13 August 2015

Two Dickens Classics

In the 1850s Charles Dickens was at the height of his powers as a novelist, and two of his greatest works from this period have been the highlights of my summer (re)reading. Bleak House (1853) and Little Dorrit (1857) both appeared in monthly instalments, then as single volume publications. The nearest cultural equivalent these days might be a TV series or a soap opera, followed by the release of the same work as a boxed set of DVDs.

Both novels are heavily centred on London, and they explore the worlds of greed and capital accumulation which lay at the heart of the industrial revolution. Dickens was not only a genius at story telling and a master of comedy and pathos - he was also an incisive critic of the establishment institutions that tolerated poverty, neglect, child labour, and moral corruption.

He weighs into the Church, the Courts, and the banking system. Clergymen are exposed as pious frauds, lawyers as pariahs who profit from their clients' misfortunes, and bankers as dubious (and sometimes corrupt) manipulators who make fortunes with other people's money. In fact not much has changed in the intervening century and a half.

There are full tutorials on both novels, featuring plot summaries, lists of principal characters, critical commentaries, study resources, web links, and suggestions for further reading. There are also links to a variety of available editions - in paperback, Kindle eBooks, and free downloadable versions at Project Gutenberg.