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Author Study: Charles Dickens Curated by Naomi LaDine '17

A page dedicated to Charles Dickens, the great Victorian writer, including Dickens' personal life, historical context, works, criticisms, and literary style


Charles Dickens wrote during a period in history of great economic and social change. What became known as the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700’s and continued through the 19th century. This time was marked by the development of new machinery that changed the dynamics of manufacturing, the relationship between classes, and the role of cities in British life.

Increased productivity had many important implications for England’s demographics and the standard of living of its lower class. Prior to the Industrial Era, the British economy was primarily agrarian and manufacturing took place on a small scale and in homes, scattered around the country.  In response to the great demand for labor in London and other cities, mass urbanization of England’s rural population occurred during the Industrial Revolution. This directly resulted in the overcrowding of cities, which found themselves unable to adjust to greater demand for sanitary housing and food, and the living conditions of the working class remained very low for most of the 1800s. The real wages of the working class did not increase in proportion to growth of the economy as a whole, and social classes were increasingly stratified.

Cleveland Street Workhouse, down the street from where Charles Dickens grew up

The settings of Dickens’ works and the behavior of his characters are pervaded by the context of Industrial England, and although to varying degrees, most of his novels provide commentary on the changes during that time. However, Dickens set many of his pieces back several decades from when they were written and avoided a tone of modernity in his works. For example, although Dickens himself was familiar with the railroad (and actually survived the famous Staplehurst Rail Crash of 1865), trains, being a fairly recent innovation, do not frequently appear even in his later works. Dickens wrote more on the social implications rather than the technological or scientific implications of his era. He focused mostly on class relationships and the political and social dealings surrounding poverty.