Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

In happier news, today is the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

Let’s have a poll!

And please give your reasons in the combox!

What is your favorite Charles Dickens novel?

View Results

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  1. Ttony says:

    Father, I voted, but you left out the option which said “All of the above except for the nauseatingly sanctimonious Old Curiousity Shop”.

  2. Mellie says:

    And which is your favorite, Father?

  3. pelerin says:

    We ‘did’ ‘David Copperfield’ in class and I have to admit that I really did not enjoy it at all. It put me off ever reading another book by Dickens – until I discovered ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’

  4. irishgirl says:

    The only Dickens novel I ever read in my schooldays was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.
    And then, I’ve watched film versions of ‘Oliver Twist’ (both the musical ‘Oliver!’ and a PBS/BBC version), ‘Little Dorrit’, and ‘David Copperfield’.

  5. ContraMundum says:

    I read The Old Curiosity Shop for a book report in high school. I knew that little Nelly was going to die, and I was ready to kill her myself by the end of the book. I haven’t been able to make myself read Dickens after that.

  6. acardnal says:

    Honestly, I have never read one of his books cover to cover. They are long. And the paragraphs are long . . . as long as one page as I recall! I have seen some cinematic representations though. I have “Little Dorrit” on my “to view” pile. I have read a review of a recent biography of him which said that he was not faithful to his wife if I remember correctly. Is that true?

  7. I guess I’ll put down A Christmas Carol, because honestly I don’t like much Dickens at all. There’s moments of enjoyment and hours of misery, at least in the ones they made us read for school. Which was every year of junior high. Luckily, they’re fast reads, but I never did manage to make myself do more than skim Tale of Two Cities for plot points. I tried again with an audiobook, but that didn’t do the trick, either.

    And I’m well read, and I appreciate why other people love Dickens. I just don’t. I think I probably want to read only his humor books, or that I’ll have to give it another ten years before I’m old enough to appreciate it. At least he’s better than trying to read Wuthering Heights; but I don’t see why they make depressed middle school kids read so many depressing books. It’s like they want to drive us to drink or suicide or what have you.

    Good short stories, though.

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    Hard Times Again, by Theodore Dalrymple.

  9. How can you not love a book that has everything … INCLUDING SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION. Bleak House, of course. I love Esther; I admire Jarndyce; I am Skimpole.

  10. And I hate The Law i.e. Chancery.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    I love long novels and am re-reading most of Dickens at this time. I wrote a piece on the Circumlocution Office on my blog a few weeks ago, if the other two people, who like me, voted for Little Dorrit as the most favorite, would like to look it up. I have read that five times, I think, having a habit of reading the same works over and over and over. Last year, among other books, I re-read Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, and Martin Chuzzlewitz, which is a scream. Someone was sending me The Tale of Two Cities so that I can read that again, which I have not received, as I live in a place without a bookstore, can one imagine, and I am not allowed to use the library as a foreigner. I could not use the library in Malta, either. I used to like George Eliot as my favorite English novelist, then moved to Jane Austen, and now think that Dickens is the master of the English novel, although I love E M. Forster and re-read some of his last year as well. I am a pig when it comes to Dickens. It is said that he created 12, 000 characters in his books. Imagine. And, they are all so real. What a genius. Thanks for posting this. I hope I get my book soon.

  12. benedetta says:

    I see that three other voters have joined me on Hard Times. Interesting. I expected less than that even.

  13. KAS says:

    I admire the skill of Charles Dickens. For me, it was a toss up between A Tale Of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol. I chose the former.

  14. Mellie says:

    David Copperfield is my current favorite. I didn’t read an entire Dickens novel until I was 27 years old and I have been making up for lost time in the years since. My vote has to stand with Copperfield because of the excellent development of the characters and the ultimate message of… hope and mercy. Dickens took me to the depths of misery with those characters and then gave them them new life, renewal, conversion; still changed by sin and suffering, but with a new depth and understanding of joy. My 14-year old is a Pickwick fan but I couldn’t cast a second vote. :)

    I’m noticing a theme among the comments along the lines of :I read Dickens in school and hated it. Perhaps the common thread is school (rather than Dickens) and having to read something under compulsion that one is not academically ready to read. I’m glad I waited until I was almost 30. I wouldn’t have read them happily or well as a teen.

