"You only have to look around our society and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant - the great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt MPs, how the country is run by old Etonians, you name it, he said it." said leading Charles Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin explained ahead of the 200th anniversary of his birth on February 7th.
Engels said in the New Moral World journal that the new class of novelists such as Dickens, along with George Sans and Eugène Sue, "had brought about almost a social revolution in continental literature." Marx wrote in the New York Daily Tribune about "...the splendid brotherhood of fiction writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together." Marx's praise went to Dickens, whom he called "a painter who had drawn an accurate picture of the affected, ignorant and tyrannical bourgeoisie."
Dickens novels are full of images of 19th century England, in which the rich accumulated their wealth without a thought for the miserable conditions inflicted on the poor and destitute, particularly children.
In Oliver Twist Dickens describes the poor-relief system. In Nicholas Nickleby he does the same for the school systems. In Bleak House it is the turn of the judiciary to be lambasted. In Little Dorrit he examined the prison system, especially debtors' prisons, and attacked the Victorian class system. Great Expectations presents one of the lower class striving to get into the higher class. Hard Times is an onslaught against the industrial capitalists of "Coketown" but trade-union demagogues are not over-looked either. Throughout David Copperfield, the powerful abuse the weak and helpless. Dickens focuses on orphans, women, and the mentally disabled to show that exploitation, not pity or compassion, is the rule in an industrial society. Dickens draws on his own experience as a child to describe the inhumanity of child labor and debtors’ prison. Throughout the novel, Dickens criticises the view of wealth and class as measures of a person’s value. Many people in Dickens’s time believed that poverty was a symptom of moral degeneracy and that people who were poor deserved to suffer because of inherent deficiencies. Dickens, on the other hand, sympathises with the poor and implies that their woes result from society’s unfairness, not their own failings. A Christmas Carol arose from a trip to Manchester where he witnessed the conditions of the manufacturing workers there and caused Dickens to resolve to "strike a sledge hammer blow" for the poor and involves the redemption tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cruel, wealthy businessman.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." In these introductory lines of A Tale of Two Cities Dickens expresses an insight into the contradictory reality of revolution and the ambivalence for it felt by Dickens.
One cannot call him a socialist writer. Marx may have read Dickens but Dickens did not read Marx. He lacked any social plan for change yet in his books he exposes much of capitalism's darker side. He is reknown for his depiction of the hardships of the working class, so much so that the word "Dickensian" is now used to refer to the poverty-stricken exploited lives of workers in today's times.
"The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable." George Orwell