A Companion to Charles Dickens

A Companion to Charles Dickens

A Companion to Charles Dickens

A Companion to Charles Dickens

Synopsis

A Companion to Charles Dickens concentrates on the historical, ideological, and social forces that defined Dickens's world.
  • Puts Dickens's work into its literary, historical, and social contexts
  • Traces the development of Dickens's career as a journalist and novelist
  • Includes original essays by leading Dickensian scholars on each of Dickens's fifteen novels
  • Explores a broad range of topics, including criticisms of his novels, the use of history and law in his fiction, language, and the effect of political and social reform
  • Examines Dickens's legacy and surveys the mass of secondary materials that has been generated in response and reverence to his writing

Excerpt

On the matter of prefaces, Dickens sided with Henry Fielding. Be honest about what you have provided, Fielding wrote in his “Introduction” to Tom Jones (1750). Let customers peruse the “Bill of Fare,” and then make their decision. They will either “stay and regale” themselves with “the Entertainment” provided by the host, or they will depart elsewhere. In a variation of these words, Dickens stated a similar principle when he advised Richard Henry Horne on “the expediency of the preface” Horne had sent him. Don’t undercut what you have written with an elaborate justification, Dickens urged. Discerning readers understand that an author or editor “makes a weak case when he writes to explain his writing” (Letters 6: 636).

The draft preface in question accompanied a volume of “Minor Poems” for which Horne failed to find a publisher. The advice Dickens gave, however, was sound. Provide too much by way of explanation, and a lengthy preface will take a book “by the throat and strangle it.” Of this, Dickens was “quite certain – absolutely sure” – in fact. Keep the preface short and let the contents of the volume “rest manfully and calmly” on what the work has to offer. Readers, like diners, will make their choice.

This Companion offers a range of focal points posited on the assumption that factual and referential knowledge from many fields will enhance one’s engagement with Dickens’s works. Dickens was, is, and will remain a hugely entertaining writer. His fiction is readily accessible without expert guidance. One can read him in ignorance of literary theory; one can invoke the theory of one’s preference and read with equal pleasure. Feminists will focus on patriarchy and male domination. Adherents of cultural studies will blur boundaries between low and high cultures. Reader-response practitioners will have their way with the text as well. All readings, however, draw on knowledge of some kind, be it social, historical, cultural, literary, linguistic, or legal.

It is the aim of this volume to provide a selection of contexts, arranged in five sections, which readers can choose to explore with profit. To engage Dickens with understanding, one needs to know something of the man, of the literary education he . . .

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