of his past but whose control of the realities is sufficient in the presence of the woman who is always, symbolically, "near me, pointing upward!"


Type of work:
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Type of plot: Sentimental romance
Time of plot: Early nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1838-1839

In spite of a general disorganization and confusion in the plotting and the relative simplicity of the characterizations, Nicholas Nickleby remains one of Dickens' finest early triumphs by virtue of its energy, comedy, and social realism. His portrayal ofWackford Squeers's mismanaged private school, based upon firsthand research, stimulated much public discussion and indignation, and eventually led to important reforms.

Principal Characters

Nicholas Nickleby, the handsome, warm-hearted, enterprising son of a widow whose husband's death left her and her two children impoverished as the result of unwise speculations. Through the grudging influence of his uncle, a shrewd, miserly London businessman, he secures a post as an assistant master at Dotheboys Hall, a wretched school for boys, at a salary of five pounds a year. Finding conditions at the school impossible to tolerate, he thrashes Wackford Squeers, his employer, quits the place in disgust, and returns to London in the company of Smike, a half-starved, broken-spirited drudge, and now his loyal friend, whom he saved from the schoolmaster's brutality. After being cleared of a false charge of thievery brought by his uncle and the vindictive Squeers, he sets out again in the hope of bettering his fortune. He becomes an actor in a traveling troupe but is called back to London on behalf of his sister Kate, who has become the victim of the unwelcome attentions of Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht, two notorious rakes. After disabling one of her pursuers he finds work with the generous Cheeryble brothers, and his fortunes improve, so that he is able to provide a home for his mother and sister. He falls in love with Madeline Bray and rescues her from marriage to an elderly miser. After the romantic and financial complications of this situation have been unraveled, Nicholas and Madeline are married.
Kate Nickleby, his refined, pretty sister. After her arrival in London she first finds work with a dressmaker and later becomes a companion to Mrs. Julia Witterly, a vulgar, silly middle-class woman; meanwhile her uncle uses her as a snare to entrap two lustful noblemen. After Nicholas goes to work for the Cheeryble brothers, her future becomes secure. In love with Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of her brother's benefactors, she marries him when she is convinced at last that the young man is truly in love with her.
Mrs. Nickleby, their mother, an ineffective but wellmeaning woman who is constantly building castles in Spain for her son and daughter. Because of her poor judgment, she becomes the dupe of several coarse, mean people.
Ralph Nickleby, the miserly, treacherous uncle who finds ignominious work for both Nicholas and Kate and then attempts to use them to further his greed for wealth. After his schemes have been exposed and the unfortunate Smike has been revealed as the son whom he supposed dead, he hangs himself.
Smike, Ralph Nickleby's lost son, who had been abandoned by a former clerk to the harsh care of Wackford Squeers. Flogged and starved until he resembles a scarecrow, he turns away from Dotheboys Hall to share the fortunes of Nicholas Nickleby. When Nicholas joins a theatrical troupe, Smike plays the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. Recaptured by Squeers, he escapes with the aid of John Browdie, a stout-hearted Yorkshireman, and finds sanctuary with Nicholas once more. He falls in love with Kate Nickleby, despairingly because he is dying of tuberculosis. After his death it is revealed that he was the son of Ralph Nickleby.
Madeline Bray, a beautiful girl whose devotion to her selfish, dissolute father leads her to accept the proposal of Arthur Gride. Her father dying suddenly, Nicholas and Kate save her from the clutches of Gride and his friend, Ralph Nickleby. Later a lost will, concealed by Gride, is recovered, and Madeline becomes an heiress. She and Nicholas Nickleby are married after both experience reversals of fortune.
Walter Bray, Madeline's father. For his own selfish purposes, he plans to marry his daughter to an unwelcome and much older suitor, Arthur Gride.
Edwin and Charles Cheeryble, two benevolent brothers who make Nicholas Nickleby a clerk in their countinghouse, establish his family in a comfortable cottage, help to thwart the schemes of Ralph Nickleby, and finally bring about the marriages of Nicholas to Madeline Bray and Kate Nickleby to their nephew.
Frank Cheeryble, the gentfeman/y nephew of the Cheeryble brothers. He marries Kate Nickleby after the uncles have set right her mistaken belief that Frank loves Madeline Bray.
Wackford Squeers, the brutal, predatory proprietor of Dotheboys Hall and an underling of Ralph Nickleby. Thrashed by Nicholas Nickleby for his treatment of Smike and his cruelty to the helpless boys entrusted to his care, he tries to get revenge with Ralph's help. Arrested for stealing the will which provides for Madeline Bray's inheritance, he is sentenced to transportation for seven years.
Mrs. Squeers, his wife, a worthy helpmeet for her cruel, rapacious husband.
Fanny Squeers, their daughter, a twenty-three-year-old shrew. She is at first attracted to Nicholas Nickleby, her father's underpaid assistant, but later turns against him when he rebuffs her advances and declares that his only desire is to get away from detested Dotheboys Hall.
Wackford Squeers (Junior), a nasty boy who combines the worst traits of his parents.
Newman Noggs, Ralph Nickleby's eccentric, kind-hearted clerk and drudge. Ruined by Ralph's knavery, he enters the miser's employ in order to unmask his villainies. He aids Nicholas Nickleby and Smike on several occasions and is instrumental in securing Madeline Bray's inheritance. After Ralph's death he is restored to respectability.
Brooker, a felon, at one time Ralph Nickleby's clerk, later his enemy. He makes Ralph believe that his son is dead as part of a scheme for extorting money from his former employer. He reveals Smike's true identity and thus causes Ralph's suicide.
Arthur Gride, Madeline Bray's miserly old suitor, who makes Ralph Nickleby his accomplice in keeping the girl's inheritance a secret. He is later killed by robbers.
Lord Frederick Verisopht, a gullible young rake, the ruined dupe of Sir Mulberry Hawk. Enamored of Kate Nickleby, he tries to seduce her. Later he quarrels with Sir Mulberry and is killed in a duel by his mentor in vice.
Sir Mulberry Hawk, a man of fashion, a gambler, and a knave, severely punished by Nicholas Nickleby for his attempt to ruin the young man's sister. Sir Mulberry quarrels with his foolish dupe, Lord Frederick Verisopht, and kills him in a duel.
Tom Linkinwater, the Cheerybles' chief clerk, a man as amiable and cheerful as his employers. He marries Miss La Creevy.
Miss Linkinwater, his sister.
Miss La Creevy, a spinster of fifty springs, a miniature painter, and the landlady of the Nicklebys when they first come to London. She marries Tom Linkinwater.
Peg Sliderskew, Arthur Gride's wizened, deaf, ugly old housekeeper. She steals her master's papers, including the will bequeathing money to Madeline Bray. Squeers, hired by Ralph Nickleby to secure the document, is apprehended by Newman Noggs and Frank Cheeryble while in the act of pocketing it.
Mr. Snawley, a smooth-spoken hypocrite who sends his two stepsons to Dotheboys Hall. Ralph Nickleby's tool, he commits perjury by swearing that Smike is his son, abducted by Nicholas Nickleby. Later, when his guilt is revealed, he confesses, implicating Ralph and Squeers as his confederates.
Mrs. Snawley, his wife.
Madame Mantalini, the owner of a fashionable dressmaking establishment in which Kate Nickleby works for a time. She goes bankrupt because of her husband's extravagance.
Alfred Mantalini, born Muntle, a spendthrift. When cajolery and flattery fail to get him the money he wants, he resorts to threats of suicide in order to obtain funds from his wife. Eventually his wasteful, foppish habits bring her to bankruptcy, and she secures a separation. Imprisoned, he is befriended by a sympathetic washerwoman who secures his release. Before long she tires of his idleness and airy manners, and she puts him to work turning a mangle "like a demd old horse in a demnition mill."
Mr. Kenwigs, a turner in ivory who lives with his family in the same boarding house with Newman Noggs.
Mrs. Kenwigs, his wife, a woman genteelly born.
Morleena Kenwigs, their older daughter. Her attendance at a dancing school helps to establish her mother's pretensions to gentility.
Mr. Lillyvick, Mrs. Kenwigs' uncle and a collector of water rates. At a party he meets Henrietta Petowker, an actress from the Theatre Royal, follows her to Portsmouth, and marries her. His marriage brings dismay to his niece and her husband, who had regarded themselves as his heirs. After his fickle wife deserts him, he makes a will in favor of the Kenwigses' children.
Henrietta Petowker, an actress who marries Mr. Lillyvick and then elopes with a captain on half-pay.
Matilda Price, a Yorkshire lass and Fanny Squeers's friend, engaged to John Browdie. The two women quarrel when Matilda flirts with Nicholas Nickleby, whom Fanny has marked as her own.
John Browdie, a hearty, open-handed young York-shireman who becomes jealous of Nicholas Nickleby when Matilda Price, his betrothed, flirts with the young man. Later, realizing that Nicholas was completely innocent, John lends him money to return to London. He releases Smike from the custody of Wackford Squeers.
Miss Knag, the forewoman in Madame Mantalini's dressmaking establishment. She is kind to Kate Nickleby at first but later turns against her. She takes over the business when Madame Mantalini goes bankrupt.
Celia Bobster, the girl whom Newman Noggs mistakes for Madeline Bray and at whose house Nicholas Nickleby calls before the error is discovered.
Mr. Bobster, her hot-tempered father.
Mrs. Julia Witterly, a woman of middle-class background and aristocratic pretense, who hires Kate Nickleby as her companion.
Henry Witterly, her husband. He believes that his wife is "of a very excitable nature, very delicate, very fragile, a hot-house plant, an exotic."
Mr. Bonney, Ralph Nickleby's friend and a promoter of the United Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company, of which Ralph is a director.
Mr. Gregsby, a member of Parliament, a pompous politician to whom Nicholas Nickleby applies for a position as a private secretary. Nicholas declines the situation after Mr. Gregsby explains fully the duties and responsibilities he expects a secretary to assume.
Vincent Crummies, the manager of a traveling theatrical company which Nicholas Nickleby and Smike join for a time; Nicholas adapts plays and acts in them, and Smike plays the part of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. Nicholas and his employer become close friends.
Mrs. Crummies, his wife.
Ninetta Crummies, their daughter, billed as the "Infant Phenomenon."
Miss Snevellicci, Mr. and Mrs. Snevellicci, her parents, Miss Belvawney, Mrs. Grudden, Thomas Len-ville, Miss Bravassa, Miss Ledbrook, and The African Knife Swallower, members of the Crummies theatrical troupe.
Tomkins, Belling, Graymarsh, Cobbey, Bolder, Mobbs, Jennings, and Brooks, pupils at Dotheboys Hall.
Mr. Curdle, an amateur critic of the drama and the author of a sixty-four-page pamphlet on the deceased husband of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
Руке, a servant of Sir Mulberry Hawk.
Captain Adams and Mr. Westwood, seconds in the duel between Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht.

