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The Critical Writings of Charles Dickens:
A resource for scholars and Dickens lovers

Literary Satire as Social Criticism

In the articles in this section Dickens, or one of his writers, uses the techniques of satire to attack social abuse. These articles are included among Charles Dickens' critical writings because they are reactions to expressions in literature of particular social problems.


In Bentley's Miscellany in 1836, Dickens published Mr. Robert Bolton:  The 'Gentleman Connected with the Press.'

Charles Mackay (1814-1889) was a journalist and poet, to whom Dickens wrote a letteron October 19, 1842, containing a review of Lord Londonderry's Letter. George Hogarth (1783-1870) mentioned in the letter was a lawyer and Dickens' father-in-law. Lord Londonderry's pamphlet was like a red flag to a bull for Dickens who always defended workers and deeply resented attacks on them from the rich and powerful.


Tyson, Moses. "A Review and Other Writings of Charles Dickens," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XVIII(1934), 177-96

Anthony Ashley Cooper (1801-1885) was the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury whose position Dickens supported. Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith (1788-1861), was a reformer and one of the founders of Westminster ReviewRead Letter


In "Threatening Letter to Thomas Hood from an Ancient Gentlemen," Dickens is paying comic tribute to the influence of P.T. Barnum's dwarf, Tom Thumb, a recent success at the Court and throughout the country. Dickens suggests that Hood should reduce the size of his magazine (Hood's Magazine and Comic Miscellany) and use the name Tom Thumb as author of his new novel.

Thomas Hood (1799-1845) was a humorist, poet, and editor of the New Monthly Magazine. The article, dated May 1844 can be found here.


In Dickens' "The Begging-Letter Writer," another type of "voluntary correspondent", who uses his literary imagination and craftsmanship