  15. Christine says:

    I picked up Great Expectations and had them when I started the book. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed with it and have not picked up another one.

  16. kat says:

    Had to read several of the novels in high school. I read Great Expectations and a Christmas Carol in 9th grade, David Copperfield in 10th, and Nicholas Nickleby in 12th. I like Dickens! I have a copy of his “Life of Christ” which he wrote for his children. THAT is an interesting book!!!

  17. Tradster says:

    I selected Bleak House but if I’d had two choices I would have added Tale of Two Cities. They are equally my favorites.

  18. marthawrites says:

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read a half dozen Dickens novels. I started on Jan. first with Pickwick Papers which I hated when at age 14 I first read it. This time I appreciated the variety of incidents, the clever dialogue, the humor, and finding hints of situations or characters developed in future books. I loved David Copperfield and Oliver Twist in high school but didn’t finish Bleak House or Old Curiosity Shop in recent years. So I have set myself the goal of reading some old favorites , rereading to completion some others, and adding a couple of completely unfamiliar ones to my list. One of them will be Hard Times which two of our daughters read to each other at the end of the days when they hiked Camino de Santiago a few years ago. In addition, I’m reading two biographies of CD. The exhibit at the Morgan Library which my husband and I visited in December really whetted my appetite for this ambitious project, since I am always reading other things besides. This morning I offered Mass for the repose of CD’s soul: how many times do we think about praying for really famous long gone souls?

  19. AlexandraNW says:

    Oliver Twist. The volume covered in red leather, very old even then (50 years ago, now). Illustrated. The story was so gripping, so awful in parts. It helped me, a little girl in a pleasant place in a wonderful country, with everything I needed, to know that there were and are children who endure terrors and cruelty every day. Dickens made it understandable in fiction without leaving an impression of horror or fright. That is great writing.

    That said, I haven’t been able to wade into the other novels yet. I think one needs to be in the mood to settle down and let him take one into the story in his way, at his pace.

  20. Titus says:

    Come now, The Old Curiosity Shop is better than that. Not as good as David Copperfield, but better than that. Certainly it’s superior to Bleak House.

    It’s not surprising that Dickens gets mixed reviews these days: he is the very antithesis of a modern writer: heavily descriptive, no unity of time or place across a novel, strong moral dichotomies, and quite long. I have yet to understand literary modernism’s disgust with Dickensianism as anything but the recognition that the modern critic or author is incapable of replicating Dickens’s genius.

    Chesterton’s books on Dickens are spectacular, by the way.

  21. Ryan M says:

    I was hoping the poll was on whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, with possibly the option of the blurst of times thrown in out of fondness for that Simpsons joke.

  22. Mary Jane says:

    Wow this was a hard poll; I couldn’t decide! I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve read some and I’ve seen some of the movies. I liked Bleak House (gosh…I did a double-take when the one guy spontaneously combusted!), Our Mutual Friend was kinda creepy, liked David Copperfield…but in the end I had to say Tale of Two Cities.

  23. pseudomodo says:

    Can’t remember if I’ve actually read any but I did like the movie versions of them especially Christmas Carol (Alister Sim version!)

  24. Peggy R says:

    Halleluia! I thought I was the oddball who does not like Dickens. I’ve started a few. Didn’t like any of those I’ve looked at.

  25. lucy says:

    I chose A Tale of Two Cities because I can always remember the first line of the book. I also love A Christmas Carol and actually read it this Christmas.

  26. kab63 says:

    Spontaneous Combustion, without a doubt. Dickens was cinematic before there was a cinema.

  27. pinoytraddie says:

    A Christmas Carol. I am Disappointed however that He didn’t point out the REALLY TRUE meaning of Christmas.

  28. Jack Hughes says:

    Little Dorrit

    A tale of Justice Vs Injustice, Corrpution Vs Innocence, Honest work Vs corrupt speculation and Vanity Vs Humility. .