The Story

When Nicholas Nickleby was nineteen years old, his father died a bankrupt. A short time after their bereavement, Nicholas, his sister Kate, and their mother went to London. There they hoped to get aid from the late Mr. Nickleby's brother Ralph; but Ralph Nickleby, a moneylender and miser, refused to help them except on his own terms. Ralph and his ways had to be accepted by the other Nicklebys, although they were not sure where life was taking them with Ralph as their protector.
Ralph Nickleby first secured a position for Nicholas as assistant to Wackford Squeers, who operated a boys' boarding school in Yorkshire. When Nicholas arrived at the school, he found it a terrible place where the boys were starved and mistreated almost beyond human imagination. Nicholas nevertheless had to put up with the situation, for his uncle had warned him that any help given to his sister and mother depended upon his remaining at the school where he had been placed. A crisis arose, however, when Wackford Squeers unmercifully beat an older boy named Smike, who was little better than an idiot. Nicholas interfered by taking the whip from Squeers and beating the schoolmaster in place of the boy. Immediately afterward, Smike and Nicholas left the school and headed toward London.
In London, meanwhile, Mrs. Nickleby and Kate had been lodged in an old weatherbeaten cottage belonging to Ralph Nickleby, who hoped to use Kate to attract young Lord Verisopht into borrowing money at high rates. He also found work for Kate in a dressmaking establishment, where there was a great deal of labor and almost no pay. Kate did not mind the work at the dressmaker's, but she bitterly resented the leers that she had to endure when invited to her uncle's home to dine with Lord Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk. Not long after she had taken the job, the dressmaker went bankrupt; Kate then found work for herself as companion to a rich but neurotic woman.
When Nicholas arrived in London, he sought out Newman Noggs, his uncle's clerk, who had promised aid if it became necessary. Newman Noggs helped Nicholas to clear himself of false charges brought by Wackford Squeers and Ralph Nickleby, for the latter had denounced Nicholas as a thief.
With some notion of becoming sailors, Nicholas and Smike decided to go to Bristol. On the way, they met Vincent Crummies, a theatrical producer, and they joined his troupe. Both Smike and Nicholas were successful as actors. In addition, Nicholas adapted plays for the company to produce. After some weeks, however, Nicholas received a letter from Newman Noggs warning him that his presence was required in London. Upon his arrival in London, Nicholas accidentally met Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht at a tavern, where they were speaking maliciously of Kate. Nicholas remonstrated with them and caused Sir Mulberry's horse to bolt. The baronet, thrown from his carriage and severely injured, vowed to take revenge.
Kate, meanwhile, had been exposed to the continued attentions of Sir Mulberry and Lord Verisopht, for Mrs. Nickleby, who failed to see them as villains, courted their favor and invited them into Kate's company. The future seemed very bleak indeed, until Nicholas, while looking for work at an employment agency, became acquainted with a kindly man who offered him a job. The man turned out to be one of the Cheeryble brothers, great workers of philanthropy. The Cheeryble brothers gave Nicholas
a job in their countinghouse at a decent salary, rented him a cottage reasonably, and helped him to furnish it for himself, Kate, and their mother. Suddenly, the fortunes of the little family seemed much improved.
One day, a beautiful young woman came into the Cheeryble brothers' office, and Nicholas fell in love with her. Shortly afterward, Kate also fell in love with Frank Cheeryble, nephew of Nicholas' employers. Only Smike seemed unhappy; he, too, had fallen in love with Kate. Worse adventures were in store for him, however, for Wackford Squeers and Ralph Nickleby conspired to have Smike sent back to Squeers's school. Smike, recaptured after one escape, ran away a second time, and Nicholas managed to keep the lad from Squeers's clutches, much to the idiot's relief. But Smike's new happiness was shortlived. Sick with tuberculosis, he died a few months later.
By then, Nicholas had discovered that his beloved's name was Madeline Bray and that her father was a bankrupt ne'er-do-well who lived off the little income she made by sewing and painting. Unknown to Nicholas, Ralph Nickleby and a fellow miser, Arthur Gride, were planning to force Madeline into a marriage with Gride, who was seventy years old. Fortunately, Madeline's father died just an hour before he was to hand his daughter over to the old miser. Nicholas arrived on the scene and took the girl to his home, to be cared for by Kate and his mother.
Meanwhile, Gride's housekeeper, an old crone, left in a fit of jealousy and stole some of her employer's papers. One of the documents was a will which, if known, would have made Madeline Bray a rich woman. Ralph learned of the will and had Squeers steal it from her. When he did, however, Frank Cheeryble and Newman Noggs caught him and turned him over to the police. The prisoner then confessed his part in the plot and also the conspiracy between Ralph and Gride to get Madeline's fortune.
As if Ralph Nickleby's fortunes were all against him, an old employee appeared and revealed to the Cheeryble brothers that Smike had been Ralph's son. Having always believed that the child had died in infancy, Ralph, when given the news, went home and hanged himself.
Nicholas thought that Frank Cheeryble was in love with Madeline; he asked the Cheeryble brothers to see that she was taken care of elsewhere. Kate, who also believed that Frank was in love with Madeline, gave up seeing him. The Cheeryble brothers, in their goodhearted way, took the situation under observation and soon learned the true state of affairs. They then proceeded to unravel the lovers' troubles. They revealed to Nicholas that Frank was in love with Kate, and Frank readily admitted his love. While one Cheeryble brother did that, the other told the girls how matters stood. All four were, of course, exceedingly glad to have their affairs in order, and they were married shortly thereafter.
Years passed, and both couples prospered. Nicholas had invested his wife's fortune in the Cheeryble brothers' firm, and he later became a partner in the house along with Frank Cheeryble. Newman Noggs, the Nickleby clerk who had helped Nicholas many times, was restored to respectability; he had been a wealthy gentleman before he had fallen into Ralph Nickleby's hands. Old Gride, who had tried to marry Madeline for her money, was murdered by robbers; Lord Verisopht was killed in a duel, and Sir Mulberry Hawk came to a violent end. Therefore, the righteous prospered, and the villains received their just desserts.

