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The Dickens Industry

The Dickens Industry: Critical Perspectives 1836-2005

Laurence W. Mazzeno
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Dickens Industry
    Book Description:

    Undoubtedly the best-selling author of his day and well loved by readers in succeeding generations, Charles Dickens was not always a favorite among critics. Celebrated for his novels advocating social reform, for half a century after his death he was ridiculed by those academics who condescended to write about him. Only the faithful band of devotees who called themselves Dickensians kept alive an interest in his work. Then, during the Second World War, he was resurrected by critics, and was soon being hailed as the foremost writer of his age, a literary genius alongside Shakespeare and Milton. More recently, Dickens has again been taken to task by a new breed of literary theorists who fault his chauvinism and imperialist attitudes. Whether he has been adored or despised, however, one thing is certain: no other Victorian novelist has generated more critical commentary. This book traces Dickens's reputation from the earliest reviews through the work of early 21st-century commentators, showing how judgments of Dickens changed with new standards for evaluating fiction. Mazzeno balances attention to prominent critics from the late 19th century through the first three quarters of the 20th with an emphasis on the past three decades, during which literary theory has opened up new ways of reading Dickens. What becomes clear is that, in attempting to provide fresh insight into Dickens's writings, critics often reveal as much about the predilections of their own age as they do about the novelist. Laurence W. Mazzeno is president emeritus of Alvernia University, Reading, Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-790-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The literary sensibility of Charles Dickens is possibly the most amply documented literary sensibility in history.” So writes Jane Smiley, herself a popular novelist, on the first page of her critical biography Charles Dickens (2002). A cursory glance at any research library’s catalog would suggest Smiley is probably right. Books, articles, and reviews about Dickens and his work number in the thousands. For nearly two centuries he has been idolized and demonized. He has been cherished and dismissed. He has been taken to task for poor plotting and outrageous characterization, and held in awe for his ability to unite the...

  5. 1: The Dickens Phenomenon (1836–1870)
    (pp. 12-30)

    The reception of Dickens’s work by his contemporaries has been the subject of several studies, the most significant among them George Ford’s Dickens and His Readers (1955). Ford’s influential and oft-quoted book has been supplemented by Philip Collins in his introduction to Dickens: The Critical Heritage (1971) and Kathryn Chittick in The Critical Reception of Charles Dickens 1833–1841 (1989). As a consequence, the present brief summary is not intended to replace earlier scholarship, but instead to review trends in criticism that provide necessary background for understanding what happened later in Dickens studies.

    As Chittick observes in her analysis of...

  6. 2: The Birth of the Dickens Industry and the Reaction against Victorianism (1870–1914)
    (pp. 31-61)

    When Dickens died in 1870, there was a rush to publish memorial tributes. Among the first to appear was one by George Augustus Sala, who had worked with Dickens on Household Words and All The Year Round and been considered one of his protégés. Sala originally published a testimonial to his mentor in the Daily Telegraph, then expanded his narrative fourfold for publication under the title Charles Dickens later in 1870. Writing more a celebratory funeral oration than critical analysis, Sala claims Dickens was “as original as he who imagined Achilles’ wrath, as he who conjured up Falstaff’s salt humors,...

  7. 3: Dickens among the Moderns (1915–1940)
    (pp. 62-90)

    When the conflict that would come to be known for a time as The Great War broke out, Britain mobilized all its resources to defeat the Germans and their allies. Dickens became a tool to boost morale among those who stayed behind while young men went off to the trenches in France and Belgium. While it may seem strange to students of literature in the twenty-first century to see fiction employed for such overtly jingoist purposes, the idea did not seem at all unusual in 1914. Some sense of how Dickens was used as propaganda can be gleaned from J....

  8. 4: The Tide Turns (1940–1959)
    (pp. 91-118)

    In reviewing George Ford’s Dickens and His Readers in 1955, Edgar Johnson observed that, “Few things are more dangerous to an author’s later fame” than for him “to have won great acclaim and, worse yet, popularity in his lifetime.” That nearly guarantees a negative reaction from the next generation, often for no better reason than to express its independence from their elders. But often, Johnson says, “some decades later still, the critical tide turns again, and something like the old reputation may be restored, even enhanced by subtler shades of appreciation than it had formerly enjoyed” (“Turning Tides” 644). The...

  9. 5: Dickens and Mainstream Academic Criticism (1960–1969)
    (pp. 119-140)

    In surveying the status of Dickens studies in 1961, Steven Marcus suggested that Edmund Wilson’s claim made twenty years earlier that Dickens was the greatest dramatic writer in England since Shakespeare “could be advanced today without much fear of anyone’s turning a hair” (278). Despite the occasional carping attack on Dickens’s technical merits, by the 1960s he was accorded primacy of place among Victorian novelists both as an artist and a chronicler of society. Scholarship celebrating the many aspects of his creative genius appeared regularly. To supplement this original work, George Ford and Lauriat Lane’s The Dickens Critics (1961) provided...

  10. 6: The Dickens Centenary and After (1970–1979)
    (pp. 141-169)

    By the time Dickens had been dead a hundred years, it was possible for Philip Hobsbaum to write without equivocation that “The reputation of Charles Dickens is in no danger” (1). In fact, the centenary of Dickens’s death was celebrated with public ceremonies, seminars, and innumerable publications. The tributes actually began a year early and continued for three years. In the summer of 1969, the editors of Studies in the Novel brought out a special issue on Dickens, collecting critical commentary from some of the current luminaries in Dickens studies and a few newer voices. The first of a number...

  11. 7: Dickens in an Age of Theory I: New Theories, New Readings (1980–2000)
    (pp. 170-211)

    The changing tides in literary study brought in a new wave of critics in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and the agenda for Dickens studies was changed notably. New approaches to literature — deconstruction, new historicism, feminism, new psychological approaches to character and texts, and the rise of interdisciplinary studies of literary texts informed by new ideas of culture — signaled a sharp break from more conventional forms of criticism. While traditional biographical, historical, textual, formalist, and humanist studies continued to be published, such works competed for attention in the academic marketplace with those using new methodologies stressing the fluidity...

  12. 8: Dickens in an Age of Theory II: The Persistence of Traditional Criticism (1980–2000)
    (pp. 212-238)

    By the 1980S, what had been called New Criticism in the 1920s and 1930s had become the conventional way of approaching literature, and ideologies of the aesthetic critics, the moderns, and their formalist disciples — once considered radical — had been superseded by new ways of examining works of fiction. Nevertheless, textual studies, biographies, and various forms of formal and aesthetic analysis continued to be published, and Dickensians of every critical persuasion kept up a lively dialogue that on occasion extended beyond the covers of books and journals.

    In 1981, Murray Baumgarten, John Jordan, and Edwin Eigner established The Dickens Project at...

  13. 9: The Future of Dickens Studies: Trends in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 239-260)

    Reviewing Dickens criticism in 2003, Frederick Karl observed that “if the present sampling of recent critical and scholarly books on Dickens is any indication of what is happening and what is yet to come, Dickens studies are more than alive and well; they have turned their subject into an iconic figure, the prose Shakespeare” (610). As Karl suggests, all signs point to continuing strength, even growth, in the Dickens Industry. Books and articles continue to appear every year as a new crop of Dickens scholars revisits the novels, stories and the journalism to find some hitherto undiscovered nugget of wisdom...

  14. Major Works by Charles Dickens
    (pp. 261-262)
  15. Chronological List of Works Cited
    (pp. 263-304)
  16. Index
    (pp. 305-317)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 318-318)