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Friday, March 08, 2013

The Dickens World

Jeremy Irvine playing Pip in the 2012 adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations


Book Review
The Dickens World
by Humphry House
Oxford Paperbacks No. 9
p. 1941


    Even though Charles Dickens was a huge popular success as soon as his books came out and in many ways the first  truly international literary celebrity (Sir Walter Scott didn't do a reading tour of the United States and Charles Dickens did); critical acclaim lagged by nearly a century.  During the early 20th century critical taste was with the sophisticated proto modernism of Henry James and the pure modernism of James Joyce- Dickens was considered to be merely a popular author.

 This began to change in the mid 20th century and The Dickens World by Humphry House- originally published by Oxford University Press in 1941- was one of the first works of criticism to take Dickens seriously without claiming that he was unduly sentimental/sappy/not worth serious thought.

Gillian Anderson playing Ms. Havisham in BBC 2012 adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations


  This leads to the question of how one rehabilitates or establishes the critical reputation of a popular artist a century after the author died.  House's The Dickens World is largely a project of establishing a context for obtaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of "The Dickens World."   Charles Dickens was writing classic hits for a couple decades and he was writing during a time of great change.

  Before critics started taking Dickens seriously it was held that he had a simplistic, sentimental view of the world and that this point of view made his characters and plots simplistic.  Certainly Dickens reflected the taste of the audience during the time he was writing, but the assertion of thematic simplicity is shown by House to be false.

  As the title implies, The Dickens World take the reader through the different aspects of existence in the early mid 19th century and how that influence Dickens writing.  Notable are chapters on "Religion" and two whole chapters on "Economy: Domestica and Political."   Chief among the observations that House makes is that Dickens started writing before money craziness took hold of society in the 1840s, and then he witnessed this change- and this made it's way into his fiction even though his characters APPEARED to identify with an older era.

  House also highlights how the morality of Dickens was a welcome contrast to the conventional morality of the period, and how Dickens competed successfully with the religious literature that dominated the literary marketplace prior to the emergence of the novel as a popular art form.

1 comment:

Victorina said...

This is cool!

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