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Sketch of a Victorian Novelist
Charles Dickens and His Memorable Works

The name Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is almost synonymous with the reign of English prose in the Nineteenth century. This compelling Victorian novelist, who was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, produced astonishingly luminous works, and gradually established his position as one of the irreplaceable stars in the dazzling sky of English Literature.

Unlike Jane Austen, one of his contemporary Victorian novelists, whose novels mostly deal with the themes of love, marriages, and individual relationships, Dickens' plots are generally less romantic and more down-to-earth. In his novels he deals with significant social concerns, the struggle of existence, and human survival in adverse circumstances. He repeatedly represents the incessant conflict between the destiny and the individual. At the same time, the conscionable perspectives and the ethical aspects of life are remarkably illustrated in his novels.

However, while comparing Dickens with Jane Austen we must consider the fact that Jane Austen's novels essentially reflect the psychology, which has been influenced by the progression of feminine sensibility of her era. On the other hand, Dickens can be regarded as an ever-young gentleman of experience, who has portrayed the hardships that he has experienced in his own life. Dickens' childhood was affected by constant impoverishment as his father was persistently indebt and eventually imprisoned. Consequently, he was forced to work in Warren's blacking-warehouse. The bleak memories of this period cast a grim shadow upon his psychology and he remained preoccupied by it till the end of his life. He has portrayed his own experiences through the protagonists of his novels such as Oliver Twist, Pip and David Copperfield. Fundamentally, Dickens is a moralist, with a progressive sense of social conscience. His works are chiefly characterized by piercing humor, unadulterated irony and imaginative wit. In his lifetime his eminence reached the zenith, and he is still adulated by millions of admirers all over the world.

His Unforgettable Works:
Oliver Twist
Similar to David Copperfield, the story of Oliver Twist represents the careworn life of a young boy in the shadowy streets of Victorian London. Oliver Twist, a bright youthful boy whose birth is an enigma, is brought up in a parish, where the life is awkward at length. After he is expelled from the parish he goes through numerous ordeals until he meets 'the Artful Dodger', a street urchin of his age. With the help of his new companion Oliver joins the gang of Fagin, a reckless felon whose occupations include robbery, theft and burglary. Despite his own reluctance Oliver is forced to be one of the associates of the lawbreakers. He begins to be converted by his reality until one night a robbery goes unexpectedly wrong. The members of the family, which they attempt to rob, detain Oliver in the act. Ironically this incident changes Oliver's life as the benevolent members of the family have pity on him and decide to adopt the poor child. Nonetheless, this is not anyhow the end of his nightmares as the past he has left behind refuses to let him escape so effortlessly.

At the same time, Dickens implicitly represents in the novel the precarious way of life of criminals, delicately underlining the social factors, which often transform a youngster into a reckless delinquent. He touchingly illustrates the basic characteristics of the primitive feelings and emotions that exist in their lives.

Hard Times
Coketown, the metropolis that forms the setting of the novel, is a modern industrialized town. It's a paragon of utilitarianism dominated by self-made men like Mr. Josiah Bounderby. Thomas Gradgrind is a highly conservative man committed by cultivated facts and perfectionism, whose children Louisa and Tom are brought up under stern control.

Louisa has been lonely from her childhood. She is acquainted with ethics but is untouched by basic human compassions. Her destiny takes her to a dubious position where she finds herself trapped and disoriented as her father persuades her to marry Mr. Bounderby. Mr. Gradgrind eventually modifies his visions after he witnesses his children being victimized by diverse emotional crisis and the lack of human characteristics, established by his authoritarian upbringing which can only mechanize a liberal human soul. The story implicitly represents a relentless conflict between human innocence and the factually meticulous expansion of technological utilitarianism. The novel also portrays the plights of the destitute factory workers, who are struggling to survive in Coketown under the wraths of the capitalist factory owners. From this perspective, it can be argued that the novel manifests Dickens' socialist views.

David Copperfield
This inspirational story depicts the life and accomplishments of David Copperfield, the eponymous central character of the novel. It vividly sketches the ups and downs of his life, from his birth to his growing up into a matured man through a range of encounters and adversities. David Copperfield, whose father has died, realizes that his affectionate mother and the old nurse Peggotty are his only companions in life as he begins to grow up. However, his mother marries a bad-mannered man who begins to treat David coarsely and subsequently forces his mother to leave the world in despair. Solitary and deprived of love, David is then sent to London to work in a workhouse. His days of assiduous stress begin. When his master decides to leave the city, David understandably refuses to get back to his evil stepfather. Instead, he decides to go to his aunt. Despite David's uncertainty his eccentric aunt accepts him and he starts a new life under her supervision. His life takes several turns as different features of manhood begin to unveil a range of novel experiences before him.

The climax of the novel is emotional and cathartic. David's young wife perishes but he finds consolation in a new companion. The novel essentially depicts a young man's unrelenting journey from deprivation and destitution to integrity, trust, honesty and triumph.

This voyage of David Copperfield through the path of his life is sensitively characterized by uncompromising hope, optimism, and glorious achievements. Copperfield's life is an epitome of human endeavors, which can transform the concept of cynicism into a promising prospect of resurrected buoyancy.

Great Expectations
Like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield the story of this typical Dickens' novel traces the lifecycle of a common young boy. From the outset Pip, the hero of the novel, is polite, shy and compassionate. He is shown to be an orphan who lives with his sister and brother-in-law, the local blacksmith. Pip's life takes an unexpected turn when he meets an escape convict near a desolate churchyard where his parents are buried. Subsequently, he helps the stranger with stolen foods. Although the cops catch the man, this rendezvous proves to be of enormous significance as far as Pip's future life is concerned. Another change occurs in the boy's life when Miss Havisham, an enigmatic elderly woman, summons him to her stately mansion. Here he meets Stella, an extremely appealing but arrogant girl, who gradually becomes 'the embodiment of all his fancies'. When Pip grows up the escape convict he aided in the marshy land becomes his secret benefactor and Pip gets the opportunity of being a complete gentleman. As a young man he goes through many ups and downs and his experiences enable his convictions to be developed. He discovers a lot about life and finally identifies his benefactor. His life becomes adventurous when he vows to save his patron from the inescapable hands of law and finds out the secret of the man's lost family.

After everything he realizes the fact that his existence is still insignificant without Stella. Subsequently, like a realistic gentleman of experience, who is not motivated by instinctive fancies or vague illusions of emotive impulses, he boldly rescues Stella from the 'feminist' empire of Miss Havisham that remains preoccupied by the sinister shadow of Havisham's scornful visions and anomalous ideals even after her decease.

A Tale of Two Cities
The cities that form the setting of this historical novel are London and Paris. The story represents the endeavors and visions of the people of these two cities whose lives are affected by the reign of the French Revolution and the rebellious principles of the era. It is the beginning of a new epoch, characterized by the emergence of novel ideas and revolutionary zeal. The year is 1775; it is the period when the French monarchy is on the brink of collapse. Miss Manette a young half- English half-French woman finds out the fact that her father Doctor Alexandre Manette is still alive in Paris, who remained confined in the prison of Bastille for a long period of time. She rescues him from France and in the course gets acquainted with a mysterious French gentleman who introduces himself as Charles Darnay. In the meanwhile, in London, Sydney Carton, a dynamic lawyer, who startlingly looks like Darnay, becomes one of their close acquaintances.

As the tide of the revolution turns wild in France both Darnay and Carton find themselves deeply in love with Miss Manette, the compassionate young lady adored by all. Darnay, who is fortunate enough to be chosen by the charming lady, travels back to France in order to save a former employee, who has been detained by the over-enthusiastic nationalists.

Although Darnay is liberal in principles, he is a French aristocrat by birth belonging to the cursed Evremonde family. On his return he is arrested by the anarchists and imprisoned without a trial. Miss Manette and Doctor Manette, concerned about Darnay's disappearance return to France to liberate Darnay from the grip of the fierce republicans. They confront the deadliest features of the revolution, as it is inclined to denounce the guilty and the innocents alike. In the meanwhile, Sydney Carton arrives in Paris to aid them. He is ready to forfeit himself for the woman he loves more than his own life and regard this sacrifice 'as a far more better thing that I do, than I have ever done before.'

This romantic novel represents a destructive dispute between political cataclysm and individual passions. In the novel the constructive power of love and sacrifice is sensitively represented against the detrimental forces of tyranny and insurrection.

By KH Asef Safa Kabir (Upal)


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