Dickens was born in Portsea, in 12. His father, John Dickens, was a kind and likeable man, but incompetent with money, and due to his financial difficulties they moved to Camden when Dickens was nine. When Charles was twelve his father was arrested and taken to the debtors’ prison in Southwark. He started working at Warren’s blacking-warehouse and its strenuous working conditions made an impression on him, later influencing his fiction. He became interested in writing (and acting) and, after having learnt shorthand in his spare time, he began working as a freelance reporter at the Parliament and the Old Bailey.
Under the nom de plume Boz he published the eponymous Sketches (36), a collection of short pieces concerning London scenes and people. In 36 he married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a fellow editor, yet this union proved to be an unhappy one and, though she bore him ten children, he decided to separate from her after 22 years, having fallen in love with an 18-year-old actress, Ellen Ternan.
This fact often constituted a reason of doubt, regret and depression for his Victorian frame of mind.
The Sketches were immediately followed by the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, a publication in installments which confirmed his success as a humorist and satirist. His rise to fame continued with Oliver Twist (38), David Copperfield (49-50), Little Dorrit (57), all influenced by his childhood memories (he purportedly had a near-photographic memory), and his journalistic career. By means of subtle irony, he denounced the exploitation of children in the slums and factories. His later novels Bleak House (53), Hard times (54) and Great Expectations (60-1) revolve around various social issues, emphasizing the difficult condition of the working class and the poor. Throughout his life he edited several newspapers and magazines, e.g. Household Words or All The Year Round, which hosted serializations of many prominent novels. His last years were marked by numerous reading tours, even in America, and the foundation of charities to help the poor. After his death in 70 his remains were buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Above all, Dickens was a storyteller, as he was influenced by the Bible, fairy tales, fables and nursery rhymes as well as 18th-century essayists and Gothic novelists. His novels have been praised – from Tolstoj to Orwell – for their realism and good story planning. On the other hand, Wilde and Virginia Woolf complained of their episodic nature and artificial vein of saccharine sentimentalism. Of course the publication in monthly or weekly installments imposed strict terms, preventing unified plotting and creating pressure on Dickens to suit the taste of the audience. Most of his novels are set in London, a city he knew well and of which he gave vivid and realistic sketches. In Dickens’s first works, his characters are taken from the bourgeoisie, although often satirized, whereas in the latter novels he presents a more radical point of view on society, still without being a revolutionary thinker.
His awareness of the increasing spiritual and material corruption as a consequence of industrialization made him more and more critical of society. His mature works managed to draw popular attention to public abuses, evils and injustices by means of the juxtapositions of terrible descriptions of London desolation and crime and hilarious sketches of the city. He created caricatures by exaggerating and ridiculing the distinctive social characteristics of the middle, lower and lowest classes in their own voices and conversations. His female characters are feeble, and either completely good or irrecoverably evil (a black-and-white morality possibly derived from his difficult relation with his mother). He sympathizes with the poor and the outcast: he shifts the perspective from the upper middle-class world of 18th-century fiction to the life of the lower orders and the working class. Children are often the most relevant characters in his works, a means to fictionally invert the natural order of things, as their good-natured personality makes them more likely to be the moral teachers than the pupils of the adults (either into insignificant parents or hypocritical grown-ups), the exempla than the imitators.
He succeeds not only in making his readers sympathize with the children, but also in proposing them as models of the correct way people should behave to one another. His aim lies in teaching a moral lesson to the reader. To accomplish this he uses the most effective language, i.e. a careful selection of adjectives, lexical and syntactical repetitions, juxtapositions of images and ideas and hyperbolic and ironic comments, thus achieving the most vivid depictions of life and character ever attempted by any novelist. In Coketown, a fictitious industrial town, Thomas Gradgrind, an educator firmly believing in facts and figures, has founded a school based on the suppression of imagination and feelings, the same theories by which he raises his children Louisa and Tom. His daughter is compelled to marry Josiah Bounderby, a wealthy banker thrice her age, and she accepts so that her brother can be apprenticed at Bounderby’s bank, yet the marriage proves to be unhappy.
