Say it loud, say it clear. Charles Dickens is English Literature’s most overrated author.
I should clarify, he is by no means a BAD author. I’ve personally read Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and enjoyed all three. But it was a colossal waste of my time.
My 15-year-old sister is currently reading Great Expectations for her GCSE English class, and whilst she is enjoying it, most of her class is finding it an absolute bore. It is tempting to berate the class for being close-minded or lazy, but we forget that Dickens was not written for them.
Charles Dickens is English Literature’s most overrated author
It was never written to shatter the worlds of British teenagers or to inspire a generation. Dickens’ work was aimed at middle-class adults in need of entertainment; novels were released chapter by chapter in a broadsheet newspaper for a nominal fee each week.
That he was writing chapter-by-chapter for a fee is the best explanation as to why Dickens often favours lengthy dialogue, unnecessary plot twists and quite frankly ridiculous amounts of exposition. Reading a Dickens can be like hacking at a coal face, laborious and exerting. But it’s worth it for a diamond, right?
Reading a Dickens can be like hacking at a coal face, laborious and exerting. But it’s worth it for a diamond, right?
The fact is, you can get as much meaning as you get from a Dickens novel from much shorter, more progressive works. I honestly believe that Dickens’ status in the western canon, alongside authors of his ilk (I’m looking at you, Thackery) stops us from lending new works of literature the credit they deserve. The world is moving on!
Literature is progressing at a fantastic rate, and studying Dickens over and over does nothing but maintain the status quo of dead white men dominating discussion and readership. We need to stop this charade of lauding Dickens as the master of prose.
Studying Dickens over and over does nothing but maintain the status quo of dead white men dominating discussion
He was a talented, insightful, complex author capable of writing fantastic works. However, dedicating yourself to one of his lethargic, inaccessible novels for the sake of ‘canon’ when there are so many spectacular works out there is a waste of time.
Here are some beautiful, complex, shatteringly human books to read instead of ploughing your way through yet another Dickens:
Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker