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  • The starving orphan seeking a second helping of gruel.

  • The spinster wasting away in her tattered wedding dress.

  • The stone-hearted miser plagued by the ghost of Christmas past.

  • More than a century after his death,

  • these remain recognizable figures from the work of Charles Dickens.

  • So striking is his body of work that it gave rise to its own adjective.

  • But what are the features of Dickens's writing that make it so special?

  • Dickens’s fiction brims with anticipation through brooding settings, plot twists, and mysteries.

  • These features of his work kept his audience wanting more.

  • When first published, his stories were serialized,

  • meaning they were released a few chapters at a time in affordable literary journals

  • and only later reprinted as books.

  • This prompted fevered speculation over the cliffhangers and revelations he devised.

  • Serialization not only made fiction available to a wider audience and kept them reading,

  • but increased the hype around the author himself.

  • Dickens became particularly popular for his wit,

  • which he poured into quirky characters and satiric scenarios.

  • His characters exhibit the sheer absurdity of human behavior,

  • and their names often personify traits or social positions,

  • like the downtrodden Bob Cratchit,

  • the groveling Uriah Heap,

  • and the cheery Septimus Crisparkle.

  • Dickens set these colorful characters against intricate social backdrops, which mimic the society he lived in.

  • For instance, he often considered the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

  • During this period, the lower classes experienced sordid working and living conditions.

  • Dickens himself experienced this hardship as a child

  • when he was forced to work in a boot blacking factory after his father was sent to debtors' prison.

  • This influenced his depiction of the Marshalsea prison in Little Dorrit,

  • where the titular character cares for her convict father.

  • Prisons, orphanages, or slums may seem grim settings for a story,

  • but they allowed Dickens to shed light on

  • how his society's most invisible people lived.

  • In Nicholas Nickleby,

  • Nicholas takes a job with the schoolmaster Wackford Squeers.

  • He soon realizes that Squeers is running a scam

  • where he takes unwanted children from their parents for a fee

  • and subjects them to violence and deprivation.

  • Oliver Twist also deals with the plight of children in the care of the state,

  • illustrating the brutal conditions of the workhouse

  • in which Oliver pleads with Mr. Bumble for food.

  • When he flees to London, he becomes ensnared in a criminal underworld.

  • These stories frequently portray Victorian life as grimy, corrupt, and cruel.

  • But Dickens also saw his time as one in which old traditions were fading away.

  • London was becoming the incubator of the modern world through new patterns in industry, trade, and social mobility.

  • Dickens's London is therefore a dualistic space:

  • a harsh world that is simultaneously filled with wonder and possibility.

  • For instance, the enigma of Great Expectations

  • centers around the potential of Pip,

  • an orphan plucked from obscurity by an anonymous benefactor and propelled into high society.

  • In his search for purpose,

  • Pip becomes the victim of other people’s ambitions for him

  • and must negotiate with a shadowy cast of characters.

  • Like many of Dickens’s protagonists,

  • poor Pip's position is constantly destabilized,

  • just one of the reasons why reading Dickens is the best of times for the reader,

  • while being the worst of times for his characters.

  • Dickens typically offered clear resolution by the end of his novels,

  • with the exception of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

  • The novel details the disappearance of the orphan Edwin under puzzling circumstances.

  • However, Dickens died before the novel was finished

  • and left no notes resolving the mystery.

  • Readers continue to passionately debate over who Dickens intended as the murderer,

  • and whether Edwin Drood was even murdered in the first place.

  • Throughout many adaptations,

  • literary homages,

  • and the pages of his novels,

  • Dickens’s sparkling language and panoramic worldview continue to resonate.

  • Today, the adjective Dickensian often implies squalid working or living conditions.

  • But to describe a novel as Dickensian is typically high praise,

  • as it suggests a story in which true adventure and discovery occur in the most unexpected places.

  • Although he often explored bleak material,

  • Dickens’s piercing wit never failed to find light in the darkest corners.

The starving orphan seeking a second helping of gruel.

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B2 US TED-Ed dickens edwin orphan pip literary

【TED-Ed】Why should you read Charles Dickens? - Iseult Gillespie

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    Jenny posted on 2018/02/06
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