Tom, grown up to be dissipated and self-interested, robs his employer, initially managing to make everyone suspect an honest laborer, Stephen Blackpool , then discovered and snuck out of the country by his sister. Hard Times is composed of three books of three chapters each: Sowing, about the seeds planted by means of the Gradgrind/Bounderby method, Reaping, showing which fruit the plants have borne (Luisa’s unfortunate marriage, Tom’s dishonesty/hedonism which leads to Stephen’s framing) and Garnering, disclosing further details. Hard times revolves around the dichotomy in Dickens’s age between the rich and the poor. The Hands are forced to work interminable shifts for terrible wages in squalid and dangerous factories, with no hope of improving their living or working conditions due to their lack of education and job skills. Through his characters and stories he denounces this gap, thus criticizing the money-oriented and narrow-minded nature of Utilitarianism, the prevalent approach to economics in Victorian England, which, according to Dickens was transforming humans into machines by forbidding the development of any form of emotion or imagination.
In fact, Gradgrind indoctrinates the children of the school, as well as his own, into his system of facts, whereas Bounderby considers his laborers nothing more than emotionless objects to be exploited at his own liking. Mr. Gradgrind argues that nature is a measurable, quantifiable entity entirely dominated by rational principles, and strives to transform the pupils of his school into little machines unquestioningly following these rules. Dickens’s objective lies in showing how dangerous allowing the “mechanization” of humans can be, hinting that with no compassion and imagination life would be unendurable. The extract is centered on the description of the Victorian industrial Coketown, a fictitious Northern-English mill-town whose name, the town of coke (coke being a fuel derived from the distillation of coal) is meaningful as it hints at the contribution of industrial pollution to the blackening of buildings. This town is an unpleasant place, where everything is a triumph of fact (all fact, workful): it is not only polluted, as demonstrated by “the unnatural red and black” and the “river than ran purple with ill-smelling dye”, but also noisy, due to the never-ending “rattling and trembling” of the steam-engine (one of the symbols of industrialization).
Dickens employs metaphors and similes connected with nature, yet they all have negative and unsettling undertones, as the savage is war-donned, the serpents never-uncoiling, the elephant in “melancholy madness” (i.e. in musth). Therefore life in Coketown is not only marked by unpleasant alienation as well as by a fundamental opposition to the laws of nature and common sense. The whole place is monotonous as not only the streets are very similar to one another, but also the people, synchronized in all their activities. Even public buildings are standardized, looking like factories with “no taint of fancy” as artistic expression is contrary to Utilitarianism. Dickens was an important denouncer of the vices and injustices of Victorian England, employing fiction as a means to condemn public evils and abuses. He drew popular attention to the cruelty of some schools, to the squalid misery of London slums and its criminal underworld by means of his social/humanitarian novels. He greatly influenced the contemporary reform movement, yet he was not a revolutionary per se, as he never questioned the pre-constituted order of his time, as noted by Orwell.
He advocated a change not in the whole society but in the single individual, who is the real target of his moral, not political or revolutionary, message. He argued that if men behaved decently, the world would be decent, and made good win over evil in his novels as a sign of his fundamental optimism. Hardy was born of a humble family in Upper Bockhampton , a hamlet in Dorset, in 40. He became apprenticed to a local architect at sixteen and then moved to London. He read a lot, including the works of Comte, Mill, Darwin and Schopenhauer, who all influenced his novels, especially Schopenhauer, from whose The World as Will and Idea he adopted the notion of Immanent Will. His first success was Far from the Madding Crowd, published in installments throughout 74. His fame increased even further with a series of tragic novels: the Mayor of Casterbridge (86), the Woodlanders (87), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (91) and Jude the Obscure (95). The last book caused an outrage due to its nihilism and immorality: dubbed Jude the Obscene by some, it was publicly burnt by the bishop of Wakefield.
Its negative reception induced Hardy to turn his efforts exclusively to poetry. After his death in 28 his ashes were buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Hardy’s characters are defined through their surroundings. His works are set in Wessex, a semi-fictional county in South West England corresponding to Dorset based on the eponymous Saxon medieval reign (as stated in the Preface to Far from the Madding Crowd). Being an architect, he had an exceptional sense of place, which allowed him to describe medieval ruins as well as important landmarks like Stonehenge or the college of Oxford. His early life in Dorset granted him with an extensive knowledge of the folk traditions connected with country gatherings or fairs. In his novels the rural group assumes a role similar to that of ancient Greek choruses, commenting on the actions of the character, either to provide the reader with an interpretation or a form of light relief. In the village of Marlott, the poor peddler John Durbeyfield is stunned to discover that he is descended from the D’Urbevilles, a once-wealthy aristocratic Norman family now extinct.
The difficult conditions of his family worsen after the death of their horse caused by their eldest daughter Tess, who consequently agrees to go to the D’Urberville estate and “claim kin” (unaware of its non-existence). She gets a position as a poultry maid thanks to Alec, the mistress’s lascivious son who constantly makes undesired advances on her. He eventually takes advantage of her after a fair. She returns home and gives birth to a sickly child, who is christened Sorrow just before his death. After a year she seeks employment far from her past, i.e. in a distant valley, becoming a milkmaid at the Thalbothays Dairy. There she re-encounters Angel, a reverend’s son apprenticing as a farmer. They fall in love, yet Tess is uncertain whether to reveal him her past and resolves to slip a confessional letter under his door, which unfortunately ends under the carpet. The marriage goes smoothly nevertheless when on their wedding night they confess each other their past Angel is struck dumb, and resolves to leave her, boarding a ship for Brazil.
Tess experiences many sufferings and difficulties and is obliged to accept a job at an hardscrabble farm. During a walk she overhears a wandering preacher who turns out to be none else than Alec, converted to Methodism by Reverend Clare. Tess eventually accepts his proposal to support her family after her father’s death. However, Angel returns from Brazil and seeks Tess to ask her forgiveness, but she stoically refuses. Heartbroken to the point of madness, she stabs Alec to death and flees to Angel. She is arrested at Stonehenge, where she felt asleep on a large rock, and is eventually executed. He is the most important pessimistic novelist of late Victorian England due to many reasons: first of all, he was born in the Hungry 40s, a period in which the price of bread was kept high by the Corn laws and many people starved to death; secondly his first marriage was an unhappy, childless one, though he felt remorseful after his wife’s death; lastly he was influenced by Darwin and his vision of life as a never-ending struggle for the survival of the fittest as well as by Schopenhauer ‘s universe governed by the blind “Immanent will”, and he started to put into discussion his religious faith.
Furthermore, he was profoundly touched by the collapse of the rustic world, which he loved and experienced first-handedly since his birth. In fact his county, Dorsetshire, in South West England, was suffering from the consequences of the mechanization of agriculture, the severe economic crises of the 70s and the mass-migration to the towns. Hardy argues that life is a struggle for survival against wicked impersonal powers. Love is a destructive natural instinct. In fact man is in thrall to fate, i.e. an impersonal unforeseeable entity governing over both the inside and outside of man (personality and surroundings). Therefore human life is nothing but a useless, excruciating struggle with destiny, also known as Immanent will as per his reading of Arthur Schopenhauer .
It is a kind of Anti-Providence, an unstoppable apparatus operating through a series of unfortunate coincidences. According to Hardy, the universe is at the mercy of Chance, blindfolded casualness either unconcerned or antagonistic to man. As a matter of fact, in Tess this malignant power amuses itself by tormenting her to death. “Justice was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess”. Tess, and, more generally, man, is a marionette in the hands of Chance, a worthless varmint in the universe. Tess is fated to sorrow and death from the very moment she came into being. There are three important themes in his works: the difficulty of being alive; nature, unaffected by man’s fate yet co-protagonist with him; Victorian hypocrisy, which is criticized as well as conventional moralism, in particular as far as women are concerned: in fact Tess, a falling woman as per Victorian morals, is presented as a pure, guiltless victim of chance and her love interests.
His language is measured, abundant in details and symbolism. The metaphors, similes and personifications he employs reflect his love for nature. The language of sense impressions is central to his writing, as objects are perceived through touch, sight, sound and smell. Though his novels were composed during a period of literary experimentation, he persevered in employing the Victorian omniscient narrator, who is always present, sometimes commenting on the characters or events by expressing his opinions and view on life. Furthermore, he anticipates the cinema in that he employs narrative techniques alike to the camera eye and the zoom (e.g. in Far from the madding crowd).