Despite the iconic stature that Charles Dickens has today, students still must not conclude that the writer is an unblemished symbol of Victorian England, said Rajendra Chenni, Professor, Department of English, Kuvempu University.
He was delivering the keynote address at a seminar on “Charles Dickens and Victorian England: What the Dickens?", a national seminar on Charles Dickens and Victorian England organised by the English Department of St. Aloysius College in the city on Friday. The event was held to commemorate the 200 birth anniversary of the novelist.
He said Charles Dickens was still an enigma and his novels were full of contradictions and ambiguity. There were positive as well as negative traits in his writings, personality, and personal life. It was not as if his work was unproblematic. So students should not view him as a writer representing the value system and family values that were in vogue then. A critic once dismissed the writer as “just an entertainer”, he said.
His writings were about orphaned children, schools where children were ill treated and subjected to sadistic violence. He wrote about “the hard facts of history”, writing about the suffering farmers, and the migrant labour in London and Yorkshire and about child abuse. He wrote about the “mask and façade” of the gentry towards the former.
Change and transformation were very relevant to his writings. Society then was transforming from being agrarian and hierarchical into a heavily urbanised, industrial, and capitalist society.
Dickens was not an unchanging, monolithic but growing and evolved, who had a close relationship with the reader of that time. He used the popular novel as an instrument to make a critique of the times. He started writing in serial, in instalments, which was the format then and he had a close relationship with the reader of that time.
Dickens appeared at a particular historical juncture and if he had not, the 19th century would have created one (Dickens). He became representative of his age and was a strong critic of the times he lived in, he said.
Many teachers, research scholars, and students from undergraduate and postgraduate levels participated in the seminar.