An Overview of Charles Dickens’s Work

 

Sketches by Boz – 1836

Dickens’s first short pieces are gathered in this collection, published when he was 24 to highly favorable reviews. The 60 sketches (subtitled “Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People”) center on London, where the narrator prowls pris-ons, courthouses, theaters and streets, imparting his astute observations.

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The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club – 1836-1837

Dickens’s first novel, serialized in 1836 and 1837, is a loosely structured series of comic travelers’ tales following Samuel Pickwick and his three friends to various towns around England. The book is renowned for its easy good humor and rich cast of characters, but it is nevertheless not without a touch of Dickens’s characteristic social criticism, which would become much more pronounced in his later novels.

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Oliver Twist – 1838

Dickens’s first novel, serialized in 1836 and 1837, is a loosely structured series of comic travelers’ tales following Samuel Pickwick and his three friends to various towns around England. The book is renowned for its easy good humor and rich cast of characters, but it is nevertheless not without a touch of Dickens’s characteristic social criticism, which would become much more pronounced in his later novels.

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The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby 1837-1839

Young Nicholas Nickleby arrives in London to seek a living after his father’s death. Nicholas uncovers corruption in a Yorkshire school, joins a troupe of actors, befriends a crippled child, and puts a stop to the schemes of his cruel and miserly uncle Ralph, all the while providing for his mother and sister. Energetic and melodramatic tale in which good handily defeats evil.

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The Old Curiosity Shop 1841

Little Nell’s grandfather, an obsessive gambler, loses his curiosity shop to Daniel Quilp (a loan shark and a dwarf with the head of a giant). Determined to start a new life, Nell and her increasingly feeble grandfather quit town, with the dwarf in dogged pursuit. When first published, the story’s tragic ending sent thousands into a state of mourning and made Little Nell a household name. Today the novel is regarded as laughably sentimental, but its extremely bizarre characters (which include a cast of dancing dogs) are some of Dickens’s most unique inventions.

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Barnaby Rudge – 1841

Dickens’s first historical novel recreates the vicious mob violence of the Gordon Riots, an anti-Catholic uprising in 1780’s London. In a case of mistaken identity, half-wit Barnaby Rudge is arrested as a mob leader and sentenced to death. There’s also a murder mystery, an illicit love affair, and Dickens’s usual roundup of creative characters.

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The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit – 1842-1844

Thoughtless Martin Chuzzlewit is disowned by his rich and eccentric grandfather. He travels to the United States, rubbing elbows with aristocrats, soldiers, and tycoons before losing his way in an insurance scam. All of the characters embody different aspects of selfishness, from hypocritical Pecksniff to murderous Jonas Chuzzlewit. The novel received Dickens’s first negative reviews, and U.S. critics were especially offended by its cruel satire of American life.

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A Christmas Carol – 1843

A CHRISTMAS CAROL is Dickens’s tender and comic tale of the Cratchit family, Tiny Tim, and Ebenezer Scrooge-a favorite ever since it was written, in 1843. Badly in need of money, Dickens produced A CHRISTMAS CAROL in six weeks; the first printing of 6,000 copies sold out instantly. In Dickens’s original version, Tiny Tim was Tiny Fred, and Scrooge said “Bah!” but not “Humbug!”

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Dombey and Son – 1846-1848

A more appropriate title would be “Dombey and Daughter,” as it is the strained relationship between the proud widower Mr. Dombey and his neglected daughter Florence that drives the story. Dombey’s business is going bankrupt, his second wife is having an affair, and his beloved son and heir is dead. To whom can he turn? This family saga is considered to be Dickens’s first mature masterpiece.

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The Personal History of David Copperfield – 1849-1850

Dickens’s classic autobiographical novel describes a young man’s rise in the world. David Copperfield, the narrator, is orphaned at a tender age and raised first by his brutal stepfather (who halts his schooling and sends him to work in a factory), then by a kindly aunt. He trains for a career in law, but eventually becomes a journalist and author. An ill-advised marriage brings him considerable unhappiness, but not long after his wife’s death he is reunited with his childhood sweetheart. A sprawling portrait of life in Victorian England, DAVID COPPERFIELD is perhaps Dickens’s most popular work, and it contains many of the characters-Mr. Micawber, Uriah Heep, Betsey Trotwood, Steerforth, and Little Emily-who gave Dickens his reputation as the finest literary portraitist of his age.

