Charles Dickens is the representative novelist. He represents the tendencies, manners, vices and virtues of his age. For the first time he introduced the poor and the oppressed. He felt the suffering of the poor and depicted pictures of their lives in his novels. He aroused the conscience of the people. He is considered to be the greatest creative genius of England. He is among the greatest humorists of the world. For Sheer variety and abundance of invention he has no equal.
Realism: Dickens is the pioneer of realism. His keen observation makes him a realist of high order. As a realist he centred his eyes on London and low life. To him London was the epitome of contemporary English life. He knew London thoroughly. Thus he was the first genuine storyteller of London life. His best characters belong to the lower class. In his novel we find workhouses, slums, prisons, cruel laws and poverty. As a realist, he exposes the various evils of Industrial Revolution. He describes vividly the terrors and tortures suffered by children. The sufferings of David in David Copperfield are the sufferings of many Victorian children. The sordid condition of English prison is also brought to light in this novel. Here he is sharply critical of poor laws and the working of the workhouses.
Humanitarianism: As a pioneer of humanitarianism Dickens criticised all institutions, churches, offices, laws, reformatories and aristocratic system. According to him they all are barriers in the way of natural human development. Thus humanitarianism is the keynote of his work. He is rightly called a great social reformer. He shows his sympathy for the out cast, the poor, the downtrodden, the exploited and all victims of society. In his novels children are presented as victims of society. David is one of them.
Characterisation: Dickens deals with characters, not with character. He does not analyse the individual but he portrays numerous kinds of human beings. He presents every detail of manners, appearance, dress etc. of his characters. It is said that his characters are not individual but types. His characters do not react upon each other. They do not act at all. They only behave and show off their unlikeness. In short, Dickens' characterisation is his notable contribution to the English novel.
Humour and Pathos: Dickens is one of the greatest humorists. In this context he can be compared with Shakespeare. Humour is the soul of his writings. The keynote of his humour is tolerance. It arises from the heart and not from the lips. His humour is broad, humane and creative, free and vivacious. He is par-excellence in creating humorous characters - Mr. Pickwick, Mrs. Gamp, Mr. Micawber, and Sam Weller. The admixture of humour, satire and farce is an important characteristic of Dickens as a novelist. Pickwick Papers is a veritable storehouse of humour and farce. His humour takes a satiric turn when he exposes the evils of his age. His satire covers a great part of English life. His humour and pathos can be sharply differentiated. The characters of David, Pip and Paul are fine mixture of humour and pathos. Thus we find artistic fusion of humour and pathos in Dickens' novel.
Plot Construction: It is said that Dickens's novels have no organic unity. They are full of detachable episodes. Characters serve no purpose in furthering the plot. His early novels are usually simple in structure. There he followed the picaresque tradition. In David Copperfield some efforts in made towards greater unification. In his later books he gained the power of constructing elaborate plots. Thus the novels of Dickens are remembered not for the plot but for the characters.
Thus Dickens is the most original novelist of England. He is one of the masters of prose. His style is often too much mannered. His style is the style of the working Journalist. Dickens has left us a rich and varied inheritance. His characters are a memorable contribution to the English novel.