Critical Evaluation

During the 1830s, the English heard many rumors that certain private schools in the north of England were badly mismanaged. Charles Dickens made a trip to investigate the terrible conditions that were said to exist. The results of his findings appear in the academy run by Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby, a school where boys are not taught a thing but are simply whipped, starved, and cowed in order to keep their spirits and the proprietor's expenses down. It has been claimed that the credit can be given to Dickens alone for arousing the wave of indignation that forced many institutions to close or to change. This novel, which also contains the Cheeryble brothers, the first of a series of exceptionally virtuous characters, was the first of Dickens' novels to have a truly complex plot. As such, it was a fitting antecedent for such later novels as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.
Although Prime Minister Gladstone and Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, objected to Nicholas Nickleby on the grounds that the novel was insufficiently-edifying, more Victorian readers—including Dickens' rival, Thackeray—admired it; from its initial sale of fifty thousand copies, the book was one of Dickens' triumphs. The first of his novels in which the love story is the main subject, Nicholas Nickleby still retains many picaresque elements that appeared in The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837) and Oliver Twist (1837-1838). The characters still tend to be eccentrics dominated by a single passion (almost in the manner of Ben Jonson's "humours" characters, although lacking Jonson's theory of the psychology of humours); the minor characters in particular seem to be grotesques. Nevertheless, there is a vitality in the farcical elements of the novel that is delightful, despite the excesses. The influence of Smollett, in both the comedy and the tendency to realistic detail, is still strong in this early novel; Dickens' greatest strength in Nicholas Nickleby lies in the marvelous descriptions of people and places. Although the influence of the popular melodrama still colors the plot, Dickens breathes new life into old stock situations.
The reader feels the tremendous force of life, of the changing times, of youth and growth, on every page. Tales within tales seem to blossom; countless life stories crowd the chapters. It is a young man's creation, indignant, farcical, and romantic in turn; and it is filled with vivid scenes. At this stage of his career, Dickens was still attempting to provide something for everybody.
Dickens, however, was not wholly successful in working out the psychology of the novel because of his complicated, melodramatic plot. As critic Douglas Bush has observed, the characters of Dickens' early fiction are given over to self-dramatization. Mrs. Nickleby, in particular, evades the responsibilities of her troubled life by nearly withdrawing into a blissful vision of the past. As she sees herself, she is a romantic heroine, although her admirer is a lunatic neighbor who throws cucumbers over the wall. Like many other characters of the book—among them Vincent Crummies, Smike, and Nicholas himself—she is isolated in her own imagination and locked in an often inimical world. Her eccentricity, like that of most of the minor characters, is an outward symbol of estrangement from the hostile social mechanisms of convention, order, and mysterious power. Nicholas succeeds in love and fortune, not so much by his own resources but through chance—good luck with the Cheeryble brothers, for example—and through his own amiable disposition. At this point in his development as a novelist, Dickens was unable to create—as he eventually would in David Copperfield, Pip, and other protagonists—a hero who is fully aware of his isolation and confronts his sense of guilt. The reader must accept Nicholas on the level of the author's uncomplicated psychology: as a genial, deserving fellow whose good luck, good friends, and honest nature reward him with happiness, affection, and prosperity.


Type of work:
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Type of plot: Comic romance
Time of plot: 1827-1828
Locale: England
First published: 1836-1837 (serial), 1838 (book)

These sketches, originally published in serial form, were planned as prose accompaniments to caricatures by a popular artist. The title derives from the character of Mr. Pickwick, a naive, generous, lovable old gentleman who reigns over the activities of the Pickwick Club. Many of the comic highlights in the work spring from the imperturbable presence of mind and ready wit of Sam Weller, whose cleverness and humor are indispensable to the Pickwickians.

