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Top 10 books by Charles Dickens
In his journalism as much as his fiction, Dickens’s turbocharged imagination is truly incomparable. Biographer AN Wilson shares his favourite books
T he novels are unlike any other writer’s. People have likened them to poems, to visions, to pantomime, and they are all these things. If you want to see how different he was to all his contemporaries, just try to imagine George Eliot or Thackeray or the Brontë sisters doing those reading tours, when thousands of people, the poor in multitudes, came to hear him. Nothing like it had been seen since John Wesley’s preaching tours.
There have been thousands of books on Dickens. I wanted, nevertheless, in The Mystery of Charles Dickens to set down some of my lifelong obsession with his work. One thing I wanted to winkle out, if I could, was the relationship between the life and the work. Something much more complicated was going on than with most novelists, all of whom take versions of their own lives and turn them into fiction. At a much deeper level than most, Dickens was confronting his own demons – the wretched childhood, the appalling relations with women – and turning them into melodrama, tragedy, farce, burlesque. That sense we all flickeringly retain of our childhood self watching the behaviour of the baffling and often scary grownups – that sense in him was hyper-developed, and it is what turbocharged the books.
1. Selected Journalism 1850-1870 (edited by David Pascoe) It might seem paradoxical to start my list with the journalism, but Dickens began as a journalist and he never stopped being one. While pursuing a life as a prolific novelist, tireless charity worker, fairly frequent actor, Dickens kept up weekly journalism, and edited two of his own periodicals, Household Words and All the Year Round. Try reading A Nightly Scene in London from 1856, in which Dickens takes us to Whitechapel, where he finds five bundles of old rags thrown down by the walls of the workhouse. The bundles turn out to be women, of course. One of his strongest pieces. Or read Lying Awake , the justly famous account of the joint public hanging of the Mannings, a married pair of murderers.
2. Sketches By Boz Again, journalism, but journalism morphing into the fiction. He took the name Boz from his brother Augustus’s nickname. Published the year before Victoria became queen, and written when he was in his early 20s, it is so vivid, so warm, so comic, so passionate. London Recreations , whose title is self-explanatory, is not merely descriptive. It contains that hatred of busybodydom and evangelical humbug that burst out in a more mature essay for Household Words , The Great Baby – the baby being the public, patronised by Those Who Know Best.
3. American Notes A better account of the young Dickens’s take on the US than the one novel I’d deem a failure, Martin Chuzzlewit. He visited America’s prisons, saw its great landscapes, appreciated its hospitality and open-heartedness. But he could not stick the evangelical Christianity. “Wherever religion is resorted to, as a strong drink, and as an escape from the dull monotonous round of home, those of its ministers who pepper the highest will be surest to please. They who strew the Eternal Path with the greatest amount of brimstone, and who most ruthlessly tread down the flowers and leaves that grow by the wayside, will be voted the most righteous”.
4. A Christmas Carol In many ways this, the most famous of all his books, is his best. Christmas was central to his world-vision that simply trying to be a little kinder to one another both as individuals and as a society might be an experiment worth trying. If, reading these words, you have never tried a book by Dickens, I’d recommend starting with the famous story of how Scrooge was converted from a belief in money and power into someone who saw the power of love. The fact that it is set in the form of a fairytale is a good preparation for the longer fiction all of which, at its most successful, possesses some of the power of such stories.
5. David Copperfield His own personal favourite among the novels. A book that can make me – and millions of others – weep and laugh out loud, often on the same page. A sort of autobiography, but one in which all his family have been expunged. David’s father is dead before the book begins, his mother dies when he is still very young. And unlike Dickens, David has no siblings. The awful woes and cruelties for which in real life he blamed his parents are the fault of the wicked stepfather Mr Murdstone. This book has some of Dickens’s finest characters – Mr Dick, Mr Micawber, Betsey Trotwood – and, in the storm that engulfs the Suffolk coast, one of his most powerful descriptions of nature.
6. Great Expectations If Copperfield was a rather benign version of his autobiography, here he takes the gloves off. The person he is beating up is himself. Pip believes he has inherited wealth from the sinister Miss Havisham, the rich woman of Rochester, whereas in fact the source of his wealth is the convict, Magwitch, to whom as a child Pip had shown kindness. The mistake which Pip finds so shattering reveals, to him and to us, all his skewed values, all his cult of wealth and status. Technically the most flawless of the fictions, and one that makes for truly uncomfortable reading.
7. Little Dorrit In Copperfield, Dickens’s improvident father was depicted in the benign, comical figure of Mr Micawber, whose spells in the debtors’ gaol are a kind of joke. In Little Dorrit, the actual experience of Mr Dickens senior in the Marshalsea prison fed into one the most powerful of all his mature works. Equally terrible, presumably because it was unconscious on Dickens’s part, is his expression of profound mother-hatred in the figure of Mrs Clennam, the power-mad businesswoman exercising control from the darkened sick-room of her tottering house. An amazing masterpiece.
8. Bleak House Another great masterpiece. One of the things that overpowered me, as I reread and reread Dickens in preparation for my book, was how he confronted and analysed the sheer beastliness of the 19th century. In this book, famously, he satirised the slow, corrupt processes of the law and the high court of Chancery, but really, when you read of the death of Little Jo the Crossing Sweeper or listen to the slow drip-drip-drip of boredom and rain at the aristocrat’s house, or work out the tangles of the plot through the life and death of society solicitor Mr Tulkinghorn, you realise that it is the 19th century itself on trial, swathed, like London in November, in fogs of cruelty .
9. The Old Curiosity Shop A relatively early one, and very like a fairytale or a panto. It contains some of his most vivid characters, not least Mr Quilp, a furious, crazy self-projection, which tells you much more about Dickens than does the rather vapid self-portrait in Copperfield. Quilp’s cruelty to his wife is, we now realise, all too true a portrait of his own behaviour as a husband to his harmless wife. The relationship between Little Nell and her gambling-addict grandfather, and their attempt to escape Quilp, leads us on a journey out of London, with vivid landscape and cityscape pictures of the nightmare that was Victorian England. One of his best.
10. The Mystery of Edwin Drood In the book he did not live to finish, he returns to the Rochester of his boyhood. It seems to be very VERY different from the others, not least because, as far as we can judge from remarks he made to friends and family, he intended to end it with a monologue by a convicted murderer who had committed his crime while under the influence of opium. But there are many theories about who killed Edwin Drood, or, indeed, whether he was killed. The book shows signs of Dickens’s weak health, and some of the chapters are as dead as anything he wrote. But there is a flare of genius, like the glory of sunset, in the pages he penned.
The Mystery of Charles Dickens by AN Wilson is published by Atlantic Books. To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com .
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The Top 10 Charles Dickens Books
Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens is an outstanding biography of the writer with an eye toward his children, including the scandalous possible existence of an 11th child, born to Dickens's mistress. Robert Gottlieb, former Knopf editor, New Yorker editor, and lifelong Dickens reader, gives us the 10 best books from the master. For more on the book, check out our Q&A with Gottlieb .
Charles Dickens left us fifteen novels, and in an ideal world everyone would read all of them. (Well, maybe not – Barnaby Rudge is a tired and tiresome historical novel that the young Dickens kept putting off writing until contractual obligations forced him to finish it.) His first published book was Sketches by Boz – a collection of short pieces that brought him considerable attention. By the time he was finished with his second book – The Pickwick Papers , serialized between March, 1836 and October, 1837 – he was, at twenty-five, the best-known writer in England, and such he remained until his death, at fifty-eight, in 1870. The energy, the fun, the power, the compassion of his work is unmatched in English literature, with the obvious.
