The need which this book is intended to fill is indicated by its full title. It has been written for the general reader or the student who does not pretend to specialized knowledge, but who may welcome the background information here provided as a means of enhancing his understanding and enjoyment of a very great novelist.
The first half of the volume is largely factual; the second half critical. Chapters One, Two, and Three attempt to condense what it is important to know about Dickens' life, his age, and his peculiarly intimate relationship with the Victorian reading pablic. The ensuing chapters trace in broad outline the writer's artistic development. The choice of plot, character, and setting as the topics for critical discussion may seem old-fashioned. Yet, these were the aspects under which Dickens viewed the novel form, both in his own practice and that of others; and most of the best contemporary criticism of his work is referable to one or another of these traditional categories.
Its title may suggest that the present volume duplicates the contents of K. J. Fielding's excellent little study, Charles Dickens: A Critical Introduction (1958; second edition enlarged, 1965). Professor Fielding, however, follows a chronological plan, examining each of Dickens' novels in turn.
I am greatly indebted to the counsel of my friend and former student, Professor Robert L. Patten, Department of English, Byrn Mawr College.
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY
Last Modified January 2000