sabato 7 luglio 2007

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is much loved for his great contribution to classical English literature.
This greatest of Victorian writers was born in Landport, Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812. His father John worked as a clerk in the Navy Payroll Office in Portsmouth. The elder Dickens was transfered several times, first to London, then to Chatham, and finally, in 1822, back to London, where the family lived in Camden Town.
John Dickens was constantly in debt, and in 1824 he was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtor's prison. Charles was forced to leave school at the age of 12 and go to work in a bootblack factory to help support the Dickens family.

It was his personal experience of factory work and the living conditions of the poor that created in Dickens the compassion which was to mark his literary works such as Oliver Twist.

The largely autobiographical David Copperfield followed in 1850.

The map of Charles Dickens' London

The Dickens museum is in London

You can tour it virtually

Can you survive Charles Dickens' London? Play the game and read more about Charles Dickens

Birthplace of Charles Dickens


The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens`s tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters -- the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy.

Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel. It was begun in 1837 when Dickens was twenty-four and completed in 1839. It was written at great speed and intensity, which was typical of Dickens. He had two specific aims in mind.
The first was to draw people’s attention to the terrible hardship created by the Poor Law of 1834. This law placed the unemployed in workhouses where the rules were so strict and the food so meagre that no one would willingly enter them. In the novel, the children are almost starved. The modern reader finds it difficult to believe that children could be treated like this. But Dickens was not exaggerating by much and children regularly died under this harsh treatment.
The author’s second aim was to show the criminal world as it really was. At the time, novels were being published that tended to glamorize criminals (the same thing
happens today). Dickens, with his experiences of childhood poverty, had seen the underworld at first hand. He wanted to show its cruelty and degradation. He did a
great deal of research for Oliver Twist. For example, the coldhearted Mr Fang, in the story, is no kinder than a real life magistrate, Mr Laing, whom Dickens observed in court.
Over and above these two aims, Dickens had a greater purpose: to show the powerful links between poverty and crime, to show how poverty forced men, women and children into a life of crime in order to eat and survive. It is not an exaggeration to describe Dickens as one of the great social reformers of the 19th century. His novels
brought the misery of poverty to the attention of the wealthy and the middle classes in a way that they could not ignore. Of all his novels, Oliver Twist is the one that
deals most directly with poverty and its consequences.
Oliver Twist was written with great energy. The novel is tense, dramatic. One reason for this is that the book was published in serial form for a magazine. Ending a chapter on a note of high drama was a way of keeping the reader anxious for the next instalment. But the author’s high creative energy manifests also in unforgettable characters and scenes. Fagin, the leader of the gang of pickpockets, is one of the greatest creations in English literature. Scenes such as Fagin teaching Oliver to pick pockets and Oliver asking for more food created a sensation in 19th century society. Dickens has always been loved for his humour. There are scenes of farce in Oliver Twist, which comment on society while being savagely funny. Fagin and Mr Bumble are very cruel but very comic characters. In the last decade of his life, Dickens did several tours of England and America, giving public readings from his novels. He read with such dramatic intensity that he became physically and emotionally exhausted after these performances. This intensity was at its greatest when he gave readings of Oliver Twist, and his doctors advised him, for his health’s sake, to stop his performances of this novel. It stands as one of the greatest novels in the English language.


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David Copperfield's happy childhood is abruptly ended by his mother's remarriage to Mr Murdstone. After enduring the misery of Salem House Academy and a life of drudgery in his step father's business, he runs away to his eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood, in Dover, and transforms his life a second time - finding friendship with the ever optimistic Mr Micawber and falling in love with the adorable but spoilt Dora. But David has to face tragedy, and outface the scheming Uriah Heep before he finds ultimate happiness.


David Copperfield, published in 1849-50, when Dickens was at the height of his fame, contains many autobiographical elements.
David enjoys a happy childhood with his mother and her faithful servant, Peggotty, until his mother marries again and proves powerless to protect him from the cruelty of his stepfather, Mr Murdstone. He is sent away to school, where he meets an older rich boy, Steerforth, and makes friends with a boy of his own age, Traddles. He also
enjoys holidays by the sea with Peggotty’s family, who are fishermen. However, after his mother’s death, he is put to work in a factory. He runs away to find his great-aunt, Betsey Trotwood. She pays for his studies while he lives with her lawyer, Mr Wickfield, and makes friends with Wickfield’s daughter, Agnes. On leaving school, he is articled to a lawyer called Mr Spenlow and falls in love with Spenlow’s daughter, Dora. In the meantime he has been the link between the two worlds of his childhood,
taking Steerforth to Yarmouth, where his friend is attracted to Emily, Peggotty’s beautiful niece. In both these situations he has yet to learn that in this society
wealth determines the nature of all relationships.


David Copperfield, probably because it is partly autobiographical, was Dickens’ own favourite among his novels. Whereas he usually concentrates on a specific social problem, which becomes his main theme, here the theme is personal. In David Copperfield he attempted to come to terms with the trials and humiliations of his
childhood and youth, writing as a man who had overcome his humble beginnings and become the most successful novelist of his time. David’s life does not directly reflect Dickens’ life, but important incidents that had left a lasting
impression on him are reproduced with little alteration.
Dickens was taken from school at the age of 12 when his father was committed to the debtors’ prison, and put to work in a relative’s factory, like David (p.20). Shortly
afterwards, when his father received a legacy that set him free, this also allowed the boy to resume his education.
Dickens pictures his father in David Copperfield as the eternally optimistic, improvident Mr Micawber, but he told his biographer, Forster, that he had never forgotten the humiliation of working in the factory, or forgiven his
mother, who thought he should go on working. In the novel, the angelic mother of David’s early childhood is replaced by the harsh, cold Miss Murdstone.
The second main theme of the novel is that goodness has nothing to do with social position, and social position is too often equated with wealth. Here again, Dickens’
personal experience was relevant. As a poor young shorthand writer, he had fallen in love with the daughter of a banker, whose father sent her abroad to keep her out of
Dickens’ way, as Mr Spenlow plans to do with Dora.
Spenlow’s attitude towards David changes when David’s aunt loses her money. When he says ‘I thought you were a gentleman’ he implies that being a gentleman is a matter
of money, not of being ‘a gentle man’, as David is.
This tendency to equate money and social position with virtue corrupts characters’ judgement and behaviour. The proud rich boy, Steerforth, could have been a good man
but has been spoilt by an indulgent mother. Consequently, he looks down on poor fishermen, ignoring their human qualities, and takes advantage of Emily (‘ruins her’ in the language of the time) but will not marry her. In contrast, Ham, the humble fisherman who loved Emily, dies trying to save him. At the other end of the social scale, envy of others’ social position leads Uriah Heep, who always emphasizes that he is ‘humble’, to cheat Mr Wickfield and dream of marrying Agnes.
David himself is not corrupted. From the beginning, he judges everyone on their merits, refusing to accept that people are inferior because they are poor.

Visit this guide about "David Copperfield"

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