Charles Dickens (1812-1870): The Journalism and the Novels


John Chambers M.A., former Head of English, King Edward School, Bath

20 November 2012


First phase: the brilliant upstart of the 1830s

1832-34: The Mirror of Parliament

1834-36: The Morning Chronicle - occasional pieces for the Evening Chronicle

Extract 1: Remembering life as a reporter in the 1830s

1836: Sketches by Boz illustrated by George Craikshank.

Extract 2: A Visit to Newgate

1836-37: Revives serialisation/completes first novel Pickwick Papers

1837-39: Edits Bentley's Miscellany; Oliver Twist; Nicholas Nickleby

1840-41: Edits Master Humphry's Clock; The Old Curiosity Shop; Barnaby Rudge


Second Phase: the pendulum years of the 1840s

Travels widely (and will throughout his life): American Notes (1842)

Writes his first Christmas book/becomes an annual event: A Christmas Carol (1843)
Completes the first novel with a theme (selfishness): Martin Chuzzlewit (l844)

Another failure as editor/only 17 issues of the Daily News: Pictures from Italy (l846)

Completes a novel about contemporary financial success: Dombey and Son (l846-8)

Writes occasional pieces (mainly political) for a number of publications including the Morning Chronicle and particularly for The Examiner edited by John Forster.

Extracts 3/4: Ignorance and Crime, The Paradise at Tooting (ironic title for Mr Bartholomew Drouet's Baby-Farm)

His favourite and most autobiographical novel: David Copperfield 1850)


Third Phase: Household Words (1850-59) and editorial success

A Weekly Miscellany of General Literature (c 50,000)

Extracts 5/6: On Duty with Inspector Field, Bleak House (1852-53); Hard Times (1854); Red Tape (v. Bureaucracy); Little Dorrit (1855-57)

1858: Reprinted Pieces (articles from Household Words)

Begins his hugely successful Public Readings. Separates from his wife, Catherine.


Fourth Phase: All the Year Round (1859-70) - commercial and uncommercial

Conducted by Charles Dickens (and owned by him - 100,000)

Extract 7/8: Arcadian London (no Parliamentary Talk), A Tale of Two Cities; Great Expectations
1861: The Uncommercial Traveller (collected pieces / expanded 1868); The Calais Night Mail (Love of Travel)

His last novel interweaves narrative & satire: Our Mutual Friend (l865)

June1870; Dies at Gad's Hill, leaving unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Charles Dickens at his Writing Desk

Social Issues

I: The Beadle; The Ladies' Societies; London - The Streets; A Visit to Newgate; The Prisoners' Van

II: Lord Londonderry's Letter (Factories); Ignorance and Crime; The Paradise at Tooting (Mr Drouet); Pet Prisoners: A December Vision; On Duty with Inspector Field

III: Trading in Death (re. Wellington); Down with the Tide; Home for Homeless Women; On Strike; To Working Men; A Nightly Scene in London

IV: Wapping Workhouse; The Great Tasmania's Cargo; Some Recollections of Mortality; The

Short-Timers; Bound for the Great Salt Lake (emigration); The Ruffian; A Small Star in the East


The Amusements of the People

I: Gin Shops; London Recreations

II: The Spirit of Chivalry; The Amusements of the People (2)

III: Epsom; Frauds on the Fairies


Parliament, Politics and Politicians

I: A Parliamentary Sketch

II: Lord Grey in Edinburgh; Northamptonshire Election; Snoring for the Million; Niger Expedition; Judicial Special Pleading; Red Tape

III: A Haunted House; Mr Bull's Somnambulist (Lord Aberdeen); Gone to the Dogs; Our Commission; Nobody, Somebody and Everybody

IV: Arcadian London (Parliament not sitting - no Talk!)



II: A Monument of French Folly (re. Smithfield)

VI: Insularities (English vs. French Art)


Personal; light-hearted or reflective

I: Hackney Coach Stands

III: Our Bore; Fire and Snow (description of Wolverhampton Christmas); The Best Authority

IV: City of London Churches; Tramps; The Calais Night Mail; The Boiled Beef of New England; Chatham Dockyard


A Handful of Quotations

The most impressive thing about Reform between 1832 and 1870 was its sloth.” Humphry House in The Dickens World (1941)

The workhouse should be a place of hardship, of coarse fare, of degradation and humility. It should be administered with strictness - with severity; it should be as repulsive as is consistent with humanity.” A clergyman re. the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (Quoted by Paxman)

My faith in the people governing is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in the People governed is, on the whole, infinite.” Dickens (Speech in 1869)

Democracy means despair of finding any Heroes to govern you.” Thomas Carlyle

Parliamentary action has been tainted and paralysed by the incurable timidity with which Parliament, largely recruited from men of great possessions, is accustomed to deal with the sacred rights of property.” Joe Chamberlain (Liberal MP for Birmingham) in 1883     

I surveyed the massive ruins of Rochester Castle from the bridge and thought: "What a brief, little, practical joke I seem to be in comparison with its solidity, stature, strength and length of life.” Charles Dickens

A page from Dickens’ Great Expectations