How do you rate works of genius? Partly by personal inclination, partly by accepted wisdom, partly by popularity. Perhaps his most widely known works are A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities , and both are wonderful, but they don’t make my own top ten list. Instead:
1. Great Expectations - With its thrilling story that is also a profound look at the moral education of a boy who has been persecuted and deceived but whose essential goodness of heart eventually rescues him from snobbery and delusion. Everything is in harmony in this almost perfect novel: the character of Pip himself, and his interaction with the immense figures of the convict Magwitch, the embittered and half-mad Miss Havisham, and the beautiful, cold Estella. This is Dickens’s most finely crafted book, and his most moving.
2. Our Mutual Friend - His final complete novel, with its vast panoply of characters, its emotional generosity, its violent drama, its rich humor – and its author’s most likeable (because imperfect) heroine, Bella Wilfer. I’ve actually read this book aloud twice, and still find it irresistible.
3. David Copperfield - Of course – the book closest to Dickens’s heart (it’s not by accident that the hero’s initials reverse Dickens’s own). The first-person narrative sweeps you along, and the characters -- from the wicked Murdstones and conniving Uriah Heep to the warm-hearted if feckless Micawbers, from Aunt Betsey Trotwood, Little Em’ly, and Steerforth, her seducer and betrayer, to the stout-hearted Peggoty and the silly lovable Dora, whom David marries – are indelibly printed on our literary consciousness. (Among its greatest admirers: Tolstoy, Kafka, and Virginal Woolf.)
4. Bleak House - With its vastly complicated plot and its immense cast of characters swirling around the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce that has been grinding away in the Court of Chancery for decades, Bleak House is for many readers Dickens’s greatest novel. An assault on the legal system, a satire on foolish philanthropy, a gripping melodrama, and an interesting use of point of view (told in both the third and first persons), it is a perpetual fascination.
5. Little Dorrit - In some ways Dickens’s most personal if not autobiographical novel, it has an autumnal quality, given its aging hero and quiet, staunch heroine. Its central characters not only prevail but mature, and its situations – even its comedy – resonate for its readers in countless affecting ways.
6. Oliver Twist - With its larger-than-life villainies and its endless excitements, is the perfect book to begin with. Who will ever forget the supremely wicked Fagin who co-opts homeless boys into a life of crime, the murderous Bill Sikes, the brave young Oliver himself, however idealized? No wonder it had such an immense triumph as successor to the benign and lovable Pickwick!
7. Nicholas Nickleby - Perhaps the most high-spirited of all Dickens’s novels, yet also a grim, devastating attack on the Yorkshire schools to which unwanted children were dispatched. The comically radiant picaresque adventures of young Nicholas with the Crummles traveling theatrical troupe provide a wonderful contrast to the tragedy of the boy Smike, the saddest victim of the Squeers family who run the unspeakable school called Dotheboys Hall.
8. Dombey and Son - A powerful tragedy of a distant, cold businessman who comes to realize too late the value of his worthy daughter, Florence, after the death of his beloved son, Paul – Dickens’s most famous death scene after that of the famous Little Nell of The Old Curiosity Shop .
9. The Pickwick Papers - And, yes, Pickwick itself – not quite a novel (it started out as a series of sketches to be illustrated) but filled with glorious characters – the benign, naïve Pickwick himself, his cockney valet Sam Weller (who steals the book; the Sancho Panza to Pickwick’s Don Quixote), the rascally Jingle – and hilarious episodes like Pickwick’s trial for breach of promise. The most decisive debut in English fiction.
10. The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens - Finally, not a work of fiction but the recently published The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens , edited by Jenny Hartley from the twelve volumes of the monumental Pilgrim Edition of Dickens’s correspondence. Here you find in Dickens the man, all the fun, acuity, sensitivity, and tough realism that characterize Dickens the supreme novelist.
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11 of the best Charles Dickens books (for every type of reader)
One of england’s best-loved authors, charles dickens was a prolific writer. if you’re unsure where to start with his many novels, travel books and short stories, here’s our guide to the best charles dickens’ books for every type of reader. .
Charles Dickens' books are an important part of our literary heritage, and Dickens is one of the most beloved English writers of all time. remembered as one of the great chroniclers of Victorian life, his brilliant wit and rich narratives brought him incomparable fame in the literary world, both in his own time and in ours.
From the well-known A Tale of Two Cities to the tale of Oliver Twist , Charles Dickens’ era-defining novels explore social concerns like labour conditions, poverty and childhood cruelty while keeping love, friendship and sorrow at their hearts. If you're not sure where to start, we're here to help with this guide to the best Charles Dickens book for every type of reader.
The best Charles Dickens book to read at Christmas
A christmas carol, by charles dickens.
An obvious choice perhaps, but Charles Dickens' beloved novella is a festive staple and the perfect Christmas read. A celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption, and a critique of Victorian society, it follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who views Christmas as 'humbug'. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased business partner Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future that Scrooge begins to see the error of his ways.
The best Charles Dickens novel for crime fiction fans
Part tightly plotted murder mystery, part biting condemnation of the corruption at the heart of English society, Bleak House follows the inheritance case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The case has been drawn out for generations, and we’re introduced to myriad characters from all walks of life. There’s Esther Summerson, Dickens' feisty heroine; Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, cocooned in their stately home in Lincolnshire; and Jo, the penniless crossing sweeper. With murder, secrets and spies, if your go-to genre is crime fiction , then this Charles Dickens book is the one for you.
‘ Bleak House is his greatest novel . . . with its backdrop of a legal system more invested in obstruction and obfuscation than resolution, it remains utterly contemporary ’ Anna Quindlen, Independent
The best Charles Dickens book for younger readers
When orphaned Oliver Twist runs away from the workhouse he was born in and arrives by foot in London, he’s faced with a world of crime, unusual friends and unexpected kindness. Centred around the lives of Victorian children, Oliver Twist is part pleasure, part education and the perfect book to get children into Dickens.
Charles Dickens' most romantic book
Also opening with a poor orphaned boy, Great Expectations tells the tale of how young Pip falls in love with a beautiful upper-class girl named Estella. Will class division get in the way of his heart? If you’re a romantic, this heartwarming, plot-twisting and captivating novel is the perfect Dickens novel to start with.
Charles Dickens' books that explore politics
Set in Coketown, an imaginary town inspired by Preston, Hard Times is a novel of social and moral themes which George Bernard Shaw called a ‘passionate revolt against the whole industrial order of the modern world.’ A savage satire of the social and economic conditions of the time, it addresses the trade union movement and post-Industrial Revolution inequality.
A Tale of Two Cities
Set against the backdrop of the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is the best place to start for a tense political novel. Dr Manette is finally reunited with his daughter Lucie after eighteen years of wrongful imprisonment in the Bastille. But when Lucie falls in love with Charles Darney, who’s accused of treason against the English crown, their family equilibrium is once again thrust into danger in this tightly plotted story of revenge and sacrifice.
The funniest Charles Dickens novel
The pickwick papers.
Mr. Pickwick, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass and Nathaniel Winckle are an unlikely band of travellers drawn together in the Pickwick Club of London. They journey around England befriending everyone from country squires to local literary giants in this hilarious and sentimental novel. The Pickwick Papers is the perfect, witty novel to get you into Dickens.
The scariest Charles Dickens novel
Dickens began the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas, but his frightening and fascinating tales aren’t confined to the festive season. From gruesome legal drama ‘A Trial for Murder’, to eerie domestic farce ‘The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber’, you are guaranteed a fright in Dicken’s Ghost Stories .
The best Charles Dickens book if you like to read autobiographies
Although David Copperfield is a novel, it was partly based on Charles Dickens’s own life and he described it as the favourite of his novels. The book tells the life story of David Copperfield, from his birth in Suffolk, through the various struggles of his childhood, to his successful career as a novelist. The novel’s outlandish cast of characters, which includes the glamorous Steerforth, the cheerful, verbose Mr Micawber, the villainous Uriah Heep, and David's eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood, make it a joy to read.