Principal Characters

Mr. Samuel Pickwick, the stout, amiable founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. An observer of human nature, a lover of good food and drink, and a boon companion, he spends his time traveling about the countryside with his friends, accepting invitations from local squires and dignitaries, pursuing Mr. Alfred Jingle in an effort to thwart that rascal's schemes, and promoting his friends' romances. The height of his development occurs at the Fleet Prison where, because of a breach of promise suit, he observes human suffering and learns to forgive his enemies. A rather pompously bustling and fatuous person at first, he grows in the course of events to be a truly monumental character.
Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, the sportsman of the group. Inept and humane, he finds himself involved in hunting misadventures, romances, and duels. In the end he wins Arabella Allen, his true love, over the objections of her brother, her suitor, and his own father.
Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, the poetic member of the Pickwick Club. Although he keeps extensive notes, he never writes verses. Eventually he gains his sweetheart, Emily Wardle, after several visits to Manor Farm.
Mr. Tracy Tupman, a rotund member of the Pickwick Club, so susceptible that he is constantly falling in and out of love. Longing for romance, he finds himself thwarted at every turn. His flirtation with Miss Rachel Wardle, ends dismally when she elopes with Mr. Alfred Jingle.
Mr. Wardle, the owner of Manor Farm, Dingley Dell, the robust, genial, but sometimes hot-tempered host of the four Pickwickians. A patriarch, he rescues his sister from Mr. Jingle at the cost of one hundred and twenty pounds, and he objects at first to his daughter's romance with Mr. Snodgrass. Finally he gives the young couple his blessing.
Miss Rachel Wardle, a spinster of uncertain age. She flirts coyly with the susceptible Mr. Tupman but abandons him for the blandishments of Mr. Jingle, who has designs on her supposed wealth. Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Wardle pursue the elopers, Mr. Wardle buys off the rascal, and Miss Wardle returns husbandless to Manor Farm.
Mrs. Wardle, the aged, deaf mother of Mr. Wardle and Miss Rachel.
Emily Wardle, Mr. Wardle's vivacious daughter, in love with Mr. Snodgrass, whom she eventually marries.
Isabella Wardle, another daughter. She marries Mr. Trundle.
Mr. Trundle, Isabella Wardle's suitor. Though frequently on the scene, he remains a minor figure in the novel.
Joe, Mr. Wardle's fat, sleepy young servant. He is characterized by his ability to go to sleep at any time and under almost any circumstances, a trait which both amuses and irritates his master.
Mrs. Martha Bardell, Mr. Pickwick's landlady. When he consults her as to the advisability of taking a servant, she mistakes his remarks for a proposal of marriage and accepts him, much to Mr. Pickwick's dismay. The misunderstanding leads to the famous breach of promise suit of Bardell vs. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick, refusing to pay damages, is sent to the Fleet Prison. After his refusal to pay, Mrs. Bardell's attorneys, unable to collect their fee, have her arrested and also sent to the Fleet Prison. Her plight finally arouses Mr. Pickwick's pity, and he pays the damages in order to release her and to free himself to aid his friend Mr. Winkle, who has eloped with Arabella Allen.
Tommy Bardell, Mrs. Bardell's young son.
Serjeant Buzfuz, Mrs. Bardell's counsel at the trial, a bombastic man noted for his bullying tactics with witnesses.
Mr. Skimpin, the assistant counsel to Serjeant Buzfuz.
Mr. Dodson and Mr. Fogg, Mrs. Bardell's unscrupulous attorneys. Having taken the suit without fee, they have their client arrested and sent to prison when Mr. Pickwick refuses to pay damages after the suit has been decided against him.
Mr. Alfred Jingle, an amiable, impudent strolling player remarkable for his constant flow of disjointed sentences. He makes several attempts to marry women for their money, but Mr. Pickwick thwarts his plans in every case. He ends up in the Fleet Prison, from which he is rescued by Mr. Pickwick's generosity. He keeps his promise to reform.
Job Trotter, Mr. Jingle's cunning accomplice and servant. He is the only person whose wits prove sharper than those of Sam Weller.
Jem Huntley, a melancholy actor called Dismal Jemmy, Mr. Jingle's friend and Job Trotter's brother.
Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick's jaunty, quick-witted, devoted Cockney servant. He and Mr. Pickwick meet at the inn to which Mr. Wardle has traced his sister and Mr. Jingle. Mr. Pickwick's decision to hire Sam as his valet leads to the famous breach of promise suit brought by Mrs. Bardell. Sam's aphorisms, anecdotes, and exploits make him one of Dickens' great comic creations, the embodiment of Cockney life and character.
Tony Weller, Sam Weller's hardy, affable father, a coachman who loves food, drink, and tobacco, and wants nothing from his shrewish wife except the opportunity to enjoy them.
Mrs. Susan Weller, formerly Mrs. Clarke, a shrew, a hypocrite, and a religious fanatic. At her death her husband inherits a small estate she has hoarded.
The Reverend Mr. Stiggins, called the Shepherd, a canting, hypocritical, alcoholic clergyman, greatly admired by Mrs. Weller, who gives him every opportunity to sponge off her husband.
Arabella Allen, a lovely girl whom Mr. Winkle first meets at Manor Farm. Her brother, Benjamin Allen, wants his sister to marry his friend Bob Sawyer, but Arabella rejects her brother's choice. After she marries Mr. Winkle in secret, Mr. Pickwick pays his friend's debts, effects a reconciliation between the young couple and Arabella's brother, and breaks the news of the marriage to Mr. Winkle's father.
Benjamin Allen, Arabella's coarse, roistering brother, a medical student. With no regard for his sister's feelings, he stubbornly insists upon her marriage to Bob Sawyer.
Mr. Winkle (Senior), a practical man of business, much opposed to his son's romance with Arabella Allen. He changes his mind when, through the services of Mr. Pickwick, he meets his daughter-in-law. He builds the couple a new house and makes his son an assistant in the family business.
Bob Sawyer, Benjamin Allen's friend and Arabella's unwelcome, oafish suitor. He hangs up his shingle in Bristol and practices medicine there. Eventually he and Benjamin Allen take service with the East India Company.
Bob Cripps, Bob Sawyer's servant.
Mrs. Mary Ann Raddle, Bob Sawyer's landlady, a shrew.
Mr. Raddle, her husband.
Mrs. Betsey Cluppins, Mrs. Raddle's sister and a friend of Mrs. Bardell.
Mr. Gunter, a friend of Bob Sawyer.
Jack Hopkins, a medical student, Bob Sawyer's friend. He tells Mr. Pickwick the story of a child who swallowed a necklace of large wooden beads that rattled and clacked whenever the child moved.
Peter Magnus, a traveler who journeys with Mr. Pickwick from London to Ipswich. He is on his way to make a proposal of marriage.
Miss Witherfield, his beloved, into whose room Mr. Pickwick, unable to find his own, accidentally blunders at the inn in Ipswich.
The Hon. Samuel Slumkey, a candidate for Parliament from the borough of Eatanswill. He is victorious over his opponent, Horatio Fizkin, Esq.
Mr. Slurk, the editor of "The Eatanswill Independent."
Mr. Pott, the editor of "The Eatanswill Gazette."
Mrs. Pott, his wife.
Mrs. Leo Hunter, a lady of literary pretensions, the author of "Ode to an Expiring Frog," whom Mr. Pickwick meets in Eatanswill.
Mr. Leo Hunter, who lives in his wife's reflected glory.
Count Smorltork, a traveling nobleman whom Mr. Pickwick meets at a breakfast given by Mrs. Leo Hunter.
Horatio Fizkin, Esq., defeated in the election at Eatanswill.
Mr. Perker, the agent for the Hon. Samuel Slumkey in the Eatanswill election, later Mr. Pickwick's attorney in the suit of Bardell vs. Pickwick. After his client has been sentenced to prison, Perker advises him to pay the damages in order to gain his freedom.
Serjeant Snubbin, Mr. Pickwick's lantern-faced, dull-eyed senior counsel in the breach of promise suit.
Mr. Justice Starleigh, the judge who presides at the trial of Bardell vs. Pickwick.
Mr. Phunky, the assistant counsel to Serjeant Snub-bin; he is called an "infant barrister" because he has seen only eight years at the bar.
Thomas Groffin, a chemist, and Richard Upwitch, a grocer, jurors at the trial of Bardell vs. Pickwick.
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Wicks, clerks in the office of Dodson and Fogg.
Mr. Lowten, clerk to Mr. Perker.
Captain Boldwig, a peppery-tempered landowner on whose grounds the Pickwickians accidentally trespass while hunting.
Dr. Slammer, the surgeon of the 97th Regiment. At a charity ball in Rochester he challenges Mr. Jingle to a duel, but because the player is wearing a borrowed coat Mr. Winkle is the one actually called upon to meet the hot-tempered surgeon. Mr. Winkle, having been drunk, cannot remember what his conduct was or whom he might have insulted the night before. The situation is eventually resolved and Mr. Winkle and the doctor shake hands and part on friendly terms.
Lieutenant Tappleton, Dr. Slammer's second.
Colonel Bulder, the commanding officer of the military garrison at Rochester.
Mrs. Bulder, his wife.
Miss Bulder, his daughter.
Mrs. Budger, a widow, Mr. Tupman's partner at the charity ball in Rochester.
Mr. Dowler, a blustering, cowardly ex-army officer whom Mr. Pickwick meets at the White Horse Cellar. The Dowlers travel with Mr. Pickwick to Bath.
Mrs. Dowler, his wife.
Lord Mutanhed, a man of fashion and Mr. Dowling's friend, whom Mr. Pickwick meets in Bath.
The Hon. Mr. Crushton, another friend of Mr. Dowler.
Angelo Cyrus Bantam, Esq., a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Dowling and a master of ceremonies at Bath.
George Nupkins, Esq., the mayor of Ipswich, before whom Mr. Pickwick is brought on the charge, made by Miss Witherfield, that he is planning to fight a duel. The mayor has recently entertained Mr. Jingle who, calling himself Captain Fitz-Marshall, was courting Miss Henrietta Nupkins.
Mrs. Nupkins, the mayor's wife.
Henrietta Nupkins, their daughter, the object of one of Mr. Jingle's matrimonial designs.
Mary, Mrs. Nupkins' pretty young servant. She eventually marries Sam Weller and both make their home with Mr. Pickwick in his happy, unadventurous old age.
Mr. Jinks, the clerk of the mayor's court at Ipswich.
Daniel Grummer, the constable of the mayor's court at Ipswich.
Frank Simmery, Esq., a young stock broker.
Solomon Pell, an attorney who, to his profit, assists in settling the deceased Mrs. Weller's modest estate.
Miss Tomkins, mistress of Westgate House, a boarding school for young ladies, at Bury St. Edmunds. Mr. Pickwick, tricked into believing that Mr. Jingle is planning to elope with one of the pupils, ventures into the school premises at night and finds himself in an embarrassing situation.
Tom Roker, a turnkey at the Fleet Prison.
Smangle, Mivins, called The Zephyr, Martin, Simpson, and The Chancery Prisoner, inmates of the Fleet Prison during Mr. Pickwick's detention.
Mrs. Budkin, Susannah Sanders, Mrs. Mudberry, and Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Bardell's friends and neighbors.
Anthony Humm, chairman of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association. Mr. Weller takes his son Sam to a lively meeting of the association.

