Dickens lived and wrote in the early years of the Victorian Era in the mid-19th century. Dickens’ activities and creations throughout his life kept pace with the trend of the times. He exposed the hypocrisy, greed, baseness and cruelty of the upper class and the bourgeoisie in a realistic way, and showed the miserable situation of the lower class, especially women, children and the elderly, with great indignation and deep sympathy. And with a serious and cautious attitude he describes the awakening of the struggle of the toiling masses. At the same time, he also eulogizes the truth, goodness and beauty in human nature with idealism and romanticism, and looks forward to a more reasonable society and a better life. Dickens embodies the core spirit of the English, a kind of joy and satisfaction from the heart. But there is another British spirit in Dickens, a kind of self-conscious reflection and critical spirit. He spoke for the disadvantaged groups, pursued social justice, explored the core values that can make human beings live in harmony, and expressed the aspirations and dreams of many people with 15 novels and a large number of prose works.
In Dickens’s early works, the reader sometimes finds his affirmation of commercial value. But the later Dickens took a more derogatory attitude towards business. His work also tends to show in a violent way the subversive power of money in an increasingly industrialized society. In the real society, there is a philosophy that ignores human nature everywhere. All spiritual life, including religious life, has hopelessly become a vassal of money and a quantifiable index. With the development of Victorian society, the ethical and moral concepts of the aristocracy were inevitably impacted by the culture of the middle class. The ethics and morals of the middle class have gradually and widely influenced people’s way of life. The development of ethics reflected in the culture is the development of Victorian culture, thus breaking the original monistic cultural values.
Thus, it can be said that Dickens is not only criticizing the inequality of social classes in his novels, but also commenting on the culture of that society, especially its moral concepts. From this we can see his concern and thinking about the future of that society, and also reflect his deep thinking about the human life itself. Dickens’ early novels are grand, popular and fluent, humorous and pungent, and full of sentiment, in which the criticism of the society is generally confined to local institutions and fields. For example, “Oliver Twist”, “Nicholas Nickleby”, “The Old Curiosity Shop“, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit”, “Christmas Carol” and so on. After “Dombey and Son”, Dickens’s writing became more mature. “David Copperfield” further explores the struggle of life and is autobiographical. It is a long picture that reflects the middle and lower classes of Britain in the mid-19th century.
“Bleak House”, “Hard Times” and “Little Dorrit” are three politically conscious masterpieces. Dickens’ later works clearly reflect the deepening of the creation of the theme, technical maturity and various aspects of exploration. “Great Expectations” can be seen as a negative of “David Copperfield,” but it is more realistic and apocalyptic in its approach to life, and the author’s early optimism is markedly diminished. The hero Pip is also an orphan. However, he can not withstand the temptation of the environment and loses his original simple nature. After experiencing harsh hardships, he realizes repentance and starts to live again, and the whole novel is more concise in structure. “Our Mutual Friend” is another critical novel that goes deep into the society. The human nature exploration and life philosophy contained in it are also more profound. The symbolism and detective novel techniques used in the novel add more to its artistic charm.
Dickens’ final novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, is only 23 chapters long, but it is also exquisitely written, scrupulously conceived, and seductive with suspense and mystery. He describes a large number of people in the middle and lower classes, which is unprecedented in literature. With his high artistic generalization, vivid detail description, witty humor and meticulous analysis, he created many unforgettable images that truly reflected the social face of Britain in the early 19th century, which had great appeal and cognitive value, and formed his unique style. He reflects the breadth and variety of life, the depth and power of it. Instead of preaching or conceptualizing his tendencies, he tends to inspire his readers’ indignation, hatred, sympathy and love with vivid artistic images. Most of his characters have distinct personalities. He is good at using artistic exaggeration to highlight some features of the characters and reveal their inner life and mental outlook with their customary movements, gestures and words.
Dickens’ works have a strong romantic atmosphere, and the things he describes seem to have some kind of spirituality that can match the feelings and temperament of the characters, which enhances the appeal of the works.