As Robert L. Patten points out in his magisterial study, Charles Dickens and His Publishers (1978),

For over a hundred years Dickens has been reproached with having written for money. Schoolchildren on both sides of the Atlantic are taught that his novels are so long because he was paid by the word or the line, the implication being that Dickens sacrificed his artistic scruples to his bank account, and deliberately foisted on a gullible public reams of grossly padded letterpress. Literary critics have sometimes sophisticated this myth, arguing that in order to meet deadlines or to hide the paucity of invention, Dickens inserted into his early novels odd scraps of tales previously written and cast aside; or that, in Ruskin's phrase, he slaughtered characters as a butcher kills a lamb, to satisfy the market.

Of course Dickens wrote for money. He had to. Gissing's New Grub Street provides a grim reminder of the fate reserved for writers who, like Dickens, had no prospect of inheriting or marrying wealth. Dickens's writing was his means of livelihood. [9]

As Patten goes on to show, Dickens proudly assumed the role of professional author and considered it part of his identity — something much at odds, we must note, with most Victorian conceptions of the the gentleman who does not live by the sweat of his brow.

From Patten's recognition follows several key questions, including the following:

  1. How, as a true professional, did Dickens see his work differing from non-professionals?
  2. How did Dickens see his relation to his mass audience differing from that of authors who wrote for aristocratic patrons?
  3. What elements of contemporary publication methods formed part of professional skill? or to put this point differently, how does the professional draw upon specific methods of publication, including for periodicals and for book form?
  4. At what point in his career, and with what work, did Dickens discover — or invent — these specific methods of publication?
  5. Finally, what social and economic forces enabled Pickwick's sucess?


Last modified 2000