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Charles DICKENS (1812-1870)

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Charles DICKENS (1812-l870)

Life & main works:

Born in England;

UNHAPPY CHILDHOOD: he had to work in a FACTORY at the age of 12 (his father went to prison for debt);

He became a newspaper reporter (pen name "Boz")

>    1836: collection of articles describing London people and scenes

>    INSTALMENTS (=several parts of a story/article that are published at different times in a magazine or newspaper)

He had success (not only after his dead, but also when he was still alive);

autobiographical novels

    • Oliver Twist (1838) [non l'abbiamo fatto, era da leggere quest'estate];
    • DAVID COPPERFIELD (1849-50)

In which the protagonists are symbols of EXPLOITED CHILDHOOD; the reality of bad, poor, inhuman conditions of SLUMS (=very poor area of a town) and FACTORIES are described.

Works about social issues (condition of the poor and the working class in general):

    • BLEAK HOUSE (1853);
    • Hard Times (1854) [da cui è tratto il brano di "Coketown"]

He became a magazine editor.

He travelled in his last years.

The plots of Dickens's novels:

Well-ned; sometimes they sound a bit artificial and sentimental (for that times)

He had a great pressure to conform to the PUBBLIC TASTE (instalments..)

Setting: LONDON (he had a great knowledge of it)

Are described the sayings and doings of the middle classes in a COMIC MANNER. Then he gradually started to have a more radical view of the SOCIAL SCENE (social criticism, children exploitation).

He was aware of the SPIRITUAL and MATERIAL CORRUPTION of present-day reality caused by INDUSTRIALISM > increasingly CRITICAL ATTITUDE towards his society

Mature works: TERRIBLE DESCRIPTIONS OF LONDON MISERY AND CRIME; popular attention to public abuses, evils, wrongs.



MIDDLE and LOWER classes in modern London (habits, language . );


He RIDICULED FREELY (but no sarcasm) the vanity and ambition of these classes.

He always was on the side of the poor, the outcast (someone who is no excepted by other people), the working class;

He described a lot of children (presented as responsible, good in making choices, as moral teachers) as opposed to worthless (with no good qualities) PARENTS AND MATURE PEOPLE.

Þ    Idea or reversing in fiction the natural order of things;

Þ    He makes his readers love this children

Þ    Children become the MODELS of the way people ought to behave to one another.




He never induces the most wronged and suffering to rebel, or even to encourage discontent;

He wanted to get the common intelligence of the country to alleviate undeniable sufferings.

He doesn't do something concrete for change the system, he simply has an OPTIMISTIC view point: everything at the end will be solved >> SENTIMENTAL ENDING; PHILANTROPHY


Effective, CONCRETE language, short sentence (he was a reporter)

Graphic and powerful DESCRIPTIONS of life and character

Careful choice of ADJECTIVES

REPETITIONS of words, structures

Juxtapositions of images and ideas

Hyperbolic and ironic remarks


Use of coincidence (not very realistic, but accepted by the not sophisticated readers) and FINAL RECOGNITION.

DAVID COPPERFIELD (1849-l850) - [e 49]

TITLE: very common; it tells us that the novel is about someone called David Copperfield.

TYPE OF WORK: Buildungsroman (a novel in which is narrated the spiritual/psychological development of a character). Autobiographical novel:

>    Emotional identification of Dickens with David;

>    Use of the author's initials in reverse (C.D>D.C.)

>    They both are parliamentary reporters and successful writers;

SUMMARY: Three main parts:

Birth (in Blunderstone)-childhood-early youth.(Chapters 1-l8)

No father; initial happiness with his immature mother Clara and his nurse.

But the arrival of the cruel stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, change the situation: no more happiness.

David is sent away to Salem House, where he's tormented and brutalized by the harsh, cruel headmaster, Mr Creakle.

His mother dies. He's consigned to Murdstone and Grinsby's wine warehouse in London where he works, experiencing poverty, despair, loneliness.

He runs away from there and goes to his aunt Betsey in Dover. She brings him up and dismisses the Murdstones from their responsibility for him.

later youth (looking for a career)-early manhood (death of his first wife, Dora). (chapters 19-53)

He starts to work in London at first as Doctor Strong's secretary, than as a parliamentary reporter. He becomes a successful writer. Disastrous marriage with Dora. He loses him inheritance (=eredità) from his aunt. He's betrayed (tradito, abbandonato) by his closest friend.

maturity (great sadness for the death of Dora-new marriage to Agnes Wickfield. Happy life afterwards) (Chapters 54-64)

His own symbolic death and rebirth. New marriage with his predestined love, Agnes Wickfield. He lives happily ever after.

