Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is heralded as one of England’s foremost novelists, with his rich prose, remarkable characters, and vivid and detailed depictions of Victorian society. Born in 1812, Dickens witnessed first-hand the class inequalities of British society during the height of the Industrial Revolution. His works highlighted the challenges faced by the working poor and disadvantaged. Famously prolific, Dickens wrote his novels in installments, as was common in the era. Dickens’s keen perceptiveness and poignant social commentary contribute to his immense popularity with readers, both during his lifetime and to this day.
Find below a list of what we consider to be 5 great works by the remarkable novelist.
And view our profile of Paperblanks’ Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend journal, which features a cover that depicts an original manuscript page from Dickens’ last novel, to learn about our unique tribute to Dickens.
1. Great Expectations
Great Expectations, Dickens’ 13th novel, is a coming-of-age story about a young orphan named Pip. The book is unusual for Dickens’ because of its length (it’s not quite as sprawling as his other works). In fact if not for constraints set by the publisher it would have been twice as long! Today many believe its tightness to be an asset over his other works. And while it may not be Dickens’ favourite of his works (see below), he once called it a “close second.”
2. David Copperfield
Dickens wrote in the book’s preface that “Of all my books I like this the best.” One of the possible reasons why: it’s probably his most personal work. Not only does the titular character’s story match many details from Dickens’ own life, they also share similar initials!
3. Bleak House
While not his most popular or well-known work, many believe Bleak House to be Dickens’ most accomplished and mature work as a writer. True or not it’s certainly his most complex and voluminous novel!
4. A Tale of Two Cities
One of Dicken’s most imaginative works, A Tale of Two Cities centers around Paris and London in the lead-up to the French and American revolutions. It also features one of the most famous opening sentences in English literature:
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 epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
5. Little Dorrit
Certainly one of Dickens’ darkest and gloomiest books, Little Dorrit concerns the subject of debtor’s prison and works as a criticism of the government of the period. As to its significance in the Dickens’ canon? According to Deb Gettelman, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross, Little Dorrit is the best novel to read to understand Dickens’ consciousness as a writer.