The Dickens Industry

The Dickens Industry

Critical Perspectives 1836-2005

Laurence W. Mazzeno

The story of the surprisingly fluctuating critical reputation of one of the great writers of the English language.
Undoubtedly the best-selling author of his day and well loved by readers in succeeding generations, Charles Dickens was not always a favorite among critics. Celebrated for his novels advocating social reform, for half a century after his death he was ridiculed by those academics who condescended to write about him. Only the faithful band of devotees who called themselves Dickensians kept alive an interest in his work. Then, during the Second World War, he was resurrected by critics, and was soon being hailed as the foremost writer of his age, a literary genius alongside Shakespeare and Milton. More recently, Dickens has again been taken to task by a new breed of literary theorists who fault his chauvinism and imperialist attitudes. Whether he has been adored or despised, however, one thing is certain: no other Victorian novelist has generated more critical commentary. This book traces Dickens's reputation from the earliest reviews through the work of early 21st-century commentators, showing how judgments of Dickens changed with new standards for evaluating fiction. Mazzeno balances attention to prominent critics from the late 19th century through the first three quarters of the 20th with an emphasis on the past three decades, during which literary theory has opened up new ways of reading Dickens. What becomes clear is that, in attempting to provide fresh insight into Dickens's writings, critics often reveal as much about the predilections of their own age as they do about the novelist.

Laurence W. Mazzeno is President Emeritus of Alvernia University, Reading, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

The Dickens Phenomenon (1836-1870)
The Birth of the Dickens Industry and the Reaction against Victorianism (1870-1914)
Dickens among the Moderns (1915-1940)
The Tide Turns (1940-1959)
Dickens and Mainstream Academic Criticism (1960-1969)
The Dickens Centenary and After (1970-1979)
Dickens in the Age of Theory I: New Theories, New Readings (1980-2000)
Dickens in the Age of Theory II: The Persistence of Traditional Criticism (1980-2000)
The Future of Dickens Studies: Trends in the Twenty-First Century
Major Works by Charles Dickens
Chronological List of Works Cited


[A] thorough overview of Dickens critics and criticism since the advent of Mr Pickwick . . . . What fascinates about this book is, first, the persistence of certain unresolved issues and problems in Dickens criticism and, second, the continuing challenge of verbalising what it is exactly that bothers critics about one of our best-loved Victorian novelists, whose very greatness flies in the face of what we regard as good taste. . . . Mazzeno helpfully divides his summaries of the "Dickens industry" into meaningful chronological phases, each with its own bibliography. . . . [He] must have been reading Dickens for a lifetime, [and] handles the sheer bulk of his task with equanimity and fairness. TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT

Foregrounds very clearly the particular assumptions, preoccupations, and methodologies adopted by these several generations of critics and commentators in a way that casts light in two directions: both on Dickens as a writer and back on the critics themselves, and their times ... Mazzeno's book proves ... the very real existence of a thriving and dynamic Dickens critical industry, and I am not aware of a single other work that profiles the material with such breadth and historical reach. --John M. L. Drew, University of Buckingham

Mazzeno traces critics' attitudes toward Charles Dickens, beginning with his phenomenal popularity during his lifetime and continuing after his death through a half century of debunking ... Mazzeno does a remarkable job of providing succinct summaries and evaluations of 18 decades of critical commentary on Dickens's life and work ... An invaluable tool. CHOICE

Even veteran Dickensians will benefit from Mazzeno's clear insight into the origins and consequences of critical shifts in Dickens studies. STUDIES IN ENGLISH LITERATURE

The most impressive - and by far the most detailed - of attempts to analyze, categorize, and evaluate Dickens criticism in English. DICKENS QUARTERLY

Author Bio

Laurence Mazzeno retired as president of Alvernia College, Pennsylvania.

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