SETTING Grate Britain (Blunderstone, Dover, London). Nineteenth century.

Realism+enchantment (reflected also in the real/romantic characters): no real pressure of reality, no logic of cause and effect; difficulties and dangers disappear like mist.

NARRATOR: David Copperfield (adult) > first person, omniscient, internal.

POINT OF VIEW: David's one.


o   N.B.: IT'S NOT A DIARY!! He speaks about something happened in the past, not in the present.

LANGUAGE / TONE: critical towards society > IRONY, use of a lot of ADJECTIVES and linguistic devices that influence the reader. Concrete language.


The protagonist is David and all the events and characters are revealed through his point of view. The characters are both REALISTIC:

David Copperfield


the aunt Betsey ( perfectly in tradition of the fairy godmother, omnipotent, kind, with certainties. She has no human need to conform to reality);

the first wife Dora (the typical very silly beauty who is only tolerable when she's young);

the second wife Agnes (the angel who saves David and gives him happiness);

the clerk Uriah Heep (he's surrounded by the devil imagery; strange creature, unable to smile, repellent movements, sinister outward traits synonyms of depravity. He hates David because he's the embodiment of what he might have been. David is attracted to him and it symbolizes the human attraction to evil)

exaggerated; characterized by a particular psychological trait (way of speaking/ walking/moving/behaving..). Generally the protagonists are an exception, they always are more complex than the others.

>    David Copperfield is an ANTIHERO (ROMANTIC HERO): he's not a primary example of integrity; he doesn't do any brave action; he's not a spiritual example towards the forces of evil. But he learn how to improve himself and to change through hard experiences and sufferings.

IMPLIED READER: The readers of instalments (a large group of people, not only the most educated ones)

MAIN THEMES (introduced in the first chapter):

>    Fragile creature's struggle to life (David=orphan): people are victims, lonely, with no certainties, no help by the cruel, competitive society.

>    Victorians values (strict education, hard work, physical punishment)

>    Cruelty to children who were exploited.

>    Slums, bad living conditions of the poor

>    Importance of social status (David succeeds in improving it thanks to his determination and perseverance >>MESSAGE OF THE AUTHOR : it's not impossible change your social status )

>    friendship and love leading to marriage.

>    Distortion of the reality and fantasy > it helps the reader grasp reality and knowledge of the external world.


PLOT: David describes his first days at the school and the cruelty of the headmaster, Mr. Creakle.

SETTING: Salem House, schoolroom; after breakfast (and generally a typical school-day).

NARRATOR /POINT OF VIEW: David adult. He feels commiseration for the behaviour he and his companions had towards Mr. Creakle, ever if he underlines trough irony the cruelty of the headmaster. (lines 31-37, 38-40 and 54-55)


o   flashback (the verbs are in historical present, not in the past);

o   free indirect speech (lines 16-l7);

o   irony

LANGUAGE/TONE: Semantic field of court-house (justice language) [l'ho scritto sugli appunti.. ma è meglio verificare se è giusto].

Use of metaphores ( line 3, 57,..) and similes (line 4,..).

The tone is ironical and commiserating.


Mr. Creakle: he's cruel, he torments students, most of all the chubby (=plump) and the small ones (lines 21, 28-30)

The students: they are terrified (lines 7, 23-25, 42-47, 50-54), they look at the headmaster trying to know what he's going to do (lines 44-47- 50).

Young David: he feels as his companions, he's one of the favourite victims of Mr. Creakle (line 31)

David adult: he remembers all the scenes as if he were still there (lines 56-63). He's "really afraid to recollect" (line 25), but now he isn't still in his power and he comprehend who really Mr. Creakle was (lines 31-37). He also judges in a commiserating way his behaviour at the school (lines 38-40, 54-55).

THEME: A criticizing of the school system (scarring students to get discipline).



David adult describes how bad and degrading was his situation when he was exploited at the age of ten. Nobody helped him. (lines 1-7)

Incremental description of the warehouse. (lines 8-l9)

Description of his work (lines 20-30).

David's colleagues. (lines 31-46)

David's desperation, loneliness, hopelessness for an improvement in his social status. (lines 47-58).

SETTING: Murdstone & Grinby's warehouse (=where you store goods - magazzino)

NARRATOR /POINT OF VIEW: David adult. He remembers these scenes as if he were still there (lines 16-l9)


o   Zooming technique (line 9-l6): initially he describes from external view and then he analyses the particulars.

o   Parallelism: he offers various images for being more convincing


o   A lot of adjectives: they influence the reader.

The tone is ironic (line 35: "auspiciously"), pathetic (lines 5-7, 14 "I dare say", 56-58).

It's a CONVINCING ACCOUNT because the narrator had really experienced what he's talking about.


o   Mick Walker: the oldest of David's colleagues.

o   Mealy Potatoes: it's a symbolical name because it refers to something pale and simple. He's one of David's colleagues.

o   Young David: he feels lonely, not a friend of his colleagues. He wonted to study, but he couldn't. He's desperate. A bright, quick child, with excellent abilities, strong powers of observation; soon hurt bodily and mentally (lines 4-5)


THEME Cruel, inhuman exploitation of children and condition of work. In this situation there is no hope to improve your social status.

URIAH HEEP - Chapter XXV - e 55.

PLOT: David narrates when he invited at his home Uriah (not because he wanted do it, but only because Agnes insisted to do it). The guest is enthusiastic both because he had been invited and because he had been appointed (=promoted). David dislikes him and he's envious for his promotion. Dark, unpleasant atmosphere.

SETTING: London, David's house.

NARRATOR /POINT OF VIEW: David adult (present). This makes the reader have the same position towards Uriah (disliking).

NARRATIVE TECNIQUES: use of objectives data to support the narrator's point of view


o   Repetitions: "he was close behind me" (lines 3-4); "long fingers" (lines 4-5). They show the bad sensation of David for having Uriah near him.

o   Particular language for Uriah that underlines his origins from the lower classes

Ellipsis of the "h" in some words as "house", "humble" (lines 11, 32, 56, 62);

Colloquial language: "I des-say" instead of "I dare say"

Repetitions: "Master - Mister Copperfield" (lines 29, 33-34, 45, 48, 52, 56, 60, 65, 68); "You have heard something, I des-say, of a change in my expectations, Master Copperfield, - I should say, Mister Copperfield?" (lines 33-34, 44-45).


o   Uriah Heep

He's Mr. Wickfield's clerk, he had been appointed.

His POOR AND LOWER ORIGINS (he's by birth inferior to David) are underlined by his language and behaviour (line 20).

He's presented trough David's point of view.

He's STICKY (=unpleasant to touch - viscido) (line 21), DOUBLE-DEALER (=very bad, he works under seen) (line 68 ?).

He has long skeleton fingers (line 4), he wears scarecrow (=straccioni) gloves, he has "shadowless red eyes, which lookes as if they were scorched (=burnt) their lashes (=ciglia) off [ . ] disagreeable dints (=dentelli) [ . ] in his nostrils (=narici)" (lines 37-38). (he's THE SYMBOL OF EVIL - see e 2).

He's eccentric because he keeps moving his hands and shaking as he had a tick (strofina le mani sotto il mento alzando le spalle come un matto).

He feels very happy, enthusiastic, satisfied.

o   David

He dislikes him (line 41) (because of : his class inferiority, physical repulsion). He's ENVIOUS, FRUSTRATED because of his promotion (lines 52-58): David consider himself a clever guy (see the text before) and he cannot stand the fact that he hadn't been appointed.


BLEAK HOUSE (1852-l853) - [e 58]

TITLE It suggests the author's ideas about his times. It has a symbolical meaning: this "Bleak" (=without any reasons to feel happy or hopeful; a cold, unfriendly place) "House" will be redeemed by human love.

TYPE OF WORK: novel; mystery story.

PLOT: Esther Summerson, the heroine, during this story discover the truth about her birth (her godmother is in reality her aunt). There are some dramatic and sentimental crises (Esther's face is disured by an illness, but she doesn't loose her moral beauty). Final redemption and FINAL RECOGNITION.

NARRATOR / POINT OF VIEW: there are two narrators, each of them is ignorant of the presence of the other speaking voice. They are: Esther (she speaks of the past and has a confidential tone) and THE THIRD-PERSON NARRATOR (he speaks about the dramatic present and has a rhetorical, emphatic, declamatory[=expressing feelings and opinions with a great force] tone). >>Dickens wants to PERSUADE

IMPLIED READER: the public of instalments.