  29. tcreek says:

    Charles Dickens chooses David Copperfield

  30. PostCatholic says:

    The Boston Athenaeum owns a lovely sculpture of Little Nell by Robert Ball Hughes, circa 1851, which it displays on its magnificent second floor.Though I no longer live in Boston, I keep up my membership to this private library. When I am in Boston (I am frequently; Iwork takes me to Cambridge and volunteerism takes me to the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters steps away from the Athenaeum) I always enjoy spending some time on Beacon Hill and I think it would be rude not to pay my respects to Nell.

    My aunt Lilian also owned a set of dishes acquired at the movies in the 1930’s which had an artist’s representation of “The Olde [sic] Curiosity Shoppe [sic].”

    So hence, an explanation for my vote for a title in the Dickensian Canon I suspect many aren’t familiar with.

  31. bernadette says:

    I voted for David Copperfield. I studied English literature in college and I remember liking it very much as well as Hard Times. As far as why I liked them, well I confess that it was forty-six years ago and I had the heart and sensibility of a nineteen year old girl. Do colleges still teach Dickens? What a terrible loss if not.

  32. bookgetaway says:

    How horrid that you let me choose only one! I had to go with Dombey and Son (only 3 votes–that’s sad), mostly because it is a whacking good story and I love Captain Cuttle, but I also really like Bleak House, and when I re-read Hard Times a few years ago I felt it reflected our current times very closely! I’ve read all of Dickens; I don’t like all his books equally, but I do appreciate his skill, humour, and keen eye for what happens to the poor. Yes, in his personal life he seems to have been a sinner, but my husband and I agree that trying to judge an artist on the basis of his or her personal virtues seems to exclude very many great artists and is pointless, as we are all sinners! I’ll read their biographies (I’ve read several with Dickens as the subject) but I won’t judge their art with that in mind.

  33. mwa says:

    David Copperfield, for sentimental reasons. Having been confined sick in bed for a week around my 9th birthday, I blew through Alice and Looking Glass, and then picked up David. I was completely enamored and also quite grateful for the length, which kept me entertained for a good while. The characters have retained my fondness through rereadings over the years, especially Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick.
    [It’s a good thing I didn’t realize the author was the same as that of Oliver Twist. Went to see “Oliver” in first grade because our school was putting on a production of it, and was thoroughly terrified.]

  34. kwooding says:

    Pickwick–human and humorous!

  35. mwa says:

    Does anyone remember the scene in “My Brilliant Career” in which Sybylla is reading to the family from the newspapers they’ve papered the walls with? I believe it was Dickens she was reading, but can’t recall which novel.

  36. FranzJosf says:

    I’ve read three-fourths of the works listed, including several twice or three times, and I’ve come to believe that Dickens is on a par with Shakespeare in his understanding of human nature and in his ability to observe and report, in an artistic and entertaining manner, on that same human nature, capturing the motives together with the actions and results that grow out of them. Dickens, along with Shakespeare, had the capacity to understand what makes an individual ‘tick’ better than many a psychologist or therapist; it ought to be required reading for those learned professions. The sheer breath of his work and genius, I believe, is equal, in a way, to Bach’s B minor Mass or Art of the Fugue. (According to one of my English professors, Dickens famously said something along the lines of, “I’ve never met a boring person, because I’m interested in what makes a boring person boring.”)

    David Copperfield is my favorite, and I’m happy to report that I had arrived at that conclusion before I knew that that was Dickens’s favorite. Why? I can’t tell you exactly other than to say that had I a son, I would like it very much if his ‘inner man’ was like that of David, and that I had a great aunt (RIP) not unlike Aunt Betsy Trotwood, a staunch and demanding exterior with a lovely and lovable heart. Have you ever known a Mr. Micawber? I have. Most of these characters we’ve already met in life, one way or another. What can be uncomfortable is when one meets himself or part of himself in a Dickens novel! (An examination of conscience may be in order.)

    Nevertheless, I always have the Pickwick Papers at hand for a low moment when I need a pleasant diversion. One can read just one chapter to laugh aloud. I think the chapter on the parliamentary election is my favorite. The Blues and Greys, with their adamant supporters, the competing newspapers, the herd instinct, and Mr. Slumkey is running for office. How perfect a cynical name for a politician. And the necessarily long-winded descriptions of the campaigns that illustrate and illuminate them perfectly. Ah.

    (For people who really like Dickens, you might also like some of the many novels of Balzac’s Human Comedy; he, too, is a keen observer and reporter of human nature in class comedical fashion.)

  37. Nicole says:

    I chose Our Mutual Friend because my dad gave me a beautiful copy of that book for Christmas two years ago. I don’t really rate Charles Dickens very high in the literary world…but then again I’m not much of a fiction reader. :)

  38. APX says:

    I chose “A Christmas Carol” because it’s the only one which I can honestly say I know…sorta…from watching the Muppet Christmas Carol when I was a kid…I’ve never actually read one of Charles Dickens’ books…

  39. Athanasius says:

    I would go to great length to explain my vote for Little Dorrit, but I don’t think I can top what I did here: http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/08/little-dorrit-and-the-debt-crisis/

  40. sallyr says:

    I agree with FranzJosf – Dickens is a master at capturing so many little details that go into making a character real and alive. I read many of his books during law school, and perhaps this is why I chose Bleak House as my favorite. What an amazing picture of how distorted justice can ruin a human soul. The opening two pages of that book are absolutely astonishing for the picture they paint of old worn out moldy lifeless grey institutions of injustice. And yes, spontaneous human combustion is an added bonus detail.

    Finally, I want to echo a point made above. For those who hated Dickens’ books in high school, find some time to settle down and give one of them a second chance. They do require a bit of time and attention (and some peace and quiet) to appreciate them, but I do believe they richly repay the effort. Beautiful. Some of the only books that have made me laugh and cry.

    p.s. I downloaded his complete works with illustrations onto my Kindle for something like $5.00.

  41. Centristian says:

    “A Tale of Two Cities” I went with. Any book that begins comparing the jaws of the Kings of France and England (and the faces of their wives) is off to a fine start…and any book that sees a no-good alcoholic lawyer save the day can’t really be topped for shear tear-jerking impossibility.

    “Bleak House” next. More no-good lawyers. Got to love it.

  42. TNCath says:

    A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton. Enough said.

  43. Moreos1986 says:

    @Centristrian Speaking of More and lawyers, but not ‘More no-good lawyers,’ today is also the 535th Birthday of St. Thomas More!

  44. Wow! Only two votes for Barnaby Rudge. The only Dickens’ novel where the Catholics are the good guys. Sheesh.

    A student of John Senior (of UKansas fame) told me that Senior said that, after the ridicule Dickens subjected Catholics to in his earlier novels, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream and said that he should stop attacking “her people.” He then wrote Barnaby Rudge and never again include Catholics as objects of ridicule.

    Whether the dream is true or not, Barnaby Rudge is ins great attack on Anti-Catholicism. And a really great read. And yes, I am one of the two votes for Barnaby Rudge. Little Dorrit is his second best novel.

  45. Wow! Only two votes for Barnaby Rudge. The only Dickens’ novel where the Catholics are the good guys. Sheesh.

    A student of John Senior (of UKansas fame) told me that Senior said that, after the ridicule Dickens subjected Catholics to in his earlier novels, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream and said that he should stop attacking “her people.” He then wrote Barnaby Rudge and never again included Catholics as objects of ridicule.

    Whether the dream is true or not, Barnaby Rudge is his great attack on Anti-Catholicism. And a really great read. And yes, I am one of the two votes for Barnaby Rudge. Little Dorrit is his second best novel.

  46. AnAmericanMother says:

    Not a big Dickens fan. I have always thought his characters not “true to life” as so many assert, but types or caricatures, and his dialogue stilted.
    My favorite English authors from the time are probably Trollope and Surtees, which is fairly consistent with not liking Dickens . . . .
    Voted for Bleak House for the lawyers and, of course, the incandescent Mr. Krook.