A Charles Dickens novel that will transport you back in time
Scenes of london life.
Scenes of London Life offers a genuine window into Victorian London through satirical short stories that take you from the colourful chaos of gin-shops to the destitution of pawnshops. If you want to be transported to another place, Scenes of London Life is an accessible way in.
If you only read one Charles Dickens book
Our mutual friend.
Often described as one of Dickens’ most sophisticated works, Our Mutual Friend was named one of the BBC’s Novels That Shaped Our World . The novel was the last that Dickens completed, and is a savage indictment of the corrupting power of money. When John Harmon dies and his estranged son is also presumed dead, his riches pass to his servants Mr and Mrs Boffin. They hire a young man to be Mr Boffin’s secretary, but what is this secretive man’s true identity?
‘ I find it irresistible: the autumn evening closing in, the crazy little boat afloat on the filthy Thames, the strong young woman plying the oars and a ragged, grizzled man, her father, busying himself with something towed in the water behind them. You are some way into the narrative before it dawns on you that it is a drowned body. ’ Shirley Hughes, Independent
In this episode of Book Break Emma explores the English seaside, including Broadstairs where Charles Dickens stayed while writing Nicholas Nickelby and where the Charles Dickens Museum can now be found:
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Charles Dickens' 10 best novels ranked: The Christmas Carol author's greatest works from Bleak House to Oliver Twist
Victorian novelist offers wealth of unforgettable characters and some of the most pointed satire on british society and manners ever committed to paper, article bookmarked.
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Few writers are as closely associated with the festive season as Charles Dickens .
His novella A Christmas Carol , which first went on sale on 19 December 1843, remains Britain’s favourite secular Christmas story, dusted down and revisited every year without fail.
Stephen Tompkinson playing miserly moneylender Ebeneezer Scrooge at The Old Vic this year is only the latest interpretation of a character who has provided the basis for every contrite naysayer since, from George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to Dr Seuss’s Grinch. Alastair Sim’s wonderful portrayal of 1951 remains the Scrooge to beat.
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Dickens was motivated to write his ghost story by a deeply felt outrage at the hardships of the urban poor he saw every day on the streets of Victorian London and the unfeeling avarice of the arch-capitalists of his age.
The author had known poverty himself as a child after his father John was incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark for debt, forcing the young Charles into hard labour at a boot-blacking workhouse.
In the winter of 1843, Dickens had visited Clerkenwell’s Field Lane Ragged School, a recently founded charitable institute for urchins. The deprivations of the pupils he encountered there only stirred his indignation.
Resolved to address his concerns in fiction, Dickens returned to an idea he had first touched upon in The Pickwick Papers (1836): the sinner reformed by supernatural intervention. In that novel, Mr Wardle tells the story of Gabriel Grub, a church sexton visited by goblins, who show him his past and future and inspire a more charitable attitude.
The Berkshire MP John Elwes and Jemmy Wood, owner of the Gloucester Old Bank – two men known as notorious spendthrifts – have both been citied as possible inspirations for Scrooge, whose name was taken by Dickens from a gravestone spotted in Edinburgh and whose philosophy serves as a satire on flint-hearted Malthusian economics.
The tale of Scrooge’s conversion from penny-pinching humbug to zealous altruist provided a cheering moral, but also set in stone our popular conception of the Victorian Christmas, a time of candlelight and plum pudding, undoubtedly two central reasons for its enduring popularity.
But Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas. While many will know A Christmas Carol intimately, the sheer length of many of his other works too often proves a deterrent.
Many readers will plump for The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) or Hard Times (1854) for their comparative brevity but, in truth, neither represents Dickens at his best. As Oscar Wilde so savagely observed: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”
Here’s our selection of Dickens's 10 finest novels, any one of which would provide ideal reading in the long dark nights to come.
10. A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Dickens’s foray into the French Revolution , inspired by a reading of Thomas Carlyle’s history of the Terror, is atypical of his output and certainly imperfect but a rollicking ride nonetheless.
The tale of Dr Alexandre Manette, freed from the Bastille after 18 years and newly arrived in England, where he is reunited with his daughter, Lucie. She marries the exiled French aristocrat Charles Darnay, who is drawn back to his homeland as the Reign of Terror erupts, the revolutionaries driven on by shopkeeper Ernest Defarge and his fearsome, vengeful wife Therese.
Only Sydney Carton, an alcoholic English lawyer also in love with Lucie, can help Darnay, a man he closely resembles.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens begins, offering one of the most famous opening lines in literary history.
Incredibly, he manages to surpass it at the close, with Carton’s desperately moving words as he awaits the guillotine: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
9. Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
The author’s earliest novels followed the picaresque format of his 18th-century forebears, notably Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, with Chuzzlewit recounting its title character’s being disinherited by his wealthy grandfather and forced to work as an apprentice for the comically self-serving architect Seth Pecksniff, a villain keen to wangle the Chuzzlewits out of their fortune.
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Chuzzlewit is best known for its second act, in which Martin sets out for America only to find the New World populated by fraudsters and the town of “Eden” to be a malaria-ridden swamp in dire need of draining.
A ripe piece of satire drawn from the author’s own experiences of the United States, which he had visited on a reading tour in 1842, Chuzzlewit leaves one chomping at the bit to imagine what the writer might have made of Donald Trump .
Pecksniff is a joy but, among the supporting cast, the gin-totting midwife Sarah Gamp is not to be missed, a particularly magnificent feat of comic characterisation.
8. Barnaby Rudge (1841)
Like A Tale of Two Cities, Barnaby Rudge is a historical novel set half a century earlier, this time dealing with the Gordon Riots of 1780, a populist anti-Catholic uprising inspired by Lord George Gordon’s inflammatory rhetoric against the Popist “infiltration” of Britain. Their cause has uncomfortable echoes of the far-right Islamophobia of today.
Dickens uses the appalling conduct of the rioters as a means of attacking mob violence and, particularly, the hijacking of political causes for crude personal gain. The hangman Ned Dennis, who loves his work, is a deeply chilling figure.
7. Nicholas Nickleby (1839)
Nickleby contains some of Dickens’ very best character work. The vile Wackford Squeers, proprietor of Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire, is a more pantomime assault on wayward educators than Gradgrind in Hard Times but all the funnier for that. The everyday evil of Ralph Nickleby though (another miser) is no laughing matter.
His fall at the hands of Newman Noggs, a man he has effectively enslaved by obligation, can only be read with a rousing cheer in a book that contains nothing close to a dull moment.
Nicholas’s spell as a repertory actor with Vincent Crummles’ theatre troupe and the tragic fate of Smike are equally stellar.
6. The Pickwick Papers (1837)
Commenced as a serial when the writer was just 24 and employed as a parliamentary correspondent, Dickens’s first novel strongly reveals his early debt to Fielding and Smollett and is also perhaps his most consistently funny book.
The tale of clubman Samuel Pickwick, who sets out like Don Quixote in pursuit of adventure in the naive company of messrs Winkle, Snodgrass and Tupman, planning to report back on their exploits to an enraptured audience of fellow Pickwickians.
Pickwick’s arrest and imprisonment in the Fleet for “breach of promise” after a misunderstanding with his landlady is hilarious, as is the clipped bluster of Alfred Jingle, the snoring of Joe and the wit and wisdom of Sam Weller, one of the great English everymen.
The Papers also marked the commencement of Dickens’ fruitful partnership with Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”), who took over as illustrator after the suicide of Robert Seymour. Only George Cruikshank would match Phiz in lifting the author’s unique creations off the page.
5. Little Dorrit (1857)
Lawyer Arthur Clennam, returned to London from China, befriends angelic seamstress Amy Dorrit and is shocked to find her supporting her father William Dorrit, imprisoned in the Marshalsea for debt (as Dickens’ own parent had been) for more than 20 years. Known as “the Father of the Marshalsea”, Dorrit is respected by his fellow inmates and too vain to acknowledge his daughter’s efforts on behalf of the family.
