Charles Dickens was the representative novelist of the Victorian age. He is the greatest novelist that England has yet produced. He is the writer of some great novels such as Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and Bleak House in which his comic view of life, social criticism, power of story telling and use of humour have been vividly exemplified.
His first novel was Pickwick Papers, the supreme comic novel in English language. His comedy is never superimposed because it is an effortless expression of a comic view of life. Dickens seems to see things differently in an amusing and exagggerated way, and in his early work with much exuberance he plunges from one adventure to another, without any thought of plot or design.
As a novelist, Dickens is a social Chronicler. He is found to have introduced social novels in a much broader sense. In his such novels as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Hard Times, he gave the contemporary social picture and attacked the various vices of the victorian age. Dickens enjoyed life, but hated the social system into which he had been born. There are many indications that he was half-way towards being a revolutionary, and in many of the later novels he was to attack the corruptions of his time. In Oliver Twist, (which followed in 1837-8), pathos is beginning to intrude on humour, and Dickens, appalled by the cruelty of his time,feels that he must convey a message through fiction to his hardhearted generation. Yet some modern social historians assert that he disguised the depths to which the lower classes had been brutalized. His invention is still abundant, as he tells the story of the virtuous pauper boy who has to submit to perils and temptations. Burnaby Rudge, with its picture of the Gordon Riots, is Dickens’s first attempt in the historical novel, and here plot, which had counted for nothing in Pickwick Papers, becomes increasingly important.
In David Copperfield he brought the first phase of his novel-writing to an end in a work with a strong autobiographical element, and with such firm characterization as Micawber and Uriah Heep. Bleak House is the most conscious and deeply planned novel in Dickens’s whole work, and clearly his art has moved far from the spontaneous gaiety of Pickwick Papers. It was followed by Herd Times, a novel dedicated to Carlyle. While in all his work Dickens is attacking the social conditions of his time, here he gives this theme a special emphasis with A Tale of Two Cities he returned to the historical novel and, inspired by Carlyle, laid his theme in the French Revolution. None his works shows more clearly how wide and unexpected were the resources of his genius. He completed two other novels Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend before his death, and he left unfinished the manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Like all great artists he viewed the world as if it was an entirely fresh experience seen for the first time, and he had an extraordinary range of language, from comic invention to great eloquence. He invented character and situation with a range that had been unequalled since Shakespeare. So deeply did he affect his audiences that the view of life behind his novels has entered into the English tradition. Reason and theory he distrusted, but compassion and cheerfulness of heart he elevated into the supreme virtues.