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Bleak House – 1852-1853

The English legal system is the main object of Dickens’s satire in BLEAK HOUSE, perhaps the first legal thriller, which centers on the interminable case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce as it makes its tortuous way over the generations through the Court of Chancery. The battle drags on, the litigants are ruined by the legal fees, and the case itself becomes so convoluted that no one-lawyers, judges, plaintiffs-even remembers entirely what is at stake. As Dickens takes us through the case’s history, he creates his usual array of vividly realized comic, tragic, and satirical figures, from the corrupt lawyer, Tulkinghorn, to the pathetic crossing-sweeper, little Jo, to the clerk called Nemo, including characters with such wonderful monikers as Krook, Snagsby, Lord Doodle, and the perfectly named Lord and Lady Dedlock. As he does so often, Dickens shows us in BLEAK HOUSE-perhaps his most ambitious novel-that venality, corruption, and vanity have always been a part of human nature. Under the high comedy, he also shows us, very clearly, the anger and indignation these qualities roused in him, and his compassion for the helplessness of the poor in the face of a social and legal system that seems, at times, designed only to destroy them.

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Hard Times – 1854

Hardware merchant Thomas Gradgrind teaches his children Tom and Louisa to respect only what is factual and rational, and deny the worlds of imagination and beauty. After 300 pages, he eventually comes to realize how he has corrupted their lives. The novel is a hard-hitting social criticism, condemning the Industrial Revolution and the ever-widening gulf between the classes.

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Little Dorrit – 1855-1857

A somber study of the physical and psychological effects of imprisonment, in its many different forms. Amy Dorrit is born and raised by her father William in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. She works small jobs outside the prison walls, but returns every night to her father. The novel chronicles her lifelong struggle to free her father and gain financial independence.

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A Tale of Two Cities – 1859

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as the French Revolution and ensuing craze for “La Guillotine” cause political and social mayhem in both London and Paris. Biographers claim the revolution in these pages mirrors his own private turmoil; is it just a coincidence that he shares the same initials as his hero Charles Darnay?

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Great Expectations – 1861

The tale of the orphan, Pip, and his mysterious benefactor provides a grotesque but pointed comedy that explores the many levels of English society with insight and sympathy as well as a satiric eye. Considered by many to be Dickens’s best novel, GREAT EXPECTATIONS is the story of a young man who rises out of a rough, deprived childhood to a life in which his expectations-or some of them-are fulfilled: he is a gentleman and a success, though he soon finds that happiness doesn’t necessarily accompany money and position. The novel is full of fascinating scenes and characters, among them the coldhearted Estella, the vengeful and dotty Miss Havisham, Joe Gargery the noble blacksmith, the ever-lovable Herbert Pocket, and of course Magwitch, the grotesque and terrifying but ultimately benevolent convict, one of Dickens’s most vital creations. As the compelling plot progresses, Pip’s fortunes rise and fall, and he slowly gains in wisdom, learning to value what is important and to abandon most of his illusions. But the moral of the story is never heavy-handed or didactic, and in telling his tale, Dickens epitomizes all the best qualities for which he became famous: a comic vision, an inventive imagination, and a bountiful appreciation for the wonderful variety and boundless possibility inherent in the most ordinary humans.

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Our Mutual Friend – 1864-1865

Dickens’s last complete novel, considered his darkest and most complex, opens with a riverman searching the body of a drowned corpse for pocket money. This particular dead man was murdered before he could claim a large fortune. Another heir steps forward to claim the prize, amid blackmail plots, a love triangle, and matters of mistaken identity. Even the most reputable members of London society are easily corrupted.

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1870

Edwin Drood is missing and presumed dead. John Jasper, an opium addict, is the likely suspect, since he’s jealous of Drood’s engagement to Rosa Bud. Dickens died just as the plot began to thicken, leaving no clue behind to help later generations solve the puzzle.

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This abridged article was written by leanne Milway and provided courtesy of BookMarks Magazine. All rights reserved. For more information on the magazine, or to subscribe, please visit their website here

Related resources on Biblio.com:

Rare Charles Dickens Books 
Biography of Charles Dickens

 



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