Charles Dickens

Dickens was a great moralist and a perceptive social commentator. He was by no means completely under the influence of Carlyle, but he followed his teaching when he exposed the ills of Victorian society. Although his fiction was not politically subversive, he called to remedy acute social abuses. After Dickens’s death his social theory was long regarded as oversimplified, but as Jane Smiley pointed out in The Guardian, in recent years it has been reassessed:
For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the era of the new left, Dickens was considered well-meaning but naive; his “programme” was thought to be poorly worked out and inconsistent — not Marxist enough (though Marx was a great fan of Dickens). After Marxism went out of fashion, Dickens’s amorphous social critique came to seem more universally true because it was not programmatic but based on feelings of generosity and brotherhood combined with specific criticisms of practices common in England during his lifetime. [June 24, 2006]
Dickens was not the first novelist to draw attention of the reading public to the deprivation of the lower classes in England, but he was much more successful than his predecessors in exposing the ills of the industrial society including class division, poverty, bad sanitation, privilege and meritocracy and the experience of the metropolis. In common with many nineteenth-century authors, Dickens used the novel as a repository of social conscience. However, as Louis James argues:
Dickens is at once central and untypical in the ‘social novel’. A novelist universally associated with social issues, he was attacked for allowing his imagination to come between his writing and his subject, and his underlying attitudes can be evasive. In his fiction, most characters have a job; but Dickens rarely shows them at work. His novels are centrally about social relationships, yet his model for this would seem, as Cazamian noted, a perpetual Christmas of warm feelings, and the benevolent paternalism of...