THEMES: critical of Victorian society, corrupted in its structure (the inefficient justice system; the inadequate concern for the poor and unhealthy conditions).

LONDON - Chapter I (opening lines of the novel) - e 58.

PLOT: Famous description of London fog (lines 1-30). Description and hard criticizing of the legal system (the High Court of Chancery) trough the metaphor of the fog as corruption (lines 31-72).

OPENING PARAGRAPH: Description of London as a city covered by mud everywhere on the crowded streets, the light of the sun is quite extinguished by the fog.

SETTING: London (line 1). Centre of the city. End of September (line 1), day time (line 12, 27-28, 59).

NARRATOR/POINT OF VIEW: Here the narrator is the third person voice, who attacks the social corruption. Trough his point of view the legal system appears as something totally bad, corrupted, that causes problems to the society and voluntary never do its duties (lines 40, 43-44, 45, 56, 62, 69-70, 71-72).


o   Long and precise DESCRIPTIONS

o   PARENTHESIS: the narrator talks directly to the reader.

o   REPETITIONS and musical devices (alliteration - lines 29-33 "raw-rawest, dense-densest- muddy-muddiest, leaden-headed", 49 "walls of words",..-)


o   METAPHORS (the fog, the mud, the gas looming, "the very heart of the fog" . )


Language :


use of the "-ing" form >> sense of progress;

Dynamic (tripping, groping, running - lines 47-48);

Static (ranged in a line - line52, hang -line57, stuck -line63);

Sentences without verbs (>>idea of confusion, something not clear)

Symbolic words: fog and not presence of light (=corruption), mud (=bad condition of society) .


o   Rhetorical

o   Critical

o   Ironical

o   Monotonous


o   Lord High Chancellor he ought to be sit in the High Court of Chancery, and here he is (lines 40-41), but he doesn't do his duties, he simply looks at the lantern that has no light (line 44, 62), it means that he is conscious of the corruption (the absence of light), but he does nothing to remedy .

o   The members of the High Court of Chancery: they do the same of the Lord Chancellor, without working at the "ten thousand stages of endless causes" (line 47). "There is not an honourable man among" them (line 70).

THEME: corruption of the legal system. (See also the Victorian compromise, e 14).


COKETOWN -Chapter V - [sulla scheda]

TITLE: it refers to the city where the novel is set. This name suggests the industrial characterization of this place (coke is the principal fuel of the mechanical engines of these times).

TYPE OF WORK: novel.

PLOT: no action; it's an ironical (and critical) description of the town.

SETTING: Coketown.

NARRATOR / POINT OF VIEW: First person PLURAL narrator (lines 3, 4, 23). The speaking voice guide the reader through the description of this plays, as if the public were in the story. He expresses his thoughts using colours, similes and metaphors with a negative connotation, but also irony, especially in the last 2 lines. >> CRITICIZING OF INDUSTRIALISM.


o   Description of the town (lines 5-l9, 25-41), using the view (unnatural red, black, purple), the smells (ill-smelling dye -line10), the sounds (rattling, trembling -line11-, the steam engine -line12-);

o   Parallelism (lines 14-l9, 33-34, 37-39) >> monotony of the city-life;

o   Repetitions (lines 35-36) >> monotony of the city life and the obsession for the useful, the economy.

o   Chiasm (line 33, 37-38);

o   Antithesis (lines 36-37, 39-40, 41)

o   Irony (lines 2, 42-44 ) >>criticizing towards industrialism and religion of facts, material.


o   Symbolical use of colours

RED (unnatural red)> bricks > town, buildings; monotony of the architecture.

BLACK > the canal, the smoke > pollution

PURPLE > river (line 10) > pollution, industrials and unhealthy smells

These colours underlines the unhealthy conditions of the town and the pollution. They have a negative connotation .

o   Similes (lines 7, 13, 31) and metaphors (line 8): they all are about savage nature >> the town is like a jungle (the savage, the elephant..)

Tone: ironical, negative towards industrialism.



The town is polluting (smokes; purple river), monotonous and with fixed rhythms that the population must follow (red bricks and black canals; "like one another" lines14-l9).

The town is like a savage jungle > no good for living in


The main principle that rules the life of the town is that everything must be workful.

Religion of facts, material, useful elements (line 41-42: "amen"), without any fantasy (line 2) nor sentimentalism (lines 26-27: the religious chapels became warehouses; lines 37-41) nor artistic values (line 35)


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