- The TV series Dickensian brings together characters from several Charles Dickens novels.
- Well-known Dickensian books include A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, and The Goldfinch.
- Contemporary “Dickensian” novels like The Goldfinch and Fingersmith emulate Dickens’ style.
- Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes is considered Dickensian in its scope and characters.
- Identifying elements make a book Dickensian, like Victorian England settings.
- Both classic and modern authors have written novels considered Dickensian.
What Does It Mean for a Book To Be Dickensian?
The term “Dickensian” refers to the works of Charles Dickens, the famous British author from the Victorian era. Specifically, it describes things reminiscent of Dickens’ novels and writing style. But what exactly makes a book “Dickensian”?
There are a few key elements that give a novel a distinctive Dickensian flavor:
Victorian England Setting
Many of Dickens’ works were set in 19th century Victorian England, capturing the essence of the period. So novels set in a similar time and place often get described as Dickensian. The gritty streets of London, country villages, and grand country estates provide recognizable backdrops.
Complex, Interwoven Plot
Dickens wove together intricate plots with far-reaching threads and unlikely coincidences. His stories had lots of characters whose lives unexpectedly intersected. Books with an elaborate, interlinked plot can have a Dickensian feel.
Dickens created eccentric, vivid characters that became cultural touchstones – like Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, and Miss Havisham. Novels with quirky, distinct characters and character names have a parallel with Dickens.
Through his writing, Dickens highlighted and criticized important social issues of the day like poverty, injustice, and class divisions. Books that offer cultural commentary and insights tend to get the Dickensian label as well.
So in essence, a Dickensian novel is one with a Victorian setting, multilayered plot, eccentric characters, and social observations that evoke Charles Dickens’ signature style. But the term can apply broadly to both classic works directly influenced by Dickens and modern literature with a similar atmosphere.
The Dickensian TV Series: A Blend of Classic Characters
In recent years, the term “Dickensian” has become closely associated with the 2015 BBC series of the same name. This 20-episode drama brought together an array of characters from various Charles Dickens stories, portraying their lives as intertwined in the fictional realm of Victorian London.
Diverse Cast of Dickensian Figures
The Dickensian show assembled a diverse cast of over 100 characters from Dickens’ novels, including both well-known figures and more minor ones. Some of the most central characters included:
- Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol
- Miss Havisham from Great Expectations
- Mr. Bumble and Oliver Twist from Oliver Twist
- Lady Dedlock, Inspector Bucket, and Esther Summerson from Bleak House
Rather than directly adapting any single Dickens novel, the show invented new storylines linking the many characters together in surprising ways. The large ensemble allowed for a variety of plot threads and relationships, driving coincidences and drama.
Authentic Dickensian Atmosphere
Filmed in Dublin, the show’s sets and scenery aimed to capture a quintessentially Victorian atmosphere. The costume and production design adhered closely to Dickens’ descriptions to convey the period setting accurately. The show also incorporated classically Dickensian themes of poverty, ambition, redemption, and love.
By weaving together figures from across Dickens’ body of work, Dickensian offered an immersive experience into the author’s storytelling world. The series showed how Dickens’ characters could plausibly interact, underscoring the intertextuality between his books. Modern viewers got to see familiar Victorian figures from a fresh perspective.
Well-Known Dickensian Novels: Classics by Charles Dickens
Of course, the most prototypical Dickensian books are those actually authored by Charles Dickens himself during the 19th century. Many of his novels are not only seminal works of literature in their own right but also offer an authentic look at Victorian England. Here are three major Charles Dickens books that epitomize his style:
A Tale of Two Cities
Published in 1859, this novel chronicles the plight of the French peasantry under the oppression of the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, capturing the spirit of unrest and injustice. It follows characters in both London and Paris, the two cities, as France approaches collapse.
This 1849-50 book is a classic coming-of-age story that follows its protagonist David Copperfield from birth to maturity. David endures a difficult childhood, experiencing poverty and hard labor. The novel provides insight into 19th century social classes and institutions.
Serialized from 1860 to 1861, this book traces an orphan named Pip from the Kent marshes of his childhood to London adulthood as he gains status and wealth but loses his moral compass. Themes involve social class, crime, and moral redemption.