The Story

Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, was the founder and perpetual president of the justly famous Pickwick Club. To extend his own researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggested that he and three other Pickwickians should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the stay-at-home members of the club. The first destination decided upon was Rochester. As Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tracy Tupman, Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, and Mr. Augustus Snodgrass went to their coach, they were waylaid by a rough gang of cab drivers. Fortunately, the men were rescued by a stranger who was poorly dressed but of a magnificently friendly nature. The stranger, who introduced himself as Alfred Jingle, also appeared to be going to Rochester, and the party mounted the coach together.
After they had arrived at their destination, Mr. Tupman's curiosity was aroused when Mr. Jingle told him that there was to be a ball at the inn that evening and that many lovely young ladies would be present. Because his luggage had gone astray, said Mr. Jingle, he had no evening clothes and so it would be impossible for him to attend the affair. This was a regrettable circumstance because he had hoped to introduce Mr. Tupman to the many young ladies of wealth and fashion who would be present. Eager to meet these young ladies, Mr. Tupman borrowed Mr. Winkle's suit for the stranger. At the ball, Mr. Jingle observed a doctor in faithful attendance upon a middle-aged lady. Attracting her attention, he danced with her, much to the anger of the doctor. Introducing himself as Dr. Slammer, the angry gentleman challenged Mr. Jingle to a duel.
The next morning, a servant identified Mr. Winkle from the description given of the suit the stranger had worn; he then told Mr. Winkle that an insolent drunken man had insulted Dr. Slammer the previous evening and that the doctor was awaiting his appearance to fight a duel. Mr. Winkle had been drunk the night before, and he decided he was being called out because he had conducted himself in an unseemly manner that he could no longer remember. With Mr. Snodgrass as his second, Mr. Winkle tremblingly approached the battlefield. Much to his relief. Dr. Slammer roared that he was the wrong man. After much misunderstanding, the situation was satisfactorily explained, and no blood was shed.
During the afternoon, the travelers attended a parade, where they met Mr. Wardle in a coach with his two daughters and his sister. Miss Rachel Wardle, a plump old maid. Mr. Tupman was impressed by the elder Miss Wardle and accepted for his friends Mr. Wardle's invitation to visit his estate. Manor Farm. The next day, the four Pickwickians departed for the farm, which was a distance of about ten miles from the inn where they were staying. They encountered difficulties with their horses and arrived at Manor Farm in a disheveled state, but they were soon washed and mended under the kind assistance of Mr. Wardle's daughters. In the evening, they played a hearty game of whist, and Mr. Tupman squeezed Miss Wardle's hand under the table.
The next day, Mr. Wardle took his guests rook hunting. Mr. Winkle, who would not admit he couldn't hunt, was given the gun to try his skill. He proved his inexperience, though, by accidentally shooting Mr. Tupman in the arm. Miss Wardle offered her aid to the stricken man. Observing that their friend was in good hands, the others went off to a neighboring town to watch the cricket matches. There Mr. Pickwick unexpectedly encountered Mr. Jingle, and Mr. Wardle invited the fellow to return to Manor Farm with his party.
Convinced that Miss Wardle had a great deal of money, Mr. Jingle misrepresented Mr. Tupman's intentions to Miss Wardle and persuaded the spinster to elope with him. Mr. Wardle and Mr. Pickwick pursued the couple to London. There, with the help of Mr. Wardle's lawyer, Mr. Perker, they went from one inn to another in an attempt to find the elopers. Finally, through a sharp-featured young man cleaning boots in the yard of the White Hart Inn, they were able to identify Mr. Jingle. They indignantly confronted him as he was displaying a marriage license. After a heated argument, Mr. Jingle resigned his matrimonial plans for the sum of one hundred and twenty pounds. Miss Wardle tearfully went back to Manor Farm. The Pickwickians returned to London, where Mr. Pickwick engaged as his servant Sam Weller, the sharp, shrewd young bootblack of the White Hart Inn.
Mr. Pickwick was destined to meet the villainous Mr. Jingle soon again. Mrs. Leo Hunter invited the learned man and his friends to a party. There Mr. Pickwick spied Mr. Jingle, who, upon seeing his former acquaintance, disappeared into the crowd. Mrs. Hunter told Mr. Pickwick that Mr. Jingle lived at Bury St. Edmonds. Mr. Pickwick set out in pursuit in company with his servant, Sam Weller, for the old gentleman was determined to deter the scoundrel from any fresh deceptions he might be planning. At the inn where Mr. Jingle was reported to be staying, Mr. Pickwick learned that the rascal was planning to elope with a rich young lady who stayed at a boarding school nearby. Mr. Pickwick agreed with the suggestion that in order to rescue the young lady he should hide in the garden from which Mr. Jingle was planning to steal her. When Mr. Pickwick sneaked into the garden, he found nothing of a suspicious nature; in short, he had been deceived, and the blackguard had escaped.
Mr. Pickwick's housekeeper was Mrs. Bardell, a widow. When he was about to hire Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick had spoken to her in such a manner that she had mistaken his words for a proposal of marriage. One day, Mr. Pickwick was resting in his room when he received a notice from the legal firm of Dodgson and Fogg that Mrs. Bardell was suing him for breach of promise. The summons was distressing; but first, Mr. Pickwick had more important business to occupy his time. After securing the services of Mr. Perker to defend him, he went to Ipswich upon learning that Mr. Jingle had been seen in that vicinity. The trip to Ipswich was successful. The Pickwickians were able to catch Mr. Jingle in his latest scheme of deception and to expose him before he had carried out his plot.
At the trial for the breach of promise suit brought by Mrs. Bardell, lawyers Dodgson and Fogg argued so eloquently against Mr. Pickwick that the jury fined him seven hundred and fifty pounds. When the trial was over, Mr. Pickwick told Dodgson and Fogg that even if they put him in prison he would never pay one cent of the damages, since he knew as well as they that there had been no true grounds for suit.
Shortly afterward, the Pickwickians went to Bath, where fresh adventures awaited Mr. Pickwick and his friends. On that occasion, Mr. Winkle's weakness for the fair sex involved them in difficulties. In Bath, the Pickwickians met two young medical students, Mr. Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer. Mr. Allen hoped to marry his sister Arabella to his friend Mr. Sawyer, but Miss Allen professed extreme dislike for her brother's choice. When Mr. Winkle learned that Arabella had refused Mr. Sawyer because another man had won her heart, he felt that he must be the fortunate man, because she had displayed an interest in him when they had met earlier at Manor Farm. Mr. Pickwick kindly arranged to have Mr. Winkle meet Arabella in a garden, where the distraught lover could plead his suit.
Mr. Pickwick's plans to further his friend's romance were interrupted, however, by a subpoena delivered because he had refused to pay money to Mrs. Bardell. Still stubbornly refusing to pay the damages, Mr. Pickwick found himself returned to London and lodged in Fleet Street prison. With the help of Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick arranged his prison quarters as comfortably as possible and remained deaf to the entreaties of Sam Weller or Mr. Perker, who thought that he should pay his debt and regain his freedom. Dodgson and Fogg proved to be of lower caliber than even Mr. Pickwick had suspected. They had taken Mrs. BardelPs case without fee, gambling on Mr. Pickwick's payment to cover the costs of the case. When they saw no payment forthcoming, they had Mrs. Bardell also arrested and sent to the Fleet Street prison.
While Mr. Pickwick was trying to decide what to do. Mr. Winkle with his new wife, Arabella, came to the prison and asked Mr. Pickwick to pay his debts so that he could visit Mr. Allen with the news of Mr. Winkle's marriage to Arabella. Arabella felt that Mr. Pickwick was the only person who could arrange a proper reconciliation between her brother and her new husband. Kindness prevailed; Mr. Pickwick paid the damages to Mrs. Bar-dell so that he would be free to help his friends in distress.
Winning Mr. Allen's approval of the match was not difficult for Mr. Pickwick, but when he approached the elder Mr. Winkle, the bridegroom's father objected to the marriage and threatened to cut off his son without a cent. To add to Mr. Pickwick's problems, Mr. Wardle came to London to tell him that his daughter Emily was in love with Mr. Snodgrass and to ask Mr. Pickwick's advice. Mr. Wardle had brought Emily to London with him.
The entire party came together in Arabella's apartment. All misunderstandings happily ended for the two lovers, and a jolly party followed. The elder Mr. Winkle paid a call on his new daughter-in-law. Upon seeing what a charming and lovely girl she was, he relented his decision to disinherit his son, and the family was reconciled. After Mr. Snodgrass had married Emily Wardle, Mr. Pickwick dissolved the Pickwick Club and retired to a home in the country with his faithful servant, Sam Weller. Several times, Mr. Pickwick was called upon to be a godfather to little Winkles and Snodgrasses; for the most part, however, he led a quiet life, respected by his neighbors and loved by all of his friends.

Critical Evaluation

Mr. Pickwick, the lovable, generous old gentleman of Charles Dickens' novel, is one of the best-known characters of fiction. Mr. Pickwick benignly reigns over all activities of the Pickwick Club; under every circumstance, he is satisfied that he has helped his fellow creatures by his well-meaning efforts. The height of this Dickensian comedy, however, lies in Sam Weller and his father. Sam's imperturbable presence of mind and his ready wit are indispensable to the Pickwickians. The novel has importance beyond humorous incidents and characterizations. It is the first novel of a literary movement to present the life and manners of lower and middle-class life.
When in 1836 a publisher proposed that Dickens write the text for a series of pictures by the sporting artist Robert Seymour, Dickens was experiencing the first thrill of fame as the author of Sketches by Boz. He was twenty-four years old and had been for some years a court reporter and free-lance journalist; Sketches by Boz was his first literary effort of any length. The work that the publisher proposed was of a similar kind: short, usually humorous descriptions of cosmopolitan life, sometimes illustrated, and published monthly. Although Dickens already had the plan of a novel in mind, he was in need of cash and accepted the offer as a stopgap. He made one stipulation: that he and not Seymour have the choice of scenes to be treated. He did this because he himself was no sportsman and as a cockney had little knowledge of the country beyond what his journalistic travels had shown him. It is evident that he viewed the enterprise as an expedient from the digressive character of the first few chapters.
Dickens was able to disguise his ignorance of country life by a canny selection of scenes and topics. Actual sporting scenes are kept to a minimum and treated with broad humor and slight detail. On the other hand, he knew country elections, magistrates, and newspapers well, and the chapters describing the Eatanswill election and dealing with Mr. Nupkins, the mayor of Ipswich, and Mr. Pott, the editor of the Eatanswill Gazette, abound in atmosphere and choice observation. Most useful of all was his intimate knowledge of stagecoach travel, of life upon the road, and of the inhabitants and manners of inns great and small. The device of a journey by coach unifies the first part of the novel, and a large portion of the action, including several key scenes, takes place in inns and public houses; for example, Mr. Pickwick meets Sam Weller at the White Hart Inn, Mrs. Bardell is apprehended at the Spaniards, Sam is reunited with his father at the Marquis of Granby, and the Wellers plot Stiggins' discomfiture at the Blue Boar.
A theme that Dickens developed in later works appears in embryo here: the quicksand quality of litigation. Readers note that every figure connected with the law is portrayed as venal if not downright criminal, except Mr. Perker, who is merely depicted as a remarkably cold fish. Another feature of later works anticipated here is the awkward treatment of women. The author's attitude toward women is extremely ambiguous. Two of the women in the novel are unqualifiedly good. Sam's Mary is described perennially as "the pretty housemaid," and the fact that Sam loves her appears to complete the list of her virtues in Dickens' view. As a character, she has neither depth nor ethical range; no more has Arabella Allen, the dark-eyed girl with the "very nice little pair of boots." She is distinguished at first by flirtatious archness and later by a rather servile docility. The daughters of old Wardle first come to the reader's attention in the act of spiting their spinster aunt and never redeem this impression. Other female characters are rather poorly developed. None has, as do some of the male figures such as Jingle and Trotter, a human dimension.
The author's sentiments about the institution of marriage are also curious. Mr. Winkle makes a runaway match, Mr. Snodgrass is only forestalled from doing so by a lack of parental opposition, and Mr. Tupman escapes after a ludicrously close call. Mr. Pickwick, the great advocate of heart over head, however, is not and never has been married, and in fact, he shows his greatest strength as a character in his struggle for justice in a breach-of-prom-ise suit; while Mr. Weller, the other beneficent father-figure of the work, makes no bones about his aversion to the connubial state: " 'vether it's worth while goin' through so much, to learn so little. . . is a matter o' taste. I rayther think it isn't.' "
Angus Wilson, among others, contends that Pickwick Papers, like most first novels, is autobiographical, however well disguised. There is evidence for this position in the fact that Dickens' estimation of the women in his life also tended to extremes of adulation and contempt. More pertinent to the main thrust of the novel, which is the development of Pickwick from buffoon to "angel in tights," and the concurrent development of Sam, is the author's relationship to his father, whom he adored. The elder Dickens' imprisonment for debt in 1824 was the great trauma of the author's childhood; it was made the more galling by the fact that he, the eldest son, was put out to work at a blacking factory and was able to join the family circle in the prison only on Sundays. Scarcely more than a child, he felt unable either to aid or to comfort his father in his distress; at the same time, he felt that his father had abandoned him to an ungentle world. As a young man, Dickens wrote into his first novel an account of those times as he would have wished them to be. Mr. Pickwick is the epitome of those qualities of Dickens senior that so endeared him to his son: unsink-able good spirits and kindness that does not count the cost. To these, Pickwick adds financial sense, ethical size, and most important, a sensitivity to the best feelings of his spiritual son, Sam Weller. Sam, in turn, bends all of his cockney keenness of eye and wit, all of his courage and steadfastness, to the service not only of this ideal father unjustly imprisoned but also of his immensely endearing shadow-father Tony Weller. Clearly, this material has its roots in Dickens' life; but it is just as clear that his genius tapped a universal longing of sons to see their fathers as heroes and themselves as heroic helpers.

Great Expectations

Charles Dickens


Great Expectations works on numerous levels; as a political fairy-tale abouf'dirty money,"an exploration of memory and writing, and a disturbing portrayal of the instability of identity.
Looking back from some undistinguished and unspecified future, Pip recalls his childhood, living with his fierce sister and her gentle, blacksmith husband in the Thames marshland, and the fateful effects of his encounter with the escaped convict Magwitch by his parents'graveside. When Pip later comes into a mysterious financial inheritance, he assumes that it can only come from the mummified Miss Havisham, preserved eternally at the moment of her own jilting. But Dickens'great stylistic coup is to make ceiling and floor change places—as in an Escher picture.
Shorter and more quickly composed than Dickens's giant social panoramas of the 1850s, Great Expectations gains from this pacing, as it unfolds like a fever-dream. Victorian writers were fond of "fictional autobiographies," but Dickens' novel has another layer of unsettling irony, in that it tells of someone who has been constructing himself as a fictional character. And as Pip shamefully reviews his past life on paper, it often seems that the act of writing is the only thing holding his fractured identities together. Perhaps autobiography should ideally be an act of recovery, but Great Expectations dramatizes instead the impossibility of Pip's lending his life coherence, or atoning for the past.


Type of work:
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Type of plot: Mystery romance
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1860-1861

From two events, Miss Havisham's desertion by her fiance on her wedding day, and the youngster Pip's aid to an escaped prisoner, Dickens weaves a story of vindictiveness on the one hand and gratitude on the other. The motives combine to affect the life of young Pip, for Miss Havisham has marked him as an object of her vindictiveness, while a prisoner has sworn to reward the boy. The novel, though resolved on a hopeful note, is primarily gloomy in tone, focusing on the constant pressures placed on the orphan boy, Pip.

Principal Characters

Philip Pirrip, called Pip, an orphan and the unwanted ward of his harsh sister, Mrs. Joe. Although seemingly destined for the blacksmith shop, he sees his fortunes improve after he meets a convict hiding in a graveyard. Afterward, through Miss Havisham, he meets Estella, the eccentric old woman's lovely young ward. Thinking Miss Havisham is his benefactor, he goes to London to become a gentleman. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, he forgets who his true friends are. Finally, after Mag-witch dies and the Crown confiscates his fortune, Pip understands that good clothes, well-spoken English, and a generous allowance do not make one a gentleman.
Miss Havisham, a lonely, embittered old spinster. When her lover jilted her at the altar, she refused ever to leave her gloomy chambers. Instead, she has devoted her life to vengeance. With careful indoctrination she teaches Estella how to break men's hearts. Just before her death she begs Pip to forgive her cruelty.
Estella, Miss Havisham's ward. Cold, aloof, unfeeling, she tries to warn Pip not to love her, for she is incapable of loving anyone; Miss Havisham has taught her too well. But years later Pip meets her in the garden near the ruins of Satis House, Miss Havisham's former home. She has lost her cool aloofness and found maturity. Pip realizes that they will never part again.
Joe Gargery, Pip's brother-in-law. Even though he is married to the worst of shrews, Mrs. Joe, he manages to retain his gentle simplicity and his selfless love for Pip. After he marries Biddy, he finds the domestic bliss which he so richly deserves.
Mrs. Georgiana Maria Gargery, commonly called Mrs. Joe, Pip's vituperative sister, who berates and misuses him and Joe with impunity. When she verbally assails Joe's helper, Orlick, she makes a mortal enemy who causes her death with the blow of a hammer. Later he tries to do the same for Pip.
Abel Magwitch, alias Mrs. Provis, Pip's benefactor.
When Pip helps him, an escaped convict, Magwitch promises to repay the debt. Transported to New South Wales, he eventually makes a large fortune as a sheep farmer. When he returns illegally to England years later, the escaped felon reveals himself as Pip's real patron. Casting off his distaste, Pip finds a real affection for the rough old man and attempts to get him safely out of England before the law apprehends him once more. Recaptured, Magwitch dies in prison,
Mr. Jaggers, a criminal lawyer employed by Magwitch to provide for Pip's future. He is a shrewd man with the ability to size up a person at a glance. To him, personal feelings are unimportant; facts are the only trustworthy things. Although completely unemotional, he deals with Pip and Magwitch honestly throughout then-long association.
Herbert Pocket, Miss Havisham's young relative and Pip's roommate in London. Almost always cheerful and uncomplaining, he is constantly looking for ways to improve his prospects. With Pip's aid he is able to establish himself in a profitable business.
John Wemmick, Mr. Jaggers' efficient law clerk. Dry and businesslike in the office, he keeps his social and business life completely separate. As a friend, he proves himself completely loyal to Pip.
Biddy, Joe Gargery's wife after the death of Mrs. Joe. A gentle, loving girl, she is a good wife to him.
Compeyson, a complete villain, the man who jilted Miss Havisham and betrayed Magwitch. He is killed by Magwitch as the two struggle desperately just before the ex-convict is recaptured.
The Aged, John Wemmick's deaf old father. In their neat little home, his chief pleasures are reading the newspaper aloud and listening to his son's nightly firing of a small cannon.
Dolge Orlick, Joe Gargery's surly helper in the blacksmith shop. After an altercation with Mrs. Joe, he attacks her with a hammer. Later he plots to kill Pip, his hated enemy. Only the timely arrival of Herbert Pocket and Startop prevents the crime.
Molly, Mr. Jaggers' housekeeper, a woman of strange, silent habits, with extraordinarily strong hands. A murderess, she is also revealed as Magwitch's former mistress and Estella's mother.
Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham's distant relative and Pip's tutor during his early years in London. He is also Herbert Pocket's father.
Mrs. Belinda Pocket, a fluttery, helpless woman, the daughter of a knight who had expected his daughter to marry a title.
Alick, Joe, Fanny, and Jane, other children of the Pockets.
Sarah Pocket, another relative of Miss Havisham, a withered-appearing, sharp-tongued woman.
Uncle Pumblechook, a prosperous corn chandler and Joe Gargery's relative. During Pip's childhood he constantly discusses the boy's conduct and offers much platitudinous advice.
Clara Barley, a pretty, winning girl engaged to Herbert Pocket. Magwitch is hidden in the Barley house while Pip is trying to smuggle the former convict out of England.
Old Bill Barley, Clara's father. A former purser, he is afflicted by gout and bedridden.
Mr. Wopsle, a parish clerk who later becomes an actor under the name of Mr. Waldengarver. Pip and Herbert Pocket go to see his performance as Hamlet.
Bentley Drummle, called The Spider, a sulky, rich boy notable for his bad manners. He is Pip's rival for Estella's love. After marrying her, he treats her cruelly. Pip meets him while Drummle is being tutored by Mr. Pocket.
Startop, a lively young man tutored by Mr. Pocket.
Mr. Trabb, a village tailor and undertaker.
Trabb's Boy, a young apprentice whose independence is a source of irritation to Pip.
Mr. John (Raymond) Camilla, a toady.
Mrs. Camilla, his wife, Mr. Pocket's sister. She and her husband hope to inherit a share of Miss Havisham's fortune.
Miss Skiffins, a woman of no certain age but the owner of "portable property," who marries John Wemmick.
Clarriker, a young shipping broker in whose firm, Clarriker & Company, Pip secretly buys Herbert Pocket a partnership.
Pepper, also called The Avenger, Pip's servant in the days of his great expectations.

