Skip to main content

Was Charles Dickens a great writer? Or was he `'inept and vulgarly sentimental”?

Charles Dickens was a superb story teller and created memorable characters. But was he a great writer?
In Evelyn Waugh's 'A Handful of Dust' poor Tony Last is condemned to his personal hell: reading the entire works of Dickens to a madman in the Brazilian jungle. 

The joke alludes to the notorious flaw in Dickens' novels: that they are what Henry James called 'loose baggy monsters' - long, repetitious and rambling.  

The other major charge is that Dickens could be in Aldous Huxley's words “inept and vulgarly sentimental”.


Laugh or cry? Or both

The most  famous example of Dickensian sentimentality is the scene describing the death of Little Nell.
She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird — a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed — was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever.
It is certainly not a model of restraint and decorum. As Oscar Wilde put it “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”  

But is Dickens being cynically manipulative? Or does he share the ersatz grief experienced by his readers
Dickens was traumatized by the death of Little Nell.  As he was writing it he felt as though he were experiencing the death of one of his children. It also brought back painful memories of the death of his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth.  Source

The Verdict

 Dickens could be 'vulgarly sentimental' but he was never 'inept'. When rumours reached America that Little Nell was about to breathe her last, crowds waited at the docks for the magazines from England confirming the terrible news. 

Any writer creating that kind of reaction must be doing something right.


Teaching A Christmas Carol? Download A Christmas Carol Teaching Pack  for only £1.99


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is Globish?

Globish is a term invented by a French business man, Jean-Paul Nerriere, to describe the form English used as a lingua franca or common world language.

Top 10 words with the most entries in the Oxford English Dictionary?

Here are the words with the most separate entries in the OED: