Dickens, Hard Time

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Dickens is probably the most representative literary figure of the whole Victorian age. He is the first truly urban novelist. Most of his novels are set in the city of London, and in them he captures the incredible variety and vitality of life in the city, as well as the squalor and deprivation. Dickens’s characters give voice to the whole panorama of social classes. Dickens is also fiercely critical of certain aspects of the Victorian way on life such as the voraciousness and hypocrisy of the rich, and their indifference to the problems of the poor.


One of his most popular works is Hard Time written in 1854. This novel is a powerful accusation of some of the effects of industrial society.
Unlike romantic poets, that were used to describe nature and to ignore towns because they despised industrialization’s effects, Dickens writes novels of denunciations. In other words, Dickens is not satisfied by industrialization, which he considers a retrograde step because of the destruction of environment it brings. He shows the negative effects of industrialization. In this novel Dickens describes Coketown, an imaginary industrial town in the north of England. The description of Coketown, and the lives of the people who work there, reveal Dickens's indignation at what he regarded as the ugliness, squalor and materialism of the new industrial age. He accuses

1. Social and economical system
2. Factory owners
3. The mentality → in fact the Victorians were proud of industrialization’s effects and of their achievements; they were satisfied by their progress (which is in contrast with primitive forms of live).

Dickens denounced social injustices but he had not supported the radical movements of his time. He was a moderate reformer and believed in human goodness, benevolence, in the possibility of better human condition of life.
There’s an overall atmosphere of generosity, reconcilement of charity and philantrophism in his novels.
Dickens disapproved violence and revolution and looked upon the subversive power of working classes with suspicion and worry. Dickens is not a true realist, but a caricaturist and a deformer.


From a stylistically point of view we can say that Dickens has a very rich and original style. The main stylistic features are:

1. He makes long list of objects and people
2. He uses adjective in pairs or in group of three and four
3. He piles up details, not all of them strictly necessary. Sometimes they are useless.
4. He repeats the same word/s and/or sentence structure.
5. He expresses the same concept more than once, but using different words.
6. He juxtaposes contrasting images → in order to underline his characters features.
7. He magnifies his characters' faults using hyperboles


Serialized novels forced the authors to keep the readers interested in several ways: for example through the use of suspense at the end of the episode or the introduction of a sensational event. In this period (Victorian age) novelist made enormous profits and ceased to be regarded as inferior to the other writers. The novel became a vehicle for ideas. When Dickens started publishing a novel in instalments (puntate), he had not written the whole novel, he had conceived the content of four or five episodes and when he was publishing the central chapters, he did not have the next one ready. While writing he used to keep short summarises of the previous chapters in one side of the sheet, and the program for future developments on the other side, written with different inks. He didn’t want to lose his popularity so he describes characters with exaggerations in order to impress and to entertain the reader.


We can’t expect deep psychological analysis from Dickens because his characters are flat, they are caricatures.
Flat characters, which can also be called "types" or caricatures", are built around a single psychological trait or quality. Flat characters are easy to recognise and do not develop throughout the story, even if the experience different relationships and situations. However this does not mean they are always artistically inferior to round characters. As a matter of fact, the author can use them to create a particular atmosphere inside a complex narrative frame.

Nearly all of his novels deal with the degraded urban settings of the industrial towns of the 1st half of the 19th century. Most of his characters belong to the lower–middle class which Dickens knew best and which he was the 1st to make protagonist of his novels. He gave voice to their economic worries, their fear of social instability, their anguish about poverty, their small ambitions, with a sympathy that portrays characters belonging to other social classes (aristocracy or workers) his knowledge is more stereotyped.
The way his novels were published (in instalments) had a precise influence on them: in order to keep the interest of his readers alive, he used sudden changes, unexpected revelation, complicated supports, then he had to consider the tastes on his public which was mainly made up of 2 classes: The lower-middle class who identified with the characters and saw their lives and problems mirrored in his novels, and the upper classes, who began to develop an humanitarian feeling towards the less lucky majority and were moved (commosse) by the sad stories he told. Both demanded a happy ending: the former because they enjoyed experience what seldom happened in real life; a solution to their problems. The latter felt assured by the happy endings allowed to leave society as it was.


Economical and social doctrine associated with the name of Jeremy Bentham according to which utility is the parameter of all human values: only what creates the material happiness of the greatest number is to be pursued.
Dickens had a romantic vision of life as a theatre of war between good and evil. The most recurring themes are childhood and social criticism. Children occupy a remarkable place in his works because he usually describes his characters from childhood to maturity, then also because during the Industrial Revolution they were exploited in a cruel way: they had too work from the age of 5 or 6.
3rd reason: his working experience as a child. The 2nd theme is present in all his works, sometimes addressed to specific forms of injustice and exploitation, but especially in the later novels there is a total reflection of the principles on which industrial society is based: money and individualism.
The root of all-evil is the very essence of capitalism with its unrestrained chase of money and material satisfaction.


One of his main merits is his natural sense of humour, which is to be found in characters, dialogue and whole episodes (based on misunderstandings). Sometimes his humour is mingled with pathos and when he does not control it sufficiently it becomes artificial and grotesque.


Dickens crowded his scenes with many more figures than the pattern of his stories demanded out of sheer relish for the vagaries (capricci) of human life.
His solution to social problems went no further than suggesting that people simply stopped behaving cruelly. Anyway he had the merits of awakening the Victorian conscience on a great variety of subjects, from debtors’ prisons to private schools.