espite the influence Dickens has exerted over the development of the short story genre, as yet there has been only one critical work of volume length devoted to this subject: Dickens and the Short Story (1982), by Deborah A Thomas. Reviewing the volume in 1984, Michael Cotsell pointed up the short-comings of Thomas's focus on Dickens' short stories as attempts to escape momentarily from actuality, and in particular on her dealing with "The Tuggses at Ramsgate," "The Drunkard's Death," and "The Black Veil" as "studies of the mentally abnormal" (Dickensian 80, 117). He notes, too, her failure to analyze the interpolated tales in terms of their original publication contexts and "to define some special quality that would distinguish the shorter writings as a whole from the novels." Finally, Cotsell finds disconcerting Thomas's sometimes-vain attempts "to make connexions between unconnected pieces. . . ." With the exception of subjects such as Mrs. Lirriper on which she has previously published articles, Thomas tends to make the mistake of foregrounding literary and publication history rather than Dickens' short stories themselves. In some respects, Thomas's approach to the subject is surprising since she herself begins by criticizing modern publishers' fragmented approaches to Dickens' short fiction:
Those [readers] who do turn their attention to this neglected area of his writing frequently find it baffling, largely because of the manner in which much of it is republished in editions of his collected works. (1)
All too common is the approach taken by Allan Sutton and Company's Pocket Classics, which has published under the heading of "The Signalman" and Other Ghost Stories (1990) essays, sketches, and fancies as well as genuine short stories without any regard for the original publication contexts of these pieces; this approach is particularly unfortunate with "The Signalman" since the other selections in Mugby Junction do much to enhance the reader's assessment of the narrator and the circumstances of the oral narration of the tale.
A critical work that compensates for the gaps left by Thomas does not exist. The range of Dickens' short fiction should be re-assessed: whereas Thomas has limited her discussion to "approximately seventy-five distinct pieces written wholly by Dickens (not counting embryonic stories such as those in 'Nurse's Stories')" (2), there are roughly one hundred pieces that fall under the heading of short fiction, ranging from the youthful, free-standing stories in Sketches by Boz to the multi-part collaborative works such as No Thoroughfare (1867) that the mature Dickens undertook with writers such as Wilkie Collins, and the novellas of the 1840s that are collectively known as The Christmas Books . Secondly, outstanding critical articles on such issues as the interpolated tales in The Pickwick Papers and the narratorial strategies of "Hunted Down" should be reprinted to address topics that Thomas neglected as a result of her predispositions and biases. Finally, through a consideration of Dickens' letters, speeches, and essays such as "Frauds on the Fairies," an attempt should be made to address Dickens's aesthetic of the short story, still very much an embryonic form when Dickens began his career as a writer of short fiction in the 1830s. Dickens expert Harry Stone in "The Unknown Dickens" (Dickens Studies Annual 1) maintains that an essential first step in this field of critical discourse is establishing the canon of Dickens's short fiction, separating essay and pastiche from that which, in a modern sense, constitutes a body of short fiction.
Thomas approaches the subject of Dickens's short fiction chronologically, and such has often been the method for dealing with Dickens' novels; however, the short fiction of Charles Dickens does not lend itself to such a division as Kathleen Tillotson makes in "The Middle years: From the Carol to Copperfield " (1970). The received wisdom is that Dickens's novels, like the Victorian era itself, fall into three periods: 1835-1841 (the 'Boz' phase), 1842- 1849 (picaresque to bildungsroman ), and 1850-1870 (the 'mature' work). Rather, I propose that readers should regard Dickens's short fiction as falling into these non-chronological divisions:
- Boz Sketches and independent short stories, 1833-1867;
- Christmas Books and novellas, 1843-1867;
- Framed Tales, Pickwick to A Tale of Two Cities , 1836-1859
- A Critical Analysis of Dickens's Short Fiction
- Dickens' Aesthetic of the Short Story
- A Comprehensive List of Dickens's Short Fiction, 1833-1868
- Dickens and the Prose Farce: and "The Tuggses at Ramsgate"
Dickens, Mamie, and Hogarth, Georgina, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens, 1833-1870 . London: Macmillan, 1893.
Dexter, Walter, ed. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Nonesuch edition. 3 vols. Bloomsbury: Nonesuch Press, 1938.
House, Madeline, and Storey, Graham, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 1 (1820-1839). Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
House, Madeline, and Storey, Graham, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 2 (1840-). Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.
House, Madeline, Storey, Graham, and Tillotson, Kathleen, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 3. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.
House, Madeline, Storey, Graham, Tillotson, Kathleen, and Easson, Angus, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 7 (1853-1855). Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.
Storey, Graham, and Fielding, K. J., eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 5 (1847-1849). Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.
Storey, Graham, and Tillotson, Kathleen, eds. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol. 6 (1850-1852). Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.
Tillotson, Kathleen, ed. The Letters of Charles Dickens . Pilgrim edn. Vol, 4 (-1846). Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.
Last modified 8 June 2007