These enduring Dickens novels give modern readers a detailed look at Victorian society through unforgettable characters and compelling narratives of self-discovery and social drama. Their settings, themes, characters, and prose showcase Charles Dickens’ iconic style.
Modern Dickensian Novels: Recent Books in a Victorian Style
Although Charles Dickens’ novels provide the standard for Dickensian fiction, contemporary writers have also emulated his style and milieu. Many recent books purposefully mirror Dickens’ atmosphere and writing traditions.
Here are three prominent modern novels commonly described as Dickensian:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 novel follows Theodore Decker, who survives a terrorist bombing as a boy. After the tragedy, he carries with him a painting called The Goldfinch – his only memento from his mother. The decades-long coming-of-age story has the sweeping scope and Dickensian flavor of a classic epic bildungsroman.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Set in Victorian Britain, this 2002 novel tells the story of a group of thieves who run a scam to defraud a young heiress of her fortune. Told in twisting, overlapping narratives, the suspenseful book was influenced by Dickens’ serialized style. Waters captures the seedy underbelly of the 1800s.
Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes
This 2011 Spanish-language novel has been described as “Dickensian in scope.” With its winding plot, absurd coincidences, and broad social lens, it echoes the intricacy and absurdity of Dickensian fiction. Thematic parallels are also drawn to A Christmas Carol.
These recent books resurrect not just the Victorian backdrop but also the narrative complexity, social observation, and vivid characterization that defined Dickens’ work. Their labyrinthine plots, quirky characters, and capacity for social commentary mark them as decidedly Dickensian.
What Are the Most Prominent Characteristics of Dickensian Novels?
When examining both classic Dickens novels and more contemporary Dickensian fiction, we can identify some shared traits that exemplify the style:
Intricate, Interlaced Plots
The stories involve multiple characters and storylines that interconnect in surprising ways. Subplots and coincidences abound.
Immersive Victorian Settings
They transport readers vividly into the sights, sounds, and social landscape of 1800s England, particularly London.
Flamboyant, Eccentric Characters
Charismatic, over-the-top characters with colorful names and histories fill the pages. They often have wild adventures.
Bleak Social Realism
The books grapple with societal ills like poverty, crime, and corruption even amidst an adventurous plot.
Evocative Visual Imagery
Powerful, cinematic visuals and scenery come through in the descriptive prose.
Deliberate Social Commentary
Class struggles, income inequality, and redeeming hidden virtue are recurring themes.
By these standards, a book can stake its claim as “Dickensian” whether a classic like Bleak House or a recent release like The Goldfinch. These hallmarks allow modern authors to deliberately recreate the magic of Dickens today.
Why Do Contemporary Writers Strive for a Dickensian Style?
For today’s novelists, adopting a Dickensian flavor offers many attractive creative opportunities:
The Victorian backdrop is ripe for worldbuilding. Writers can play with real historical details and introduce fictional liberties.
Experimenting with Serialization
Dickens’ serialized chapters influenced cliffhangers and suspense. Mimicking this format allows for new publishing approaches.
Crafting Layered Plots
The interconnected stories allow for creativity in shaping narratives. There’s room for many colorful characters and twists.
Like Dickens, authors can explore social issues like inequality through an accessible, human lens.
Immersive Literary Homage
Paying homage to Dickens satiates readers’ taste for intricate 19th century fiction.
So whether for stylist inspiration, the chance to reexamine Victorian mores, or simply reader nostalgia, the Dickensian tradition empowers modern literature today. As long as vivid characters and social insight resonate, his influence persists.
Final Thoughts on Dickensian Fiction
The wide-ranging novels of Charles Dickens left an indelible stamp on literature. As a result, the term “Dickensian” emerged to describe stories with a similar ambiance – sweeping sagas of Victorian England filled with the comedy and tragedy of human striving.
Both Dickens’ own works like David Copperfield and Great Expectations as well as recent emulations like The Goldfinch deliver this experience. By balancing page-turning plots with social realism, they remind us of the universality behind Dickens’ vision over a century ago. So for book lovers, exploring the shelves of Dickensian fiction promises adventure tinged with poignancy