Charles Dickens lecture (archived)


Lesson 1. Dickens and Journalism


A brief history of journalism; journalism and the novel; Dickens and Henry Mayhew.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Dickens and Journalism worksheet: click here.

Dickens and Journalism complete transcript: click here.

Oliver Twist and journalism: click here.

Oliver Twist online text: click here.

Oliver Twist audiobook: click here. (I recommend students to read the text at the same time as listening to the audiobook; this gives powerful input and makes it much easier to understand.)

If you would like to view the Oliver Twist movie version we were watching in class, contact me and I will arrange to make it available to you.

Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor: click here.

A student's graduation thesis on Dickens and Mayhew: click here.

Lesson 2. Dickens and Childhood

Children in Dickens's novels; Deprived children in Victorian England; Dickens's childhood.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Nature and nurture print: click here.

Click here here for a summary of Malthus's theory of population growth.

Click here for a useful page on Darwin and other early evolutionists.

Click here for a very simple introduction to Marx's theory of alienation.

Eddie Murphy and Danny Ackroyd inTrading Places.

An amusing comedy on the theme of nature and nurture;

this is a series of clips that will give you a basic idea of what the story is about.

Lesson 3. Dickens and Women


Dickens's love life in fact and in fiction.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Dickens and women (complete)

Dickens and women (gap)

In today's lecture I focused in particular on the changes that occurred in Dickens's life between the time he wrote David Copperfield (1849-1850) and the time he wrote Great Expectations (1860-1861). In the earlier novel he gives David a particularly good time with women, first allowing him to marry Dora, who is quite closely modelled on Maria Beadnell as she was in her early twenties when Dickens fell in love with her, and then killing Dora off so David is free to marry Agnes, the spiritual, sisterly soulmate, based at least partly on Mary Hogarth, the younger sister of Dickens's wife, who died young and whom dickens so much idealized. By contrast, Pip in Great Expectations never gets married at all. In between writing the two novels Dickens had met up with his youthful sweetheart, Maria Beadnell, after twenty years and been very disappointed by what he felt was her basically silly character; he had also met Nelly Ternan, a much younger woman to whom he remained attached for the remainder of his life, and split up with his wife. These circumstances in Dickens's life help to explain the contrast between the essentially positive fate of David Copperfield and the much darker and more brooding story of Pip in Great Expectations.

Lesson 4. Crime and the Law

Attitudes towards crime and punishment

from early modern times to the Victorian period.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Crime and the law (complete)

Crime and the law (gap)

The Victorian period was a time of reform. Laws which were operative in the early Victorian period might easily have changed by mid- or late-Victorion times. In Great Expectations, for example, Dickens represents Magwitch as being forbidden to return to England on pain of hanging, but this law had been abolished in 1835, 25 years before Dickens wrote Great Expectations. This makes it clear that, although the novel was written in the mid-Victorian period, it is set in the early nineteenth century. It is important to have a clear idea of the period in which a particular novel was written, as well as of the period in which it was published.


I mentioned the twin theses of the "civilizing process" and the "decline of violence". These have been popularized in recent times by Stephen Pinker. In the above video he presents his arguments in support of the thesis that violence is in slow and steady decline.

Not everyone agrees with Pinker about this. Click here for a summary of the debate.

Noam Chomsky is one of a number of noted academics who argue against Pinker.

Lesson 5. Stereotypes

We have stereotypes about the Victorians (the Victorian gentleman, "the angel of the house", etc) and the Victorians had stereotypes of foreigners and subgroups of their own society, This lesson aims to help you to recognize such stereotypes for what they are and to look beyond them to get a more detailed and accurate understanding.

V ictorian Stereotypes: Understanding the Nineteenth-Century Mindset.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Victorian stereotypes (complete)

Victorian stereotypes (gap)

Lesson 6. The British Empire

The British Empire was at its height during the Victorian period. This lesson explains the historical background and looks at some of the ways in which the empire was reflected in Dickens's works and in other literature.

The British Empire: Victorian England and the World.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

The British Empire (complete)

The British Empire (gap)

We didn't have time to take a look at Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Here it is:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Have done with childish days--
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Perhaps the most telling lines come at the end of the third stanza; no matter how hard the white man (or woman, I suppose) tries, all efforts to help the wild inhabitants of uncivilized countries will come to nothing; "sloth and heathen Folly" will make all such efforts useless. In other words, these people are too lazy and too stupid to benefit from what the white man has to offer. Originally published in 1899 as a comment on American colonialism in the Philippines, Kipling's poem expresses the sense of cultural superiority that typifies the Victorian attitude towards its empire and, indeed, towards the rest of the world in general. Like Mr. Podsnap in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (1864-5), the Victorians typically "considered other countries a mistake"!

Next week (June 1) there will be a short test (30 multiple-choice questions) based on the prints and PowerPoint presentations so far. You can access the complete prints by clicking on the links for each lesson, above.

Lesson 7: Dickens and the political economy

There had never been anything like the Industrial Revolution in human history. Britain was the first country of any size in which the number of people living in cities outnumbered the number of people living in the countryside. People became increasingly alienated from the production of their own food, clothing and other necessities, and instead of producing these things themselves they had to work in order to earn money to buy them. Here is a presentation explaining the way in which the Victorians understood the economy and relating it to Dickens's novels.

Political economy. Laissez-faire policies and interventionism in Victorian times.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Dickens and the political economy (complete)

Dickens and the political economy (gap)

Lesson 8: Dickens and education

Dickens, a supporter of universal secular education, is famous for his criticisms of scandalously bad schools (notably Salem House in David Copperfield and Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby).

Dickens and education

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation.

Dickens and education (complete)

Dickens and education (gap)

Whackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall: an extract from Nicholas Nickleby.

Lesson 9: Digital Dickens

Advances in digital technology are creating new and exciting possibilities for research into Dickens and the age in which he lived. The following is a screen recording, a different kind of presentation from my usual PowerPoint format.

Digital Dickens

Digital Dickens (complete)

Digital Dickens (gap)

I would encourage you to explore these new research methods,  but you do need to be careful; statistics can be very tricky, and you need to be aware of the problems that can arise from using n-grams, "text mining" (searching through text for particular words and expressions) and other forms of digital analysis of text. There is a very useful explanation HERE of some of the things that can go wrong. If you are interested in this kind of research I would recommend you to study it carefully!

Lesson 10: Dickens and the Gothic

The Gothic novel fourished in the late 18th and early nineteenth centuries, and made a comeback in the late nineteenth century. Dickens was writing at a time when the Gothic as a genre was somewhat out of fashion but, like many other novelists of the period, he uses Gothic themes and motifs in his writing.

Dickens and the Gothic.

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation

Dickens and the Gothic (complete)

Dickens and the Gothic (gap)


Lesson 11: Dickens and social class

Dickens and Social Class

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation

Dickens and social class (complete)

Dickens and social class (gap)

Lesson 12: Dickens's writing style (Chapter 1 of Oliver Twist)

Dickens's style: Oliver Twist

Click here for the original PowerPoint presentation

Dickens's writing style

I will collect prints 5-12 on July 13th.

Lesson 13: Victorian publishing and the structure of Dickens's novels

It'll take a  bit longer than usual to prepare the video, but here's the class print!

Don't forget to e-mail me about your term paper! There will be a final test on July 21st.



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