  47. digdigby says:

    Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who said “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing?”

    I never really appreciated Dickens till I read Chesterton’s book – it especially made me enjoy The Pickwick Papers and the marvelous 1985 TV production. Well worth finding. Chesterton found a whole philosophy of life in the book.

  48. sallyr says:

    I take the point about the sentimentality surrounding Nell’s death as being off-putting, especially in our cynical, ironic age. But it’s also been reported that this death bed scene was based on Dickens’ own reactions to the death of his young sister-in-law, who died in his arms at his home after a brief illness. Perhaps we’ve so well insulated ourselves from death that we really can’t imagine what such an event would be like, and the reactions he writes about seem over the top. His contemporaries certainly appreciated the scene in a way we do not. I remember being told that Americans lined up at wharfs to greet ships from England, yelling out “has Nell died?” because they were still awaiting the latest installment of the novel.

  49. Mary T says:

    I love Dickens but then read “A Child’s History of England” (unexpurgated), and a more anti-Catholic children’s book I can scarcely imagine. Even when it is completely unnecessary, he throws in some nasty remark about Papists. A chilling read; even more chilling when you imagine how many Englishmen READ that book, and how it must have affected them.

  50. Supertradmum says:

    Mary T,

    Read Jane Austen’s very young girl book on a child’s history of Mary Stuart. You will enjoy the difference. Not all Anglicans were the same then-some high, some low. No pun intended.

  51. Johnny Domer says:

    I thought Pickwick Papers was one of the most interesting Dickens works because of the little short stories thrown in. It showcases Dickens’ early love of Gothic literature. David Copperfield has a special spot in my heart, though, since it was the first Dickens novel I really fell in love with.

    I personally thought that Oliver Twist is the most overrated of Dickens’ novels.

  52. Supertradmum says:

    Ok for those of you have not read Little Dorrit, it is considered Dickens masterpiece by literary critics, and I agree. If you do not want to read the book, look at the entire BBC series from a few years ago on YouTube and judge for yourselves. If nothing else tempts you, Andy Serkis, a la Gollum, plays the evil Rigaud. Here is the link and enjoy. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004ZNONDS?SubscriptionId=0SMVYTEJQZQ0MFNMXQ02&tag=clickermedia-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=B004ZNONDS

  53. Peggy R says:

    Today our local paper published this article about Dickens’ visit to the Southern IL in 1842. IL was still vast pioneer land in those days, mostly French and some Germans later, though some towns were well established. But, yes, even my husband from PA finds the flat prairies rather dull. Dickens wasn’t too kind about the Trappist monks who made a home for a while on some ancient Indian tribal mounds.


  54. teomatteo says:

    “These are the chains I forged in LIFE!” (A Christmas Carol) or “These are the chains we forged in the voting booth”

  55. John Nolan says:

    Unlike Trollope, whose novels are set in the present (which makes them more topical) Dickens preferred to set his in the past, so quite often the social evils to which he was ostensibly drawing attention had already been addressed. He adapts well for television, although you need to read the books for the complete delineation of characters and the fascinating sub-plots.

  56. AnAmericanMother says:

    John Nolan,
    Point taken, although they’re all retrospective now. I think because Dickens is nostalgic/backward-looking, his stories don’t have the immediacy of Trollope.
    And of course Surtees has his feet firmly planted in the present – as Kipling observed,

    It was a foul world into which he peeped for the first time–a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers, swindlers, matchmaking mothers, economically dependent virgins selling themselves blushingly for cash and lands: Jews, tradesmen, and an ill-considered spawn of Dickens-and-horsedung characters (I give Midmore’s own criticism), but he read on, fascinated, and behold, from the pages leaped, as it were, the brother to the red-eyed man of the
    brook, bellowing at a landlord (here Midmore realised that _he_ was that very animal) for new barns; and another man who, like himself again, objected to hoof-marks on gravel. Outrageous as thought and conception were, the stuff seemed to have the rudiments of observation.

