The Fiction and Journalism of Charles Dickens
Readers of Charles Dickens' journalism will recognize many of the author's themes as common to his novels. Certainly, Dickens addresses his fascination with the criminal underground, his sympathy for the poor, especially children, and his interest in the penal system in both his novels and his essays. The two genres allow the author to address these matters with different approaches, though with similar ends in mind.
Two key differences exist, however, between the author's novels and his journalism. First, humor, which is an essential element if many of Dickens' novels, is largely absent from his essays recommend specific medicine. However, as this paper will suggest, the author's reluctance to directly call for parliamentary action in his earlier works of fiction has been shed by the time he writes his last complete novel. The indirect approach of his early works is apparently a victim of Dickens' dissatisfaction with the pace of reform.
In an essay entitled "A Walk in a Workhouse," published May 25, 1850 in Household Words, Dickens describes his Sunday visit to a large metropolitan workhouse, much like the one in which Oliver Twist lived for some time. In this essay, the first similarity to his fiction the reader notes is Dickens' apparent scorn for clergy. For example, in a remark that reminds readers of The Old Curiosity Shop of Kit Nubbles' experience fetching his mother from Little Bethel, Dickens notes that the sermon delivered at the workhouse "might have been much better adapted to the comprehension and to the circumstances of the hearers" (Philip and Neuberg 106). Adopting the sharp humor that marks his fiction, Dickens says sarcastically of Little Bethel that it "might have been nearer, and might have been in a straighter road, though in that case the reverend gentleman who presided over its congregation would have lost his favorite allusion to the crooked ways by which it was approached, and which enabled him to liken it to Paradise itself, in contradistinction to the parish church and the broad thoroughfares leading thereunto" (The Old Curiosity Shop 389).
Briefly, such anticlerical sentiments also reappear later in Dickens' career in an essay called "City of London Churches," which was collected in The Uncommercial Traveler, a compilation of pieces published in 1861. This report, which describes the physical state of the city's places of worship, begins with the journalist's acknowledgment of a strong antipathy towards a specimen of clergy he calls the powerful preacher. After noting that as a boy he was vigorously washed and readied for church, Dickens writes that he was then "carried off highly charged with saponaceous electricity, to be steamed like a potato in the unventilated breath of the powerful Boanerges Boiler and his congregation, until what small mind I had, was quite steamed out of me" (The Uncommercial Traveler and Reprinted Pieces 83). Surely, Kit...