Happy Times

Charles_Dickens_characters

The English scenario at the beginning of the nineteenth century was quite depressing: mushroom towns, slums. children and women exploitation, workhouses, deskillment, widespread poverty. These were really hard times almost for everybody, but for Charles Dickens, because for him these happened to be really happy times. His early years, as anybody knows, were not promising, but after many unfortunate experiences he turned out pretty well: money, success, a big family, lovers – really happy times. But how? Artists had always found difficulf to keep a decent lifestyle without the help of an aristocratic patron or outside the pampered court life. Charles Dickens, actually, happened to live in the most fertile ground ever, that provided him with everything one needed to gain indipendence, wealth and everlasting fame: a vast paying reading public. Literacy had really started to spread in the eighteenth century and brought to the development a new popular way of writing, no more confined to the upper, cultivated classes. The great diffusion of novel writing, for example, led to a sort of “reading revolution”, but although books were still quite expensive, the great diffusion of lending libraries or circulating libraries made them affordable for almost anybody. Certainly, the greatest impulse to reading came from the development of magazines for general public. A the end of the eighteenth century, in England about 160 periodicals were published and 37 towns had their own newspapers. They were cheap or could be also available free of charge in the coffee houses. Furthemore train tracks and better roads vastly increased the expansion of the press along with the literacy rate. Charles Dickens understood he could have combined the great opportunties offered by this new press with his amazing narrative talents. He decided to serialize his works creating that pattern modern soaps still  follow: a great coup de théâtre at the end of each episode thus arousing curiosity and expectation for the next one. London was his favourite setting and his actors were the outcasts of his contemporary society. He looked at them throughout the narration with a sympathetic eye and after many vicissitudes he rewarded them with the hard earned happy end. A dream maker? Not really. In those hard times Charles Dickens had sensed a certain dynamism in the social system that could allow people to hope for a better future. After all, hadn’t that been the story of his life?

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2 thoughts on “Happy Times

  1. Today the american dream is based exactly on the same concept: a nobody can become a somebody; but the society in the US often prevent it or, at least, “goaling” for everyone is not as easy as it seems to be.
    In that period there was the same situation: someone tried and succeeded in becoming somebody, but those who missed their objectives were lots more.
    Happy endings let people hope and dream, nowadays and even during nineteenth century it’s not taken for granted.

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