Regarding Charles Dickens

December 31, 2008

posted by Caroline Picard

“It is the complex nature of Dickens’s evil men, not their merited fate, that makes them the peers of Dostoyevsky’s lost souls. For this reason, I have always been irked by the critical treatment of his last novel as a pure whodunit. ”Endings” were not his strong suit.” (Angus Wilson in The New York Times, March 1, 1981)


Regarding Charles Dickens

English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens’s works are characterized by attacks on social evils, injustice, and hypocrisy. He had also experienced in his youth oppression, when he was forced to end school in early teens and work in a factory. Dickens’s good, bad, and comic characters, such as the cruel miser Scrooge, the aspiring novelist David Copperfield, or the trusting and innocent Mr. Pickwick, have fascinated generations of readers.

“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice.” (from Great Expectations, 1860-61)

Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Hampshire, during the new industrial age, which gave birth to theories of Karl Marx. Dickens’s father was a clerk in the navy pay office. He was well paid but often ended in financial troubles. In 1814 Dickens moved to London, and then to Chatham, where he received some education. The schoolmaster William Giles gave special attention to Dickens, who made rapid progress. In 1824, at the age of 12, Dickens was sent to work for some months at a blacking factory, Hungerford Market, London, while his father John was in Marshalea debtor’s prison. “My father and mother were quite satisfied,” Dickens later recalled bitterly. “They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.” Later this period found its way to the novel LITTLE DORRITT (1855-57). John Dickens paid his £40 debt with the money he inherited from his mother; she died at the age of seventy-nine when he was still in prison.

… can read the rest of his biography, along with a list and description of his various works here

The Manuscripts

By Annette Low, Book Conservator, Conservation Department

what follows, can be read in it’s entirety, along with vivid descriptions of the binding and conservation process, here. This excerpt was originally published as part of a larger article in the V&A Conservation Journal, no.9, October 1993, pp. 4-7 (ISSN 0967-2273). The Manuscripts are kept at The National Art Library (NAL) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they are also available on microfilm.

Fig, 1: Charles Dickens, the manuscript of ‘American Notes’ before conservation

Charles Dickens, the manuscript of 'American Notes' before conservation

This collection of manuscripts covers a range of 33 years of Dickens’ writing, with Oliver Twist being the earliest (1837-9) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood still unfinished (1870). Not only does this long period show the development of Dickens’ writing style, but it is also witness to a gradual change from iron gall ink to blue ink and from cream to blue writing paper in a time of developments in paper production and artificial pigments.

The novels were published in weekly or monthly magazines and the manuscripts bear signs of close co-operation with printers and illustrators: fingerprints of printing ink, printers’ names scribbled across the pages and leaves that were often cut in half to distribute them amongst the typesetters.

Leading an active life, Dickens was writing in different locations, at his house in Kent or his town house in London, while travelling in the UK and also abroad. Different quills and nibs and change in ink supplies lead to differences in ink shades which give valuable evidence of his process of planning, writing and correcting.

The manuscript was written on one side only of a machine-made writing paper. The double leaves were folded and torn in half before writing; all manuscript leaves therefore have one torn side. Cancelled text and corrections are found on the verso. Corrections are also sometimes carried out by sticking another piece of paper across the cancelled text with seals.

The manuscript pages were glued to a slightly larger thin support paper along the two vertical edges which then had been in-layed during the last rebinding into a blank book of strong repair paper. Narrow gutter margins and the incompatibility of all the papers involved had led to creasing and warping of the manuscript leaves (Fig.1). The strain for the manuscripts was evident in a strong resistance and rattling sound every time a leave was turned over. This was also dangerous for already brittle areas of iron gall ink.