Charles Dickens

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Name: Charles Dickens
Abbreviation(s):
Creator: Charles Dickens
Date(s): Major works 1836-1870
Medium: Print
Country of Origin: UK
External Links:
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Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Dickens's literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observations on character and society.

His notable works include:

  • The Pickwick Papers
  • Oliver Twist
  • A Christmas Carol
  • David Copperfield
  • Bleak House
  • Hard Times
  • Little Dorrit
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Great Expectations

Like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Dickens has inspired numerous professional and fan authors to write spin-offs or other works based on his creations. However, with the exception of Christmas Carol adaptations (which are enduringly popular), there are notably fewer fics based on Dickens's canon than there are stories based on Austen's work or even Shakespeare's. On Austen Authors, Victoria Kincaid identifies this lacunae and identifies some reasons Austen is potentially more popular with fanwriters:

Obviously one part of the answer has to do with the popularity of romance; the marriage plots in her novels make them particularly accessible and appealing to a modern audience ... Wuthering Heights has a plot that meanders as well as several characters of questionable morals that modern readers might not identify with. And don’t get me started on Dickens or Hardy.[1]

Dickens-inspired Pro-fiction

Some examples of professional authors writing Dickens fanfiction include Blackadder's Christmas Carol, (a fusion of Blackadder and a Christmas Carol that uses the plot of the latter to talk about the former; or Scrooged, a modern AU of a Christmas Carol. More examples: here); Fagin the Jew (Oliver from Fagin's POV); Evrémonde by Diane Mayer (a continuation of 'Tale of Two Cities'); and Dickensian (a massive crossover fic that brings together characters such as Jacob Marley, Little Nell and a young Miss Havisham).

Dickens died before finishing 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', and many writers have attempted to complete the novel for him. One early example is 'John Jasper's Secret' by Henry Morford, which was first published in 1871 and wrongly attributed to Charles Dickens, Jr. and Wilkie Collins. The Doctor Who episode 'The Unquiet Dead' playfully suggests this book was inspired by the author's encounter with "ghostly" aliens.

One particularly noteworthy, if not especially famous, example of Dickens fanfiction is Robert Graves's 'The Real David Copperfield', a fix-it fic for the Dickens novel. (Graves is best known as the author of I, Claudius.) The Spectator notes:

Dickens ought to be ashamed of himself. Mr. Graves says so, and in The Real David Copperfield (Barker, 9s.) kindly explains everything that he would have been ashamed of, if he had only thought of it soon enough. For example; Dickens did not mean David to have loved Agnes Wickfield all his life. Certainly, he was to marry her after Dora's death, but only as a business arrangement. All his love had belonged to—little Emily.[2]

Dickens and Fandom

Historical Fandom

Dickens enjoyed huge popularity in his day, roughly equivalent to that of someone like JK Rowling (herself obviously influenced by Dickens). This degree of mass popularity is perhaps best demonstrated by the enthusiasm with which Americans met his 1842 trip to their country:

When Dickens's boat made a stopover in Cleveland, he awoke to find a "party of gentlemen" staring through the cabin window as his wife lay in bed.

"If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude," Dickens complained in a letter ... In 1842, there were no international copyright laws so Americans could read Dickens's works for free in pirated editions.

Once Dickens saw how popular he was in the US, he realised he could virtually double his income if his American fans started paying a going rate for his work.

"I am the greatest loser alive by the present law," he complained in letters home.[3]

Dickens was also an important figure in the rise of celebrity culture. He felt a need to explain (in his own publication, Household Words, where he also supported progressive female writers like Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford, North and South)) the failure of his marriage to a public that was personally invested in him. Dickens feared the damage the separation would do to his reputation.

Dickens' novels were published in serialised form, and came out something like how an episodic television show is released today. This created a lag period (sometimes extremely extended) between fans reading the previous chapter and receiving the new one (some American fans waited at the docks for the next instalments). There were numerous adaptations (both authorised and unauthorised) of Dickens's works, during and after his lifetime, some of which were published before the official serial had been completed. "In those cases, playwrights would make up their own endings to the story, much to the chagrin of the actual novelist."[4]

An example of the historical Dickens fandom can be found in the 1868 novel Little Women by Louisa May Allcott. In the novel, the main characters form a fanclub and start a fanzine for Dickens' 'The Pickwick Papers'. See, Fanfic in 'Little Women',

Modern Dickens Fandom

Dickens fandom is relatively sedate, particularly in comparison to that of Austen: the megafandom of the 18th and 19th century novel world. Fanfiction.Net groups all Dickens fanfiction together under the author's name. Archive of our Own has individual tags for each book, all of which have relatively few works (most of which were produced either for Yuletide, as fanfiction of the television show 'Dickensian', or as part of a crossover with another fandom). Dickens's novels are sometimes nominated in Yuletide, but are rarely large fandoms within the Yuletide selection.

A fan called Scrabcake, who describes herself as "Tale of Two Cities equivalent of a Trekkie" recommends the following 'Tale of Two Cities' fanfiction:

As far as good short fanfic that does not involve gay sex (of the hot Darnay on Carton variety) and cameos from Les Miserables (If I find any Sydney on Grantaire action, I might have to stab myself in the eye) , I've only found one. This is "The Seamstress" by Little Lotte. It's a sweet, sad little gem of a fanfic about the seamstress who rides to the guilotine with Sydney Carton which manages to maintain the tone of the original (as much as is possible). This is THE example of a good fanfic. Read it.[5]

There have been some Livejournal communities: dickenslovers (est. 2005); pickwicksociety (est. 2005), dickenskink (est. 2016, a kink meme). Dickens was also discussed in more general communities, such as Vice & Virture (19thC fiction, est. 2003) and victorian-rpg (est. 2006).

Christmas Carol fusions

Perhaps Dickens's greatest influence on modern fandom is the Christmas Carol fusion (similar to Blackadder's Christmas Carol, mentioned above). AO3, for example, lists almost 700 fics that match on the search 'Christmas Carol', and while not all of these follow the plot '[Character X] is bad in some way, meets 3ish entities around Christmas, and is then reformed', many of them do.

Some examples:

References

  1. Why Does Jane Get All the Fan Fiction?, by Victoria Kincaid on Austen Authors, 2016
  2. THE REAL DAVID COPPERFIELD By Robert Graves, reviewed in the Spectator Archive, 1993
  3. When Charles Dickens fell out with America, BBC, 2013
  4. The Familiar Dickens, Illustrated and Evaluated, LeHigh University
  5. Far, Far Better Things, Scrabcake, July 12, 2007