The Contribution to Journalism of Charles Dickens

Essay, 2009

7 Pages, Grade: 1.


The Contribution to Journalism of Charles Dickens.

Rosanna Hayes

Dickens’ most memorable and profound Journalistic contributions, it might be said, were his social criticisms. These social criticisms were also heavily entwined in his works of fiction. His narrative form of journalism enabled him to convey important opinions in a story-like way, and so possibly reached a wider readership. He also wrote short stories in newspapers and magazines under the pseudonym “Boz”. The intentions of his journalism reaching a wide readership are shown in “A Preliminary Word” for his journal in 1850 when he states “We hope to be the comrade and friend of many thousands of people, of both sexes, and of all ages and conditions”[1] (Slater, p175-179). This conveys Dickens’ desire to reach a mass audience and give the lower classes a better understanding of news and events.

However, he also encouraged the better-off to treat the working classes kindly and with more respect, as well as trying to encourage changes being made to living conditions. The standard of life among the poor in the 19th Century has been described as “abysmally low”[2] (Seaman, p43). This might be why Dickens’ article “To Working Men” passionately states that unless all readers “amend the dwellings of the poor, they are guilty, before God of wholesale murder.”[3] (Dickens’, p467-470). This article ends suggesting that if people were more sympathetic to the poor, there would be more understanding between the two divisions in society.

In the aforementioned article, Dickens uses an example of a working-class man going against his awful predicament and saying “I will not bear it, and it shall not be!”. This seems to take his own opinions away by using another character's voice, but is still intended to inspire the reader to make a change. This impersonal style of writing was very much respected by one of Dickens’ employers, John Black editor of the Morning Chronicle, who said about his work that instead of just passing judgment “Boz” could “create works for other people to criticize.”[4] (Slater, xii). The Morning Chronicle was a liberal Whig owned newspaper that was only second to The Times in circulation. Although referring to his reviews here, it could be argued that the same applies to his work as a social critic. For example pieces such as “A walk in a Workhouse” shows Dickens’ colourful use of the description of his surroundings such as people “crouching and drooping in corners.”[5] (Slater, p236-237) Dickens is thus able to come across as impartial, even somewhat indifferent, but yet evince his topics passionately.

His observations and harsh descriptions of workhouses, for example, enable readers to visualize these horrid conditions themselves and so hopefully feel sympathetic. There was a large wealth disparity in Victorian England, but also a growing middle class. Dickens’ work was aimed at all to read, but people with more money were the ones who were able to afford newspapers every day. His artistic flair meant that strong opinions and injustices could be conveyed in an entertaining way to such people. It would therefore perhaps, unlike other journalists, seem less like preaching.

Dickens’ hatred of workhouses may come from his experience as a child of being sent to a shoe blacking factory when his father was sent to debtors’ prison. This was evidently a very difficult time in his life, as he describes that his hope of becoming a learned man was “crushed”[6] (Forster, 22-23). For someone so eager to learn this was something that he was very upset about. Even after his father agreed to send him back to school, he never forgave his mother for wanting to send him back to the blacking factory. This experience most likely created some understanding and empathy for the poor that his readers may not have experienced, although he seemed to have a great sense of empathy and understanding inherently. It could be argued that Dickens’ experience at the blacking factory was over-dramatized and was just the “whining of a poor little rich boy”[7] (Jordan, p4) .But his upbringing in a fairly middle-class home inspired him to want to go to school and get a decent job, and the longing for these basic rights would have certainly been shared by the fortuneless of Victorian England.

He also seemed to want to create sympathy for women on many occasions. This is shown in 1874 when he helped to create a “Home for Homeless Women”, which he later ran, and also in his article “Ignorance and Crime”[8] (Slater p92-93). This article argues that statistically most women who commit crime have barely any education and usually no jobs, even saying they are “educated within the prison walls!”. This kind of view suggests that women were victims of their lack of education, which was quite surprising at a time when women’s issues were not widely brought into public view. Furthermore, another book states “Florence Nightingale’s campaign to establish nursing as a profession received support in the pages both of Household Words and All the year Round.”[9] (Slater, p330-331).These actions were probably seen as quite revolutionary as it might have influenced others to call for women in proper education at a later date. Although Dickens’ just believed in giving girls and women basic household education such as needlework, his journalism may have had a greater effect contributed to females starting to rise up in society.

One of the most important recurring themes in Dickens’ work is that of education, and as he linked ignorance to crime, he also linked bad education to child depravity. This is also very important because it is evidence of how Dickens’ directed the attention of society to public institutions. Dickens hated terrorizing children, and in 1901 James L. Hughes wrote that his work about ignorance “Brought about the establishment of free schools in England.”[10] (Hughes, pvii-17) In Demoralisation and total Abstinence Dickens hints to the fact that there should be education for all including the poor. If there were to be opened “new schools for poor people’s children” then in his opinion drunkenness would decline in poorer communities. He goes on to say “common sense and common duty should be taught in common terms”[11].This shows an understanding of different levels of communication, possibly why his own work was widely read.

Dickens also agreed with the ideas of Froebel when his article on Infant Gardens stated: “To make men and women better- it is a requisite to begin quite at the beginning.”[12] (Hughes, p136) This refers to the importance of education at a very young age. It might, therefore, be argued that Dickens’ journalism enabled him to voice his opinions on the education system and so lead ultimately to reform. These ideas of children being allowed intellectual freedom also seemed to contrast with Victorian ideas of children being seen and not heard. Him being an imaginative and dramatic person himself, sought to aid the development of children’s imaginations stated in the preface of Household Words.

Although possibly influenced by societal changes at the time, such as the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the burning of the Houses of Parliament, and the accession of Victoria amongst many things, it seems earlier things influenced Dickens. His experience of working in a factory as a child was an important influence, but also “the reading and the theatre-going were the raw materials, the sources of stimulation.”[13] (Devries, p17.) He was able to experience the cultural benefits of the middle-class, and the factory work of the poor. These multifaceted life experiences all contributed to his creative output. His large amount of reading and theatre attendance definitely influenced Dickens, to the extent of him nearly taking a career in acting until gaining a good job as a journalist. Even whilst working in the blacking factory he would tell stories to his workmates, and was very highly imaginative. Therefore, it might be said that his cultural experiences were the most valuable in shaping his writing, or at least his desire to write. His creative need for expression was inherent, but perhaps the factory work inspired his future content.

The press at the time was also a powerful industry. During Dickens’ life newspapers became more valuable as enterprises than at any other time. By 1819 the Morning Chronicle was “making an annual profit from advertisements and sales of £12’400”[14] (Smith, p79). Newspapers, however, were still quite risky to undertake. Dickens’ Daily News was nearly a failure, but survived. This was to become “The News Chronicle, one of the most important English newspapers of the last hundred years.”[15] (Smith, p122). One of its contributors was Harriet Martineau, the first female to be a leader-writer in England. This may also be seen as an important step for the equality of women in journalism, and society itself. The newspaper in Victorian England had become a very important industry in its own right, as its capital belonged to itself because a large part of its revenue was drawn from advertising.


[1] Slater, Michael, Dickens Journalism, The Amusements of the People and other Papers, JM Dent: London, 1996, 175-179.

[2] Seaman, LCB, Victorian England , Aspects of English and Imperial History 1837-1901, The Chaucer Press: 1973, 43.

[3] Dickens’, Charles, Selected Journalism 1850-1870, Penguin Books: New York , 1997, 467-470.

[4] Slater, Michael, Dickens Journalism, The Amusements of the People and other Papers, JM Dent: London, 1996, xii.

[5] Ibid, 236-237.

[6] Forster, John, The life of Charles Dickens, Volume one, JM Dent: London, 1969, 22-23.

[7] Jordan , John O., Charles Dickens, Cambridge University Press: London, 2001, 4.

[8] Slater, Michael, Dickens Journalism, The Amusements of the People and other Papers, JM Dent: London, 1996, 92-93.

[9] Slater, Michael, Dickens and Women, JM Dent: London, Melbourne and Toronto:1983, 330-331.

[10] Hughes , James L., Dickens as an Educator, The Appleton Press, New York: 1901, vii-17.

[11] Slater, Michael, Dickens Journalism, The Amusements of the People and other Papers, JM Dent: London, 1996, 163.

[12] Hughes , James L., Dickens as An Educator, The Appleton Press, New York: 1901

[13] DeVries, Duane, Dickens Apprentice Years- The Making of a Novelist, The Harvester Press Limited: New York, 1976, 17.

[14] Smith, Anthony, The Newspaper an International History, Thames and Hudson: 1979, 79-122.

[15] Ibid, p122.

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The Contribution to Journalism of Charles Dickens
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charles dickens, journalism, communications, media, author, newspaper, 19th century
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Rosanna Hayes (Author), 2009, The Contribution to Journalism of Charles Dickens, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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