    – Kipling, “My Son’s Wife”
    (a good story in its own right)

    For an antidote to Little Nell, read Trollope’s description of Mrs. Proudie’s death in The Last Chronicle of Barset. Best. Victorian. Death. Scene. Ever.

  57. Supertradmum says:


    You are my favorite commentator here and almost all the time, I agree with you But, to me, Dickens is absolutely timely. Those of us who experience the hatred of the poor and the stigmatization of want identify with Little Dorrit. And those who have cunning hypocrites in their families, love Martin Chuzzlewit, and those who have been involved in long, long battles with the law, as two of my friend in Malta and one of my friends in Lituanian, with law suits going on for six, seven and more years, understand first hand Bleak House.

    Dickens is universal and timely. His characters we meet daily. I have met Chadbands, and Pecksniffs. Yes, some of his stuff is sentimental, but I am sure as a lawyer, you have seen the types of legal beagles in Dickens in your territory.

    Sorry, and I feel so badly disagreeing with you. But, just as London is universal, so are his characters.

  58. AnAmericanMother says:


    You are very kind! and we don’t necessarily disagree.

    My criticism of Dickens is founded on what makes him appealing from a universal standpoint. I’m not at all denying that he’s timely and appealing — far from it.

    My problem is that his characters are archetypes, not human beings. They evoke universal sympathy for issues precisely because they aren’t fully drawn as individuals, and their plight therefore is more easily generalized to the issues themselves. That can be well done (as in Dickens, or in a far more obvious way, in Bunyan) or very poorly done indeed, as in any feminist science fiction screed you care to name.

    It’s just a personal preference that I like my novels to address these issues via conflict between more individual characters, as in Trollope (who often addresses the same questions). It’s more ambiguous and not always resolved (I was never satisfied, for example, with the crusading John Bold in The Warden, and apparently Trollope wasn’t either because he killed him off) but I just enjoy it more that way.

  59. AnAmericanMother says:

    I meant to add . . . I love your comments, especially the links to television and movies, which I almost never see. That’s really a closed book to me, don’t even know where to begin – and you give me a good starting point from somebody who knows! Thank you!

  60. Supertradmum says:

    Well, among other now fairly useless degrees, except for my own enjoyment, I have a Masters in English Literature and used movies in class to help those who needed a bit of encouragement to read. However, my strengths are Medieval Lit and Poetry, and Modern Lit and Poetry. I took all the classes for both degrees and could not make up my mind, as all the nice people were in Medieval, but I was obsessed with the modern. The 19th century, as the build up to the modern period fell into my area, but I read Dickens, Trollope, Austen, Thackeray for fun. However, I will go to the mat with you on Little Dorrit, as I see those characters as real. Maybe living in England for twelve years made the difference, as one bumps into Arthurs, Floras, Pancks, etc. Really!

  61. Angie Mcs says:

    I chose A Christmas Carol because of Scrooge’s transformation and redemption. Although Dickens never mentions the true reason for the holiday, he does show us that we should follow Christ’s message to “Love Thy neighbor as thyself”. All of Scrooge’s wealth did nothing to make it happy, it completely isolated him from his fellow man. It was only when he reached out to others to help them, out of love, that he experienced true joy and a connection to humanity.

    Dickens also shows us that we will pay dearly
    for our inhumanity to others after death. Marleys Ghost carries a heavy burden because he thought only of himself and fed his greed. Too late for him, he warns Scrooge: “Mankind was my business.” Something we can all learn, all year round.

  62. Bea says:

    Christmas Carol

    I love the lesson that we are “never too old to change.”
    Our family has watched it so often (It’s tradition to watch it on the First Sunday of Advent) that we can practically quote the entire movie by heart.
    My son surprised his teacher who thought no one would know what movie, who said it and exactly where the quote came in “I always know”

  63. jfm says:

    The Mystery of Edwin Drood

  64. carl b says:

    I read and enjoyed Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield. Edwin Drood was alright. But Hard Times put me off of reading any more Dickens…I presumed I had found his good pieces. On Fr Finigan’s recommendation, however, I’ll give him another shot in Barnaby Rudge.

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