The Story

Little Pip had been left an orphan when he was a small boy, and his sister, much older than he, had grudgingly reared him in her cottage. Pip's brother-in-law, Joe Gar-gery, on the other hand, was kind and loving to the boy. In the marsh country where he lived with his sister and Joe, Pip wandered alone. One day, he was accosted by a wild-looking stranger who demanded that Pip secretly bring him some food, a request which Pip feared to deny. The stranger, an escaped prisoner, asked Pip to bring him a file to cut the iron chain that bound his leg. When Pip returned to the man with a pork pie and file, he saw another mysterious figure in the marsh. After a desperate struggle with the escaped prisoner, the stranger escaped into the fog. The man Pip had aided was later apprehended. He promised Pip that he would somehow repay the boy for helping him.
Mrs. Joe sent Pip to the large mansion of strange Miss Havisham upon that lady's request. Miss Havisham lived in a gloomy, locked house where all the clocks had been stopped on the day her bridegroom failed to appear for the wedding ceremony. She often dressed in her bridal robes; a wedding breakfast molded on the table in an unused room. Pip went there every day to visit the old lady and a beautiful young girl, named Estella, who delighted in tormenting the shy boy. Miss Havisham enjoyed watching the two children together, and she encouraged Estella in her haughty teasing of Pip.
Living in the grim atmosphere of Joe's blacksmith shop and the uneducated poverty of his sister's home, Pip was eager to learn. One day, a London solicitor named Jaggers presented him with the opportunity to go to London and become a gentleman. Both Pip and Joe accepted the proposal. Pip imagined that his kind backer was Miss Havisham herself. Perhaps she wanted to make a gentleman out of him so that he would be fit someday to marry Estella.
In London Pip found a small apartment set up for him. Herbert Pocket, a young relative of Miss Havisham, was his living companion. When Pip needed money, he was instructed to go to Mr. Jaggers. Although Pip pleaded with the lawyer to disclose the name of his benefactor, Jaggers advised the eager young man not to make inquiries; when the proper time arrived, Pip's benefactor would make himself known.
Soon Pip became one of a small group of London dandies, among them a disagreeable chap named Bentley Drummle. Joe Gargery came to visit Pip, much to Pip's disturbance; by now, he had outgrown his rural background, and he was ashamed of Joe's manners. Herbert Pocket, however, cheerfully helped Pip to entertain the uncomfortable Joe in their apartment. Simple Joe loved Pip very much, and after he had gone, Pip felt ashamed of himself. Joe had brought word that Miss Havisham wanted to see the young man, and Pip returned with his brother-in-law. Miss Havisham and Estella noted the changes in Pip, and when Estella had left Pip alone with the old lady, she told him he must fall in love with the beautiful girl. She also said it was time for Estella to come to London, and she wished Pip to meet her adopted daughter when she arrived. This request made Pip feel more certain he had been sent to London by Miss Havisham to be groomed to marry Estella.
Estella had not been in London long before she had many suitors. Of all the men who courted her, she seemed to favor Bentley Drummle. Pip saw Estella frequently. Although she treated him kindly and with friendship, he knew she did not return his love.
On his twenty-first birthday, Pip received a caller, the man whom Pip had helped in the marsh many years before. Ugly and coarse, he told Pip it was he who had been financing Pip ever since he had come to London. At first, the boy was horrified to discover he owed so much to this crude former criminal, Abel Magwitch. He told Pip that he had been sent to the Colonies where he had grown rich. Now he had wanted Pip to enjoy all the privileges he had been denied in life, and he had returned to England to see the boy to whom he had tried to be a second father. He warned Pip that he was in danger should his presence be discovered, for it was death for a prisoner to return to England once he had been sent to a convict colony. Pip detested his plight. Now he realized Miss Havisham had had nothing to do with his great expectations in life, but he was too conscious of his debt to consider abandoning the man whose person he disliked. He determined to do all in his power to please his benefactor. Magwitch was using the name Provis to hide his identity. Furthermore, Pro vis told Pip that the man with whom Pip had seen him struggling long ago in the marsh was his enemy, Compeyson, who had vowed to destroy him. Herbert Pocket, a distant cousin of Miss Havisham, told Pip that the lover who had betrayed her on her wedding day was named Arthur Compeyson.
Pip went to see Miss Havisham to denounce her for having allowed him to believe she was helping him. On his arrival, he was informed that Estella was to marry Bentley Drummle, Since Miss Havisham had suffered at the hands of one faithless man, she had reared Estella to inflict as much hurt as possible upon the many men who loved her. Estella reminded Pip that she had warned him not to fall in love with her, since she had no compassion for any human being. Pip returned once more to visit Miss Havisham after Estella had married. An accident started a fire in the old, dust-filled mansion; although Pip tried to save the old woman, she died in the blaze that also badly damaged her gloomy house.
From Provis' story of his association with Compeyson and from other evidence, Pip had learned that Provis was Estella's father; but he did not reveal his discovery to anyone but Jaggers, whose housekeeper, evidently, was Estella's mother. Pip had also learned that Compeyson was in London and plotting to kill Provis. In order to protect the man who had become a foster father to him, Pip arranged to smuggle Provis across the channel to France with the help of Herbert Pocket. Pip intended to join the old man there. Elaborate and secretive as their plans were, Compeyson managed to overtake them as they were putting Provis on the boat. The two enemies fought one last battle in the water, and Provis killed his enemy. He was then taken to jail, where he died before he could be brought to trial.
When Pip fell ill shortly afterward, it was Joe Gargery who came to nurse him. Older and wiser from his many experiences, Pip realized that he no longer needed to be ashamed of the kind man who had given so much love to him when he was a boy. His sister. Mrs. Joe. had died and Joe had married again, this time very happily. Pip returned to the blacksmith's home to stay awhile, still desolate and unhappy because of his lost Estella. Later, Herbert Pocket and Pip set up business together in London.
Eleven years passed before Pip went to see Joe Gargery again. Curiosity led Pip to the site of Miss Havisham's former mansion. There he found Estella. now a widow, wandering over the grounds. During the years, she had lost her cool aloofness and had softened a great deal. She told Pip she had thought of him often. Pip was able to foresee that perhaps he and Estella would never have to part again. The childhood friends walked hand in hand from the place that had once played such an enormous part in both of their lives.

Critical Evaluation

G. K. Chesterton once observed that all Charles Dickens' novels could be titled "Great Expectations," for they are full of an unsubstantial yet ardent expectation of everything. Nevertheless, as Chesterton pointed out with irony, the only book to which Dickens gave the actual title was one in which most of the expectations were never realized. To the Victorians, the word expectations had the specific meaning of a potential legacy as well as the more general meaning still attached to it today. In that closed society, one of the few means by which a person born of the lower or lower-middle class could rise dramatically to wealth and high status was through the inheritance of valuables. A major theme of the Victorian social novel involved the hero's movement through the class structure, and often the vehicle for that movement was money, either bestowed before death or inherited. Unlike many nineteenth century novels that rely upon the stale plot device of a surprise legacy to enrich the for tunate protagonists, Great Expectations probes deeply into the ethical and psychological dangers of advancing through the class system by means of wealth acquired from the toil of others.
Although the story of Pip's expectations dominates the bulk of the novel, he is not the only person who waits to benefit from another's money. His beloved Estella, the ward of Miss Havisham, is wholly dependent upon the caprices of the unstable old woman. Moreover, other characters are the mysterious instrumentalities of legacies. The solicitor Jaggers, who acts as the legal agent for both Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch, richly benefits from his services. Even his lackey Mr. Wemmick, a mild soul who changes his personality from lamb to wolf to please his employer, earns his living from the legal machinery of the courts. Just as the source of Pip's money is revealed at last to be socially corrupted, so the uses of tainted wealth inevitably bring about corruption.
In Bleak House (1852-1853), Dickens had already explored with great skill the ruthless precincts of the law courts. His next three novels—Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1855-1857), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859)— were not so well sustained and, despite memorable scenes, were less popular with the critics and the public alike. Great Expectations (1860-1861, first published serially in All the Year Round) recovered Dickens' supremacy with his vast reading audience. Serious, controlled, and nearly as complex structurally as Bleak House, the novel also reminded Victorian readers of David Copperfield (1849-1850). Both are apprenticeship novels that treat the life-education of a hero. Great Expectations is somewhat less autobiographical than David Copperfield, but it repeats the basic formula of the genre: the story of an honest, rather ingenuous but surely likable young man who, through a series of often painful experiences, learns important lessons about life and himself. These lessons are always designed to reveal the hero's limitations. As he casts off his weaknesses and better understands the dangers of the world, he succeeds by advancing through the class system and ends up less brash, a chastened but wiser man.
Great Expectations differs from David Copperfield in the ways that the hero matures to self-knowledge. In the beginning, both David and Pip are young snobs (Pip more than David). Both suffer the traumas of a shattered childhood and troubled adolescence; but David's childhood suffering is fully motivated on the basis of his separation from loved ones. An innocent, he is the victim of evil that he does not cause. Pip, on the other hand, suffers from a childhood nightmare that forms a pattern of his later experience. An orphan like David, he lives with his brutal sister and her husband, the gentle blacksmith Joe Gargery. For whatever abuse Pip endures from Mrs. Joe, he is more than compensated by the brotherly affection of this simple, generous man. He also wins the loving sympathy of Biddy, another loyal friend. Nevertheless, he is not satisfied, and when he comes upon the convicts in the fog and is terrified, he feels a sense of guilt— misplaced but psychologically necessary—as much for his crimes against his protectors as for the theft of a pork pie. Thereafter, his motives, cloudy as the scene of his childhood terror, are weighted with secret apprehension and guilt. To regain his lost innocence, he must purge himself of the causes of this guilt.
Pip's life apprenticeship, therefore, involves his fullest understanding of "crimes" against his loved ones and the ways to redeem himself. The causes of his guilt are— from lesser to greater—his snobbish pride, his betrayal of friends and protectors, and finally his participation in the machinery of corruption.
As a snob, he not only breaks the social mold into which he has been cast but lords it over the underlings and unfortunates of the class system. Because of his presumed great expectations, he believes himself to be superior to the humbler Joe and Biddy. He makes such a pompous fool of himself that Trabb's boy—that brilliant comic invention, at once naughty boy and honest philosopher—parodies his absurd airs and pretensions. His snobbery, however, costs him a dearer price than humiliation by an urchin. He falls in love with Estella, like himself a pretender to high social class, only to be rejected in place of a worthless cad, Bentley Drummle. Finally, his fanciful dreams of social distinction are shattered forever when he learns the bitter truth about his benefactor, who is not the highborn Miss Havisham but the escaped convict Magwitch, the wretched stranger of his terror in the fog.
As Pip comes to understand the rotten foundations for his social position, he also learns terrible truths about his own weaknesses. Out of foolish pride, he has betrayed his most loyal friends, Joe and Biddy. In a sense, he has even betrayed Miss Havisham. He has mistaken her insanity for mere eccentricity and allowed her to act out her fantasies of romantic revenge. When he tries to confront her with the reality of her life, he is too late. She dies in flames. He is almost too late, in fact, to come to the service of his real benefactor, Magwitch. He is so disturbed with the realization of the convict's sacrifice that he nearly flees from the old man, now disguised as "Provis," when he is in danger. At best, he can return to Magwitch gratitude, not love, and his sense of guilt grows from his understanding that he cannot ever repay his debt to a man he secretly loathes.
Pip's final lesson is that, no matter how pure might be his motives, he has been one of the instruments of social corruption. In a sense, he is the counterpart to the malcontent Dolge Orlick. Like Orlick, as a youth he had been an apprentice at the forge; but whereas he was fortunate to move upward into society, Orlick, consumed by hatred, failed in every enterprise. In chapter 53, a climactic scene of the novel, Orlick confronts his enemy and blames Pip for all of his failures. He even accuses Pip of responsibility for the death of Mrs. Joe. The charge is paranoiac and false: Orlick is the murderer. In his almost hallucinatory terror, however, Pip can psychologically accept Orlick's reasoning. As a child, Pip had hated his sister. If he had not been the active instrument of her death, he nevertheless profited from it. Similarly, Pip profited from the hard-earned toil of Magwitch. Indeed, most of the success he had enjoyed, thanks to the astute protection of Mr. Jaggers, had come not as his due but for a price, the payment of corrupted money. Since he had been the ignorant recipient of the fruits of corruption, his psychological guilt is all the greater.
Nevertheless, Pip, though chastened, is not overwhelmed by guilt. During the course of his apprenticeship to life, he has learned something about himself, some valuable truths about his limitations. By the end of the novel, when his apprenticeship is over and he is a responsible, mature being, he has cast off petty pride, snobbery, and the vexations of corrupted wealth. Although he has lost his innocence forever, he can truly appreciate Herbert Pocket, Joe, and Biddy, who have retained their integrity. When he turns to Estella, also chastened by her wretched marriage to the sadistic Drummle, he has at least the hope of beginning a new life with her, one founded upon an accurate understanding of himself and the dangers of the world.




illustrations by John McLenan



Chapter I

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine,—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle,—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"

A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

"Oh! Don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it, sir."

"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"

"Pip, sir."

"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"

"Pip. Pip, sir."

"Show us where you live," said the man. "Pint out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church.

The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself,—for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet,—when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling while he ate the bread ravenously.

"You young dog," said the man, licking his lips, "what fat cheeks you ha' got."

I believe they were fat, though I was at that time undersized for my years, and not strong.

"Darn me if I couldn't eat em," said the man, with a threatening shake of his head, "and if I han't half a mind to't!"

I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn't, and held tighter to the tombstone on which he had put me; partly, to keep myself upon it; partly, to keep myself from crying.

"Now lookee here!" said the man. "Where's your mother?"

"There, sir!" said I.

He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.

"There, sir!" I timidly explained. "Also Georgiana. That's my mother."

"Oh!" said he, coming back. "And is that your father alonger your mother?"

"Yes, sir," said I; "him too; late of this parish."

"Ha!" he muttered then, considering. "Who d'ye live with,—supposin' you're kindly let to live, which I han't made up my mind about?"

"My sister, sir,—Mrs. Joe Gargery,—wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."

"Blacksmith, eh?" said he. And looked down at his leg.

After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

"Now lookee here," he said, "the question being whether you're to be let to live. You know what a file is?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you know what wittles is?"

"Yes, sir."

After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.

"You get me a file." He tilted me again. "And you get me wittles." He tilted me again. "You bring 'em both to me." He tilted me again. "Or I'll have your heart and liver out." He tilted me again.

I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him with both hands, and said, "If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn't be sick, and perhaps I could attend more."

He gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its own weathercock. Then, he held me by the arms, in an upright position on the top of the stone, and went on in these fearful terms:—

"You bring me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You bring the lot to me, at that old Battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted, and ate. Now, I ain't alone, as you may think I am. There's a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am a Angel. That young man hears the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver. It is in wain for a boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man. A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up, may draw the clothes over his head, may think himself comfortable and safe, but that young man will softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him open. I am a keeping that young man from harming of you at the present moment, with great difficulty. I find it wery hard to hold that young man off of your inside. Now, what do you say?"

I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the Battery, early in the morning.

"Say Lord strike you dead if you don't!" said the man.

I said so, and he took me down.

"Now," he pursued, "you remember what you've undertook, and you remember that young man, and you get home!"

"Goo-good night, sir," I faltered.

"Much of that!" said he, glancing about him over the cold wet flat. "I wish I was a frog. Or a eel!"

At the same time, he hugged his shuddering body in both his arms,—clasping himself, as if to hold himself together,—and limped towards the low church wall. As I saw him go, picking his way among the nettles, and among the brambles that bound the green mounds, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.

When he came to the low church wall, he got over it, like a man whose legs were numbed and stiff, and then turned round to look for me. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs. But presently I looked over my shoulder, and saw him going on again towards the river, still hugging himself in both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among the great stones dropped into the marshes here and there, for stepping-places when the rains were heavy or the tide was in.

The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed. On the edge of the river I could faintly make out the only two black things in all the prospect that seemed to be standing upright; one of these was the beacon by which the sailors steered,—like an unhooped cask upon a pole,—an ugly thing when you were near it; the other, a gibbet, with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate. The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so; and as I saw the cattle lifting their heads to gaze after him, I wondered whether they thought so too. I looked all round for the horrible young man, and could see no signs of him. But now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.



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