By Shukla Chatterjee & Sanjukta Banerjee.
First appearance: Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary
Studies in Humanities, 2012.
Article (7 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"It is true that Dickens did not set out to write crime fiction."Most of us don't think of Charles Dickens (1812-70) as a crime fiction writer (perhaps due
to fond childhood memories of A Christmas Carol), but good old Boz can justifiably be considered as a pioneer in the field:
"Crime and its detection; criminals and their motives behind it; victims and their predicament; investigation and its outcome: such elements produce the sensation
that has always mesmerized the imagination of the readers. The enthusiastic audience
was never turned down [but] rather catered with caution by specialized writers since
the dawn of this genre in the 18th century. The popular psyche that sometimes gets
tired of other literary forms never really finds it too much to digest suspense, thriller,
mystery and crime that usually involve the dark secrets of human hearts.
"This may be the reason why we still enjoy Dickens’ writings for we often come
across such elements in his writings. As we read Dickens more and more in the
perspective of the Victorian age and its special obsession towards crime, jail,
prison and policing, it is observed that he was drawn towards the secret that
excites curiosity. Perhaps it is this element of secrecy that renders his work as
universal in nature and still provides the same pleasure experienced by his
"A close analysis of Dickens’ great body of work including both fiction and
non-fiction marks the evolution of crime fiction from the initial success of the
detective story to the height of Holmes' popularity in the early twentieth century.
This is also perhaps the reason why even after two centuries, his works are so
much in demand that they are reproduced in various media. In spite of this
insight, Dickens’ crime writing is perhaps an undervalued aspect. In this paper,
therefore, we propose to read Dickens, as a crime writer with reference to his
revolutionary crime novels and try to find a reason for undervaluing his aspect
of crime writing, which in a way would attempt to prove either his success or
weakening of his ability as a crime writer."
When it came to sensing which way the winds of the literary market were blowing, Dickens was never one to let himself get becalmed:
"In fact Dickens was always with the trends of the market. Thus with the
publication of Newgate Calender, as Newgate novels became popular, Dickens
gave his readers Oliver Twist [online HERE]. Though published initially as a
series from 1837-39, Oliver Twist is an extremely successful and highly
controversial novel where perhaps for the first time Dickens profoundly
focused on the master criminal Fagin, who seduces young homeless boys
and turns them into criminals, and introduced to his readers his inclination
towards writing crime fiction."
"Crime during the Victorian age was an inescapable social problem. So as a social
novelist, Dickens tended to view crime in his novels more liberally. Not only Oliver
Twist, but even in Great Expectations [online HERE] Dickens’ dissatisfaction with
the prison system as well as a sympathetic portrayal of criminals is suggested."
". . . as a journalist, Dickens’ non-fiction took a more conservative stance towards
crime where he suggested that it was more important to focus on the punishment of
criminals rather than giving them a second chance to redeem themselves. This
becomes even more clear on a close scrutiny of the description of Inspector Charles
Field and his detection in his short article 'On Duty of [sic] Inspector Field' (1851)
[online HERE] and Mr. Bucket from Bleak House (1853) [online HERE]."
"Just as Fagin in Oliver Twist became a popular character through the sympathetic portrayal, Dickens’ contribution is worth mentioning in creating the prototype of the
literary detective as well. Though he did not set to write crime fiction, there is always
at least one puzzle to be solved in a Dickens novel and the crime and justice system
often comes in for castigation."
. . . which takes us to his only full-blown mystery novel:
"Dickens' fascination with the practice of detection continued in more articles
for Household Words on the detective force, and in his later novels. The unfinished
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), of which there had been numerous assumed
solutions, in particular represent[s] a move towards the detective fiction of the late
nineteenth century. Dickens was not only drawn towards the secret that excites
curiosity, he loved to introduce the game of hide and seek with the reader who
tried to anticipate the solution of the secret. It is perhaps the demand of his readers
as well as his keen interest and obsession with crime and policing that he intended
to write a mystery story that would reveal the secret to his readers at the end.
Unfortunately, Dickens died half way before solving the mystery."
". . . when we focus on the literary skill of his pioneering crime novels, we find that
he displayed a shrewd insight into the criminal character, meanwhile demanding
harsh penalty for those who broke the law. . . . In these novels specifically we find
the treatment of crime for Dickens was far more than an authorial device: it was a
focal point for his deep concern with social problems and played a vital role in his
attempt to understand these ills."
Endnotes and References (2 pages)
Typos: [Very uncertain punctuation and capitalization]; "or on [should be an] adult"
- There's more about Inspector Field on Wikipedia (HERE), the Jack the Ripper Tour
webpage (HERE), and in Grace Moore's Strand article (HERE), from which we quote:
"Dickens eventually became friends with the detective Charles Frederick Field
(1805-74), immortalized in his article 'On Duty With Inspector Field' and widely
regarded as the model for Inspector Bucket. Bucket is credited as being the first
detective to appear in an English novel. He stands out as the one figure in the
world of confusion that is Bleak House who never loses control."
- Our last entanglement with Edwin Drood was probably (HERE).