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. It was well for him, at any rate, that the people raised in France. It was well for him, at any rate, that the guillotine was set up in the Place de la Concorde. Unconsciously, but not accidentally, Dickens was here working out the whole true comparison between swift revolutionism in Paris and slow evolutionism in London. Sidney Carton is one of those sublime ascetics whose head offends them, and who cut it off. For him at least it was better that the blood should flow in Paris than that the wine should flow any longer in London. And if I say that even now the guillotine might be the best cure for many a London lawyer. An exciting and compact narrative, it lacks too many of his strength 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 characterizations. The French Revolution scenes are vivid, if superficial in historical understanding. Great Expectations
resembles Copperfield in being a first person narration and in drawing on parts of Dickens’ personality and experience. Compact like its predecessors, 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 found ill founded – a comment as much on the values of the age as on characters’ weaknesses and misfortune. Our Mutual Friend
, a large inclusive novel, continues this critique 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 are sometimes tiresomely mechanical. How the unfinished Edwin Drood 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, 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 stylistic and narrative features continuous with the earliest work, so, too, the man remained a “human hurricane” though he had aged considerably, his health had deteriorated, and his nerves had been jungled by traveling 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 journalist after one of the readings, “give no idea of his genial expression. To us he appears like 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. 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 and relaxed. Various old friends were now estranged or dead or for other reason less available; he was now leading a less social life and spending more time with young friends of a caliber inferior to his former circle. His sons were caused 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 wife 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, 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.
Only a week before his death he was at the theatre,
In high spirits, brim-full of joie-de-vivre. His talk had all the sparkle of champagne, and he himself kept laughing at the majesty of his own absurdities, as one droll thought followed another….at times still so young and almost boyish in his gaiety. (Lord Redesdale, Memories, 1915)
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 readings 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 at Gad’s Hill on June 9, 1870, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. People all over the world mourned the loss of “a friend” as well as a great entertainer and creative artist and one of the acknowledged influences upon the spirit of the age.
Review about Charles Dickens’ creativity.
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 that 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 birth is made harder by his possessing and feeling to 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 unequaled 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 perennial grieves 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
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 and 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 notably 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.”
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 the 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 incredibly 40 or even 20 years earlier.
Charles Dickens` s Christmas stories
The essence of Christmas stories and characterization of the main heroes of these works
Who ever understood children better than he? Other writers have wondered at them, he understands them, - the romance of their fun, the fun of their romance, the nonsense in their ideas, and the ideas in their nonsense. He wrote a portion of one of his best Christmas serials – “Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn
” – it is called – a story of baby love which would have drawn smiles and tears from Mr. Grangrind, and which, as was recognized on the spot as absolutely true to nature by a mother in the gallery, whose sympathy I thought at the time would be too much for Mr. Dickens himself. We could picture better than he that curious animal, the British boy? Why he understood him in every phrase and under every aspect of his existence, whether he was the pupil of Dr Blimber` s classical academy or of Mr. Fagin `s establishment of technical education. Who, again, fathomed more profoundly that sea whose dimples so often deceive us as to its depth, the mind of a young girl? …
As seasonably welcome as either plum – pudding let us say, or as mince pies – and, happily, just as inevitable for many years past, on the animal coming round of December – have been the successive Christmas numbers of Mr. Dickens `s periodical have long since come to look for ward to them very succeeding twelvemonth almost as were mothers of course. We would as soon think, somehow of celebrating Christmas without, for example, dangling a pendant bunch of mistletoe overhead or without wreathing green branches and red berries about the paneling of our homerooms, as without according once more a welcome, not merely upon our hearths, but within our hearts to some new tale or series of tales more or less appropriate to the season – to the holy – days and the holly – nights of Christmas – tide-tales told by our Great Novelist at regular intervals now during a goodly span of one whole score of years – between 1845, the first memorable year thus celebrated by Mr. Dickens with the best of all his Christmas Books, The “Christmas Carol”, and the last year, 1865, hardly less noticeable in its turn as the year within which he produced about the finest of all his Christmas Numbers, “Doctor Marigold
”. Happily his Christmas story – teller appears to be fairly exhaustible. He never seems to lack, year after year, some ingenious device – some device perfectly new and original in itself, and never previously thought of as a medium for the relation of as series or cluster of narratives – upon which, as upon a connecting thread, he can string together the priceless, pearls, blown eggshells, winter daisies or what not, making up the miscellaneous assortment of each successive Christmas Number. Here, in “Mugby Junction
is the last, and certainly not the least surprising evidence of this extraordinary ingenuity of his in the way of imaginative contrivance. It is as different from “Doctor Marigold
”, in the root idea of it, and in the whole manner and treatment of it, as Doctor Marigold was, in each of those particulars, different from Mrs. Lurriper. Each of Christmases short – stories stands absolutely “per se”
– must be regarded as distinctly “sui
” - “none but itself can be its parallel”. It was the same one year with “Poor Traveler
” - another with the “Wreck of the Golden Mary
” – another with the “Holly-Tree Inn
”. Mr. Dickens never repeats himself. One while a “Lodging Housekeeper
” – another Cheap Jack – now a Boots – now a Railway Polter – his identity is swallowed up, as one way say (and say, too, without one atom of extravagance) in the last of his great realistic idealizations.
…The main excellence, value, and attraction, however, of the number all lie as a matter of course in the for opening papers from the hand of our great novelist. Foremost among them, do our thinking, being beyond all comparison the best of the four – the story of “The Signalman.” Brief though it is, it is perfect as a work of art. It shows again, and in a remarkable manner, Mr. Dickens `s power in his mastery of the terrible. The pathetic force of it is truly admirerable. It is, surely, the finest Tale of Presentment that has ever yet been told. … immediately after “The Signalman” in excellence – and thoroughly delightful, if only by way of contrast, commend us to “The Boy at Mugby”- own brother to Trabb `s boy in “Great Expectations
” – a friend of their heart to Tom Scott, in the “Old Curiosity Shop” – worthy of being comrade and associate of Bailey Junior in “Martin Chuzzlewit
Mr. Dickens has this Christmas earned our admiration by the freshness with which he tells his animal story. The Christmas number of “All the Year Round
” is, it is well-known, a batch of stories connected together by the editorial narrative which professes to account for the collection of so many separate tales. Of the separate tales now published we do not propose to speak also one of them is by Mr. Dickens himself. They are well-selected batch of short- stories, which, however, call for no special remark. The interest of the critic and of the reader will rest upon Mr. Dickens introductory narrative, which is even better in its way than the introduction to “Mrs. Lirriper `s Lodging’s. Mrs. Lirriper was one of our author’s most characteristic sketches…. But this year Mr. Dickens has become forward with a character destined to be more popular than even Mrs. Lirriper. Doctor Marigold is only a sketch, but it is masterly sketch, and one that deserves a place in our memories beside the picture ever drawn by Charles Dickens. Doctor Marigold is the name of a Cheap Jack who delights us with his eloquence, with his cleverness, and with his goodness. Mr. Charles Dickens is particularly happy when he can get an equelent character, and all his more memorable personages, as Sam Weller, Mrs. Gamp, and the rest, are chiefly memorable for the peculiar eloquence with which they assert themselves. Doctor Marigold has all the eloquence of a Cheap Jack, asserts himself with vigom, and is very amusing.
This is the style of the man who is exhibited before us in many such amusing attitudes and Mr. Dickens, displaying his characteristics, has the opportunity of indulging in his broadest humor. At the same time, however, he shows the more serious aspect of the man`s character. We all know the story clown who had to crack his jokes in the saw – dust while his wife was dying in the room hard by. Cheap Jack in his fashion has to amuse the crowd that comes to buy his wares while his child is dying in his arms. The situation here is an old one, but Mr. Dickens has touched it with new feeling and set it before us in the tenderest light.