Arthur sets out to help, pulling on the thread and unravelling Dorrit’s financial affairs to the betterment of all, only for Clennam himself to be hit by calamity and end up taking his place.
Fresh from lambasting the judicial system in Bleak House , Dickens here went after the machinery of government through his portrayal of the “Circumlocution Office”, staffed entirely by a dynasty of Barnacles positively thriving on the business of chaos.
As in A Christmas Carol , poverty and the social structures in place to keep the downtrodden low are again his true target.
4. Oliver Twist (1839)
Perhaps the best known of the author’s stories outside of A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist casts its orphan hero among the thieves of London: Bill Sikes, Fagin and the Artful Dodger.
Dickens used his own unhappy adolescence in the workhouse to sketch in Oliver’s childhood under Mr Bumble and his experience as a journalist to report the plight of street children, forced into pickpocketing and worse by desperate necessity.
Sikes’s murder of Nancy is one of the most terrifying passages in literature and elevates the whole undertaking.
3. Bleak House (1853)
Dickens had begun his attack on the in-built absurdities of the bureaucratic behemoth that is the British legal system with Dodson and Fogg in Pickwick and revisited his contention that “the law is an ass” here to extraordinary effect.
The seemingly never-ending case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce at its centre rumbles on indefinitely, gradually chewing up the disputed inheritance in question until no one can remember its origins and there are no spoils left for the victor in any event: “Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it.”
The kindly Chancery lawyer John Jarndyce meanwhile finds himself legal guardian to Esther Summerson – unknowingly the daughter of Lady Dedlock, whose past drives the mystery - and to Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, the wards of court who fall in love and hope the case will be resolved in their favour.
Harold Skimpole – a sponging associate of Jarndyce who disingenuously insists on his state of childlike innocence to wheedle his way out of adult responsibility – and the ludicrous dancing master Turveydrop appear among another unforgettable supporting cast.
2. David Copperfield (1850)
This masterly bildungsroman charts the life and adventures of the eponymous hero, dispatched to live in an upturned boat on Yarmouth beach after his unworldly mother marries the cruel Edward Murdstone.
After boarding school and an unhappy stint in London, David is befriended in Dover by his monomaniacal aunt Betsy Trotwood before encountering the tippling lawyer Mr Wickfield and his “dreadful ‘umble” assistant Uriah Heep, the latter slyly seeking to usurp the former.
Betrayed by his schoolmate Steerforth, David rises to prominence as a novelist, has his heart broken by tragedy and ultimately finds lasting happiness.
Once more drawing on aspects of his own past, Dickens is on supreme form here. In the person of Wilkins Micawber, he offers another quietly devastating portrait of his own hapless father, perennially in debt and unfailingly optimistic of a brighter tomorrow. WC Fields’s portrayal in the 1935 MGM film is unmatched.
Armando Iannucci is nevertheless currently working on a new adaptation of Copperfield starring Dev Patel.
1. Great Expectations (1861)
Dickens achieved perfection with this gothic masterpiece about the ascent of a blacksmith’s apprentice from the Kent Marshes to the status of affluent London gentleman after he is bequeathed a fortune by a mysterious benefactor.
Pip erroneously assumes his patron to be Miss Haversham, an eccentric brewery heiress who has vowed revenge against all mankind after being jilted on her wedding day, but the truth is far more shocking.
Abel Magwitch, Pumblechook, Estella, Herbert Pocket, Jaggers the lawyer, Wemmick and the Aged P, Bentley Drummle and the heartbreaking Joe Gargery – all life is here.
Haversham, sat alone in her mansion wearing white, a three-tiered cake mouldering at her side, utterly consumed by hatred, would be worth the price of admission alone.
You can’t do better than David Lean’s version of 1946 with John Mills, Martita Hunt, Jean Simmons and Alec Guinness.
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Top 10 Charles Dickens Novels
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 1: Bleak House
Bleak House is the great writer’s grandest, most virtuosic achievement.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 2: Great Expectations
The older Dickens got, the darker his books. With Great Expectations, he asks: How long can a society ignore the nefarious, corrupt or compromised sources of its wealth?
Top 10 Non-Dickens Books for Dickens Fans
Dickens wrote fourteen and a half novels, which means that any devotee of his work runs the risk of running out. I recommend the titles below to fill the void and expand your sense of both his literary scene and his legacy. …
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 3: Little Dorrit
Contemporary critical reception of Dickens’ 11th novel was mixed, but in keeping with the gradual swing toward appreciation of the darker Dickens, it now stands as proof of his genius.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 4: David Copperfield
Every time I read the book I think, the story of a boy who overcomes adversity and grows up to be a writer? That’s the most cliché first-novel idea around. Except that it was Dickens’ eighth, and it marked a departure.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 5: Our Mutual Friend
Our Mutual Friend has one major flaw, for which I can’t quite forgive it. But it also has some of Dickens’ strangest, most haunting characters.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 6: A Tale of Two Cities
Forget for a moment that it has become one of the most clichéd passages in literature, and read the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities :
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 7: The Pickwick Papers
For decades after Dickens’ death, The Pickwick Papers remained his most beloved book. It has largely fallen off the map, but once you’ve read Pickwick, you see how crucial it is to the Dickens canon.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 8: Hard Times
Dickens’ shortest novel is very taut, and occasionally some sharp little passage arrives that reminds you of his more expansive greatness.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 9: Dombey and Son
When the death scene in Dombey and Son was published, all of England was apparently prostrated by grief.
Counting Down Dickens’ Greatest Novels. Number 10: Oliver Twist
“Please sir, I want some more”
Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel, and my first. My grandmother read it to me and my sister when we were young. We loved the part when meek little orphan Oliver, born out of wedlock in …
10 Charles Dickens Novels Everyone Should Read
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
When he died aged 58 in 1870, Charles Dickens left behind fifteen novels, five Christmas books, several volumes of travel writing, and dozens of journalistic pieces and short stories. But what are the ten books that best exemplify Dickens’s genius, his unique comic achievement, and those qualities which we tend to think of when we hear the word ‘Dickensian’? Undoubtedly a fool’s errand.
But we’ll give it a go anyway, if nothing else because it’s an excuse to share some great trivia about Dickens’s finest books.
10. A Tale of Two Cities (1859).
Reckoned to be one of the bestselling novels in English ever written, with an estimated 200 million copies sold worldwide, this is, in many ways, an oddly uncharacteristic Dickens novel. It’s shorter than most of his novels, and the humour and caricature are both used more sparingly.
Perhaps this is due to the historical events Dickens is depicting – the novel is set during the French Revolution. Still, it’s beautifully told, right down to the famous last statement from Sydney Carton – but to say more than that would be to offer a spoiler…
9. Little Dorrit (1857).
For this novel, Dickens drew on his own childhood experiences, which were blighted by his father’s imprisonment for debt (and Charles being put to work in a blacking factory aged 12). In this doorstop of a novel, Dickens casts a satirical eye over bureaucracy: Dickens coined the phrase ‘red tapeworm’ to describe a bureaucratic official, not exactly Dickens’s favourite sort of person.
The Circumlocution Office with its ‘motto’, How Not to Do It, has become shorthand for feckless red tape and ineffectual government departments.
8. Dombey and Son (1848).
One of our favourite pieces of Dickens trivia pertaining to this underrated novel is that it provides the earliest known use of the word ‘dustbin’. But that’s probably not going to send many people to this 800-page beast of a novel. Nor should it be read for Dickens’s somewhat overblown and sentimental treatment of the titular character’s neglect of his daughter, Florence (perhaps the first person to be called Florence in all fiction).
No, it should be read instead for the marvellous descriptions of the emerging railway network and its effect upon the English landscape, and for the panoply of comic characters; our favourite is Major ‘Joe’ Bagstock, with his purple face and repeated assurances that he is ‘tough – and devil-ish sly’.
Readers are bound to find echoes of their grandparents in some of the other more senior characters, too, among them Miss Tox, whom the Major has his eye on.
We have discussed this underrated classic Dickens novel in more detail here .
7. Our Mutual Friend (1865).
Dickens’s last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend is, like many of his novels, a huge beast with various subplots, a large cast of characters, and a mystery at its centre. The novel’s unifying theme is money and its power to corrupt.
T. S. Eliot’s working title for his poem The Waste Land was ‘He Do the Police in Different Voices’, which he took from Our Mutual Friend – the character Sloppy reads out newspaper reports to Betty Higden and puts on different voices for the various people mentioned in the report.
6. The Pickwick Papers (1837).
Dickens’s very first novel, The Pickwick Papers demonstrates his indebtedness to the eighteenth-century picaresque novels about journeys and tours, notably those by Smollett and Fielding. As such, it is less a ‘novel’ than a series of loosely linked adventures and episodes, with some inset tales (including Dickens’s first ever Christmas ghost story ).
After a rocky start, it soon became a huge success, after Dickens created a valet for his title character, the crafty cockney Sam Weller, whose comic turns of phrase earned him a dedicated following. (We’ve discussed the origins of Sam Weller in our post on Dickens and catchphrases .)
The tie-ins and spin-offs for the novel included ‘Pickwick pastries’ and ‘Fat Boy sweets’, and a medical condition, Pickwickian Syndrome – describing the difficulties in breathing that obese people experience – was even named in honour of the title character.
5. Oliver Twist (1839).
This novel is perhaps most famous for the early scenes involving the parish workhouse, in which the young Oliver – egged on by his fellow half-starved waifs – politely asks for more gruel. These scenes, though, occupy only the first third of the book, which then sees Oliver transported from his local parish to London. (The subtitle of the book is ‘The Parish Boy’s Progress’.)
There, of course, he meets the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates (referred to by Dickens mischievously as ‘Master Bates’ throughout), and the rest of the gang of pickpockets, led by Fagin (who himself is under the thrall of the criminal mastermind, Bill Sikes).
4. Great Expectations (1861).
This is one of Dickens’s greatest novels, and certainly one of the most popular among film directors and TV executives. It’s been adapted a number of times for both the big and small screen. One of the most remarkable things about Great Expectations is how quickly Dickens conceived and executed the idea for the novel: it was, essentially, the result of an editorial crisis.
Dickens’s new periodical, All the Year Round , was suffering from poor sales: the publication’s novel serialisation, Charles Lever’s A Day’s Ride, A Life’s Romance was not exactly a big hit with readers. In order to fix the problem, Dickens quickly replaced Lever’s novel with a new offering from the biggest name in the business, Charles Dickens.
The tale of the young boy who becomes a gentleman thanks to a mysterious benefactor has been enchanting readers – and many, many film directors – since.
3. A Christmas Carol (1843).
Technically this isn’t a ‘novel’ but a novella, but it’s one of Dickens’s finest books and certainly one of his most influential. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks, and it was published just six days before Christmas Day in 1843. Dickens’s rival, the author of Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray, called the book ‘a national benefit’, while fellow novelist Margaret Oliphant said that although it was ‘the apotheosis of turkey and plum pudding’, it ‘moved us all in those days as if it had been a new gospel’.
The book was more or less single-handedly responsible for the tradition of the Christmas Eve ghost story, which remains with us to this day. For these and other reasons, which we’ve outlined in a previous post , this Dickens book – although not a full-length novel – earns its place on this list.
2. David Copperfield (1850).
Dickens’s most autobiographical novel, David Copperfield is, like Great Expectations , a great Bildungsroman of a novel told from the perspective of the protagonist. Dickens himself can be glimpsed in numerous aspects of the book, from the title character and narrator (whose initials are the author’s reversed) to the eccentric Mr Dick, who lives with David’s aunt Betsey Trotwood and is afflicted by the ‘trouble’ of King Charles I, who won’t get out of poor Mr Dick’s head.
Other memorable characters include Wilkins Micawber, who is always in dire financial straits but remains optimistic that ‘something will turn up’ (this character was another inspired by Dickens’s father).
1. Bleak House (1853).
This novel, written when Charles Dickens was at the height of his powers and following the Jarndyce v Jarndyce court case, is – for our money – the best of the lot.
It has all of the most recognisably ‘Dickensian’ qualities: indictment of poverty and the conditions of the poor, a cast of colourful characters from all walks of life, and vivid descriptions of London (from the very first chapter’s depiction of that ‘London particular’, fog and the suggestion that it wouldn’t be unusual to see a Megalosaurus coming down Holborn Hill), Bleak House is by turns comic and profound, panoptic and microscopic in equal measure.
Recommended edition: Bleak House (Oxford World’s Classics) .
You may quibble over the order – should Bleak House be first, in your list? – but we’d say that most of the above would find a place on the majority of Dickens fans’ lists of his best novels. What would you put at the number 1 spot?
Continue to explore the world of Dickensiana with our discussion of his forgotten history book for children , this blog post about Dickens and London , and our pick of the best biographies and critical studies of Dickens’s work . For more book recommendations, see our selection of the best classic Gothic horror novels .
20 thoughts on “10 Charles Dickens Novels Everyone Should Read”
I don’t completely agree with your order, but I do agree that Bleak House is the best and the six you left off the list are the poorest of the novels, though I think they all have their merits.
As Dickens would say, “Happy Christmas!” I’ll look forward to more great posts in the New Year.
I’ll perhaps give you my considered opinion when I’ve got round to all Dickens’ novels — as it is I’ve only read a handful and seen dramatisations of a couple I haven’t yet read! Looking forward to BBC1’s upcoming serial / soap Dickensian in the hopes of getting to grips with characters I’m not yet familiar with.
When I was living in Slovakia, books in English were few and far between and very expensive on a Peace Corps budget. However, I found a little book store that sold paperback classic novels in English for $2 each. I spent one joyous winter re-reading the works of Charles Dickens. Thank you for this post. Have a Merry Christmas and a most wonderful New Year.
Thank you – Merry Christmas to you too! :)
I haven’t got around to reading OUR MUTUAL FRIEND – but thanks to your enjoyable, informative article, it will be near the top of my TBR pile for 2016…
Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve only read “A Christmas Carol,” but I’ve loved the movie adaptions of “Great Expectations” and “Bleak House.” I haven’t read “Martin Chuzzlewit,” but I grew up watching the miniseries (with Pete Posthlewait). I will add all of these to my (ever growing!) to-read list. :)
I love Dickens. My personal favorite is Great Expectations.
“Great Expectations” is my favorite and “A Tale of Two Cities” is a close second.
Reblogged this on Carolyn O' Connell and commented: Have read them all
Also, not everyone realises that before A Christmas Carol he wrote Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton – the prototype for Christmas Carol. He wrote a number of other Xmas stories. An excellent compilation with informative Intro is a Penguin Classic, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings.
Indeed – we’ve written about that fantastic Gabriel Grub story here: http://interestingliterature.com/2014/12/17/the-advent-calendar-of-literature-day-17/
I am currently reading Great Expectations and loving it, but I think that Hard Times should make it on the list. Dickens doesn’t always write well-developed characters. Sometimes I think this is deliberate (he uses caricatures and the grotesque to expose the dark-side if Industrial London), but other times I feel that his characters are one-dimensional to a fault. For example, his female characters tend to be sweet, innocent angels. However, in his later writings his characters are a lot more complex. I am seeing this in Great Expectations, his penultimate work. I think Hard Times is one of Dickens’ best works because all the characters are interesting and Dickens doesn’t go off on tangents that add nothing to the story or our understanding of the characters (something he does too much of in his earlier writings)
I’ve now officially put “Bleak House” on my 2016 reading list. I do love “Tale of Two Cities,” though and, in my youth, fancied myself a Sydney Carton. I just never had a cause to do a far, far better thing for.
My order would be Bleak House, David Copperfield and then either Little Dorrit or Our Mutual Friend. I don’t think I’d have A Tale of Two Cities on the list at all, as I think it is one of his worst books.
I haven’t read every Dickens novel, so I can’t argue with your selection. However, I do agree with you on most of the ten. My favourites (not necessarily his best novels in a literary sense) are Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and, to disagree with the previous contributor, A Tale of Two Cities.
Reblogged this on all things biblio and commented: In the new year I must get to reading Bleak House – it’s been on my shelf since I picked it up secondhand months ago.
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I’m so curious to know about the source of the illustration in section 4: Great Expectations on this website:
Could you be a little more specific about this? Who is the illustrator?
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11 best charles dickens books for every type of reader.
Charles Dickens, one of England's best-loved novelists, was a prolific writer. His famous books Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby are some of the best books to read this summer. If you're not sure where to begin with, his numerous novels, travel books, and short tales, here's our list of the best Charles Dickens books for every reader.
The Best Charles Dickens Books
A Tale of Two Cities
The Pickwick Papers
A Christmas Carol
Our Mutual Friend
Best Ghost Stories
FAQs: Best Charles Dickens Books
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The Top 10 Best Charles Dickens Books Ever Published
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Charles Dickens is one of the greatest authors of all time, and his writing defined the Victorian era. Even today, over one hundred and fifty years after his death, his words are treasured by readers of all ages around the world.
This prolific English writer produced countless short stories, essays, and articles during his wildly successful career, but he’s most famous for his novels. Yet, with so many iconic novels to choose from, it can be hard to know where to begin.
If you’re looking to embark on a Dickensian adventure, then the titles on this list are a great place to start. These are Charles Dickens’s most celebrated works of all and a wonderful introduction to this acclaimed writer’s work.
Table of Contents
1. Great Expectations
Great Expectations is a story of crime, mystery, intrigue, and revenge that has captivated readers for over 150 years.
Often hailed as Dickens’ greatest work, this timeless novel chronicles the life of protagonist Pip. Pip was a lowly orphan boy of just seven years old. With no parents to care for him; Pip seems destined to live out his years in lonely servitude. And deep down, he knows he can accomplish more. He dreams of becoming a rich gentleman and escaping his miserable life in the village where he grew up.
This transformative tale follows his unlikely journey to success and the many lessons he learns along the way to achieving his dream.
Also Read:- 10 Books by Alice Hoffman to Read Right Away
2. A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities goes down in history as one of the bestselling novels of all time. While this iconic title is quite different from Charles Dickens’s other famous stories, it still features many of his most prevailing themes such as: social injustice, anarchy, poverty and resurrection.
This classic example of historical fiction is also undoubtedly one of Dickens’s darkest books. It offers a raw and scathing commentary of life in London and Paris during the French Revolution. Further, taking readers on a journey back in time to one of the most turbulent eras in European history.
The story is driven by a cast of complex and captivating characters. The story revolves around Dr. Manette and his teenage daughter Lucie Manette, a barrister named Sydney Carton, a nobleman named Charles Darnay, and a pair of Parisian revolutionaries, Monsieur and Madame Defarge. Their captivating interweaving stories remind us of the strength of the human spirit, even in the face of unprecedented struggle.
3. Bleak House
Bleak House is undoubtedly one of Dickens’s most complex novels that don’t let you put off. It’s also widely regarded as one of his finest works, plus, it offers a fascinating insight into his personal experiences working in the British legal system.
Told in part by the novel’s heroine, Esther Summerson, and in part by an omniscient narrator, this satirical story follows an epic legal battle involving wills, inheritance, and beneficiaries.
Bleak House was widely criticized by those in the law profession when first published in 1853. They accused Dickens of exaggerating the truth. Nevertheless, the book played a key role in the successful fight for legal reform. And during the next two decades, Bleak House added to his legacy as not just an author but an activist for social change.
Also Read:- 7 Awesome Books by Author Jennifer Weiner
4. David Copperfield
Known as Dickens’s most autobiographical novel, David Copperfield is a fictional story. But, astute readers will notice some stark parallels to the author’s own life.
The character of David Copperfield transforms himself from an impoverished young boy into a fully grown successful novelist. The protagonist navigates the challenges of losing his mother, attending boarding school, and eventually finding love.
This iconic novel was also Charles Dickens’s personal favorite. ” Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”
So, if you want an insight into the man behind the pen, this is the perfect book for you.
5. The Adventures of Oliver Twist
The Adventures of Oliver Twist is a classic example of Dickens doing what Dickens did best, highlighting injustice to bring about real change.
The tale begins when a young, orphaned Oliver is taken under the wing of the cunning Artful Dodger. And then, Oliver is suddenly thrust into a dark and gritty world of crime on the unforgiving streets of Victorian London.
In many ways, Oliver Twist’s story is a painfully realistic portrait of life for many children during that time. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom; this is one of Dickens’s most captivating tales, filled with all the danger, mystery, and excitement that this author is so famous for.
6. A Christmas Carol
Though it’s not technically a full-length novel, no list of Charles Dickens books would be complete without mentioning his beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.
Guided by four ghosts, the ill-mannered, selfish, and spiteful Ebenezer Scrooge slowly transforms into a generous, warm-hearted man. He learns the value of helping others and the impact that a simple act of kindness can have.
This famous tale has defined much of the modern British Christmas. Ever since it was first published in 1843, it’s helped to change the public outlook on the festive season. The story’s impact is still evident in the way we celebrate today.
It’s also the book that coined the common phrase still heard by many curmudgeons each year…
‘If I had my way, every idiot who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips would be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug! ‘
7. Hard Times
Hard Times is set in an era when children were seen and not heard, in a place where life for many revolved around mere survival.
It’s a scathing critique of society in England during the industrial boom in the mid 19th century. It is about the times when rich mill owners were getting richer, and the working class struggled to feed their families.
Under grey skies, living in squalid conditions, the story follows two children growing up without guidance, principles, and love. And things they need to become whole human beings. As they fall into a life of crime and despair, their father realizes all too late that it was his own misguided parenting that led to his children’s demise.
Also Read:- A Full List of Books by Author Bob Goff and Their Reading Order
8. Nicholas Nickleby
Nicholas Nickleby is one of Charles Dickens’s most raucous and humorous novels. It follows the story of a young man struggling to put food on the table after his father’s death.
Desperate to find a way to provide for his sister and mother, Nicholas approaches his wealthy uncle Ralph. He hopes that Ralph may be able to find him some work. But his cold-hearted uncle refuses to help his late brother’s family. And thus, Nicholas is forced to make ends meet under seemingly impossible circumstances.
Though the premise might sound a little depressing, this novel features some of Dickens’s most memorable characters who bring wit and eccentricity to this otherwise solemn story of unfairness and injustice.
9. Little Dorrit
Little Dorrit is one of Dickens’s longer and less well-known novels, but it’s a captivating read nonetheless.
It tells the tale of Amy Dorrit, a sweet young girl raised inside Marshalsea Prison, where her father has long been imprisoned for his unpaid debts.
The story highlights the unfairness of a judicial system that locks away those who cannot pay. It removes debtors’ ability to work off the debts that put them in such an unfortunate situation, to begin with.
It’s an injustice that Dickens himself knew well, as his own father served time in Marshalsea, just like Amy Dorrit’s.
10. Our Mutual Friend
Our Mutual Friend highlights the perils of greed, and reminds us that the pursuit of money is a dangerous quest. The book is drenched in satire and Dickens’s usual scathing social critiques. It follows the story of a large inheritance falling into the very unexpected hands of a kind-hearted, impoverished clerk known as Noddy.
This was Dickens’s final complete novel and is also widely regarded as his most sophisticated work of all time. It’s a complex yet satisfying read and a favorite among many Dickens enthusiasts.
So while it’s far from light reading, if you enjoyed his other books and their trademark themes of injustice and corruption, then this novel is well worth your time.
Charles Dickens is one of the most celebrated authors of all time, and any self-confessed bibliophile should give some of his novels a try. The books on this list are among his most adored works of fiction, so they’re a great place to start your Dickensian reading adventure.
And if you love Charles Dickens, then I have an extra special treat for you, too. Check out our Hooked to Books list of 45 amazing Charles Dickens quotes that remind us why this author is still so popular today.
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Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by BiblioLifestyle
Charles Dickens is a prominent figure of the Victorian Era and is one of the most celebrated authors of all time. He has crafted stories that have stood the test of time, captivating readers for generations with their insightful social commentary and vivid characters. So whether you are a novice reader or an ardent literature enthusiast, knowing where to begin with Dickens’ extensive works can be daunting. But if you’re interested in reading his work, but don’t know where to start, don’t worry! This guide will help you select Charles Dickens’ best books and start your literary journey.
But first, let’s talk about Charles Dickens
Who is charles dickens.
Charles Dickens was a Victorian-era novelist born in England in 1812. He wrote over 15 novels, as well as many short stories and other works. Charles Dickens is best known for his vivid characters and storylines that still captivate readers today.
For more about Charles Dickens and his family, including his wife and children, along with more of his books, read my “Reading & Discovering Charles Dickens” article.
About Charles Dickens Books
What was charles dickens first successful book.
Charles Dickens’ first successful book was “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,” also known as “The Pickwick Papers,” ( Amazon or Bookshop ) published in 1836. Originally issued in monthly installments, this novel was a huge success and marked the beginning of Dickens’ illustrious literary career.
What is Charles Dickens most famous book?
Charles Dickens’ most famous book is arguably “A Tale of Two Cities” ( Amazon or Bookshop .) Published in 1859, this historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Revolution has sold over 200 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books ever. The opening lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” have become iconic, further cementing its status in literary history.
What is the most read Charles Dickens book?
The most-read book by Charles Dickens is “A Christmas Carol” ( Amazon or Bookshop .) This novella, published in 1843, has become a classic holiday tale familiar to many, even those who have not delved deeply into Dickens’ broader work. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from an embittered miser to a man who understands the true spirit of Christmas continues to touch hearts, making “A Christmas Carol” a perennial favorite across generations.
What is considered Dickens best book?
While it’s subjective and opinions vary, many literary scholars and avid readers consider “Great Expectations” ( Amazon or Bookshop ) to be Dickens’ best book. Published in 1861, this coming-of-age novel weaves the tale of an orphan named Pip and his growth and personal development against a backdrop of social critique. The novel’s richly drawn characters, intricate plot, and exploration of themes like wealth, poverty, love, and rejection have earned it an enduring place in the pantheon of great literature. It’s an excellent starting point for anyone new to Charles Dickens’ work.
Which Dickens novel should beginners read first?
For beginners embarking on their Charles Dickens reading journey, “Oliver Twist” ( Amazon OR Bookshop ) is often recommended as the first book to read and I personally agree as well. Published in 1838, this novel offers a powerful portrayal of childhood innocence in the face of societal corruption and abuse. The story of Oliver Twist, a poor orphan navigating the brutal realities of the London underbelly, is both gripping and accessible. With its relatively shorter length compared to other Dickens novels, and its engaging narrative and memorable characters like the Artful Dodger and Fagin, it serves as a fitting introduction to Dickens’ style and themes.
6 Must-Read Charles Dickens Books
For readers looking to explore books by Charles Dickens, here is a list of six must-read books:
- Oliver Twist
- A Christmas Carol
- Great Expectations
- David Copperfield
- The Pickwick Papers
- A Tale of Two Cities
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
One of Charles Dickens’s most famous novels is “Oliver Twist.” The story follows Oliver, a young orphan navigating life in London and forced to work in miserable conditions. Yet, despite the hardships he faces, Oliver remains optimistic. Ultimately “Oliver Twist” is a dark and gritty novel that provides a glimpse into the lives of the poor and downtrodden in Victorian England. This novel is an excellent choice for readers who want to experience Dickens’ writing style and get a taste of his social commentary.
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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Another wildly popular book by Dickens is “A Christmas Carol.” In this novel, the reader is introduced to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy but miserly man who hates Christmas. Three ghosts visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve and show him the error of his ways. This novel is a heartwarming story that has been adapted into many different forms over the years, but there’s nothing quite like reading the original. If you’re looking for a heartwarming read this winter, “A Christmas Carol” is a perfect choice.
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Also, check out: The Timeless Lessons in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
If you’re looking for more classic or short Christmas stories to read, check out my “ Classic Christmas Stories that Will Leave You Feeling Festive “article.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
“Great Expectations” is one of Charles Dickens’s most well-known novels. The story follows Pip, a young boy from a humble background who suddenly finds himself with a large fortune. Pip leaves his home and family behind with his new wealth to pursue a luxury life in London. However, he soon discovers that money cannot buy happiness. “Great Expectations” is an excellent choice for readers looking for an engaging and thought-provoking coming-of-age story that explores class and social mobility themes.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
If you’re looking for a more personal story, “David Copperfield” is a great choice. The novel is based on Dickens’ own life experiences, and it’s his most autobiographical work. The story follows David Copperfield from his childhood through to adulthood and chronicles the many ups and downs he faces along the way. This novel is a powerful, moving story that will resonate with many readers.
P.S. David Copperfield is one of the books mentioned in my “ Memorable Parties in Classic Literature ” article.
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
If you’re interested in Dickens’ more comedic work, “The Pickwick Papers” is a great option. First published as a serial in monthly installments, the novel follows the members of the Pickwick Club, who travel around England observing and reporting on the people they meet. Along the way, they get into all sorts of mishaps and hijinks. The novel is packed with humor and satire, and it’s an excellent choice for readers who want to laugh out loud while they’re reading.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Last but not least, “A Tale of Two Cities” is one of Charles Dickens’s most famous novels, and it’s the book known for the iconic first line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The book tells the story of two cities, London and Paris, during the time of the French Revolution. The book follows a cast of characters from both cities and explores the themes of love, loss, and sacrifice. “A Tale of Two Cities” is a gripping and suspenseful read that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. If you’re looking for a suspenseful historical novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” is a perfect choice.
More About Charles Dickens
What are 3 of charles dickens most famous works.
Three of Charles Dickens famous books include:
- A Tale of Two Cities : Set in London and Paris, this novel explores life before and during the French Revolution. It remains renowned for its opening line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
- Great Expectations : This coming-of-age novel tells the story of an orphan named Pip and remains a staple in literature due to its exploration of themes like wealth, love, and rejection.
- Oliver Twist : As one of his most famous works, “Oliver Twist” offers a grim portrayal of orphanages and the underworld of London, illuminating Dickens’ critique of social stratification and poverty.
What is the most famous piece of literature that Charles Dickens ever wrote?
Arguably, the most famous piece of literature that Charles Dickens ever wrote is “A Christmas Carol.” This novella, which tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a miser to a kind-hearted man after visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, is synonymous with the holiday season and has been adapted countless times for stage, screen, and radio. Its message about the spirit of giving and the importance of kindness resonates with people worldwide, making it enduringly popular.
What is Charles Dickens least popular book?
While it’s challenging to pinpoint Charles Dickens’ least popular book due to the universal acclaim of his works, “Barnaby Rudge” is often cited as being less well-known among his oeuvre. The novel, one of Dickens’ earlier works, is a historical narrative set against the backdrop of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. Despite its lesser-known status, “Barnaby Rudge” still showcases Dickens’ masterful storytelling and keen social commentary, making it worth a read for any Dickens aficionado.
Why is Charles Dickens so famous today?
Charles Dickens’ work is still widely read and appreciated today due to the timeless themes he explores. Charles Dickens’ novels remain popular because they offer insight into human nature while providing an entertaining experience for readers. His works are full of unforgettable characters that stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading the book. Charles Dickens’ work has also been adapted into films, television shows, plays, and musicals.
By reading Charles Dickens’ works, readers can gain insight into his time’s social and political issues. No matter which Charles Dickens book you choose to read first, you are sure to enjoy the timeless stories he wrote. So if you’re looking for a great place to start your Charles Dickens journey, look no further! These six books will give you an introduction to Charles Dickens.
What do you think about the Charles Dickens books on this list?
Have you read any of Charles Dickens books? Are any of these books or his other works on your TBR? What do you think are Charles Dickens best books? What do you consider to be Charles Dickens famous books? What is your favorite book by Dickens? What books would you add to this list? Let us talk all about Charles Dickens in the comments below.
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10 Charles Dickens Books Everyone Should Read
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and Charles Dickens was there to write it all down.
- Photo Credit: Public Domain
Arguably the greatest novelist in the Victorian era, Dickens was also its most popular. In fact, he still is. Dickens' books haven’t been out of print since he wrote them and he’s still one of the most sold authors in the UK. Considered a literary genius, he, like Shakespeare, created words and phrases of his own .
Because of him, we have words like butter-fingers, flummox, the creeps, dustbit, ugsome, and more. His name alone is a term. "Dickensian" is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writing, such as poor social and working conditions, or comically repulsive characters.
What is Charles Dickens' best selling novel?
Though we're betting today's readership is more familiar with the plot of A Christmas Carol , thanks to the various film adaptations, the best selling Charles Dickens novel is A Tale of Two Cities. That doesn't mean you need to read it first, though! Do not be overwhelmed by the amount of writing Charles Dickens produced. Do not relegate him to the dustbin. Oh no—the man’s book’s have much to offer us to this day. That said, here are ten books to read in the best of times (such as ones in which you’re reading a good book).
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens
Serialized and published in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens’ best-known work of historical fiction. It is one of the best-selling novels of all time. According to World Cat, there are over 1,305 print editions. With themes of resurrection and social justice, and said to be partially autobiographical, the book is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of Manette, a French doctor imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live with his daughter, Lucie. The story is set against the Revolution and the Reign of Terror, a period in which massacres and executions took place in response to revolutionary fervor.
Related: Classic English Literature That Belongs On Your Reading List
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A Christmas Carol
Only Scrooges don’t love Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his most famous work. Published on December 19, 1843, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. By Christmas of 1844, thirteen editions had been released and the book still has never been out of print. It is Dickens’ most popular book in the United States. By 1944, over two million copies were sold in the United States alone.
For those who don’t know (which will be no one), it tells the story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. After being visited (spoiler alert), Scrooge is transformed into a kind man.
Fun facts: The phrase “Merry Christmas,” is because of the novella. He started writing the novella only six weeks before it was published. And if you really want to get into the Dickens Christmas spirit, A Christmas Carol isn’t his only holiday-themed work. In fact, he wrote a total of five small Christmas books.
Related: 12 Christmas Novels for Scrooges
One should have great expectations of reading enjoyment upon reading the enjoyable Great Expectations . George Bernard Shaw praised the novel: “All of one piece and consistently truthful,” he wrote. The novel follows the childhood and young adult years of Pip, a blacksmith’s apprentice in a country village. He suddenly comes into a large fortune (his great expectations) from a mysterious benefactor. He moves to London, Pip does, where he enters high society.
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The title is nearly a novel in its own right. David Copperfield is, officially, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) . Very much autobiographical, the work is narrated by the eponymous David Copperfield, highlighting the trials and tribulations of his life from infancy to maturity. Weaving together the tales of Dickens’ own life, with fictional accounts, it was Dickens’ personal favorite among his own writing. With deep themes of growth and change, the novel changed him as a writer and made him grow. It was published as a serial in 1849 and as a complete book in 1850. Other aspects of life woven into the work include keen observations of class structures, the criminal justice system, child labor, and the status of women in society.
Related: 5 Books to Read While Waiting for The Personal History of David Copperfield
“Please, sir, I want some more,” Oliver Twist says. Indeed—if you want a good Dickens book to read, keep flipping the pages of Oliver Twist . Dickens’ second novel (after The Pickwick Papers ), he satirizes child labor, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children. The book follows the titular character Oliver Twist. Born in a workhouse, the orphan is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. He escapes, travels to London, and becomes involved in a gang of juvenile thieves, led by the elderly criminal Fagin. Dickens doesn’t color the novel with rose-tinted glasses. The novel exposes the cruel treatment of orphans, the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution, and shines a light on the dark lives of criminals.
Prosperity and morality are not the same. This point Dickens wanted to make perfectly clear in Hard Times , his tenth novel. Published in 1854, it also drove home his thoughts on the social and economic conditions of England during the Industrial Revolution. Thomas Gradgrind is a wealthy retired merchant in the fictional industrial city of Coketown (Dickens’ only novel that didn’t have scenes taking place in London). Gradgrind devotes his life to a philosophy of rationalism, self-interest, and fact. He raises his oldest children according to this philosophy and doesn’t allow them to pursue fanciful or imaginative pursuits. Dickens wanted readers to understand that that philosophy (called “utilitarianism,” one that was popular at the time) was flawed. There is more value to humans than reason. There is the value of one’s heart.
Bleak House is the story of the Jarndyce family, who wait to inherit money from a disputed fortune in the settlement of a long-running lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. It’s also one of Stephen King’s top 10 favorite books .
Author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “ Bleak House is not certainly Dickens’s best book; but perhaps it is his best novel.” Literary critic Harold Bloom considers it Dickens’ greatest novel.
Others have considered it one of his worst due to its odd narrative structure (it’s told by a third-person omniscient narrator and a first-person narrator); its meandering plot and multitude of sub-plots; and it being populated by too many characters (many of them one-dimensional). Reading Bleak House might be bleak or it might be peak Dickens. It’s for the reader to decide.
Related: The 5 Most Difficult Books to Read
Little Dorrit is rather Dickensian. Published in book form in 1857, the story is about Amy Dorrit, the youngest child of her family, who was born and raised in a debtors' prison in London. Arthur Clennam encounters her after returning home from a 20-year absence, ready to begin his life anew. The novel showcases Dickens’ lifelong look at the darker aspects of London society, including the shortcomings of bureaucracy and the lives of the incarcerated. To note: Dickens’ own father had been put in a debtor’s prison.
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Nicholas Nickleby’s father dies. So begins Dickens’ third novel, published in 1839. Like many of Dickens’ works, it deals with the Victorian era’s class struggles. Nicholas, his mother and his younger sister, Kate, are forced to give up their comfortable lifestyle in Devonshire and travel to London to seek the aid of their only relative, Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’s uncle. But Ralph is a cold and ruthless man, who has no desire to help and hates Nicholas.
The Old Curiosity Shop
Queen Victoria read The Old Curiosity Shop . It was 1841, the year the book was published. She found Dickens’ work “very interesting and cleverly written.” The plot follows the life of Nell Trent and her grandfather, both residents of The Old Curiosity Shop in London. Nell, good and virtuous, is an orphan who takes her grandfather on their journey to save them from misery. She gradually becomes weaker throughout their journey. She finds a home with the help of her schoolmaster. She still gets sicker and sicker still. Dickens’ work has been described as the “apotheosis of Victorian sentimentality.”
Featured image of Charles Dickens, c.1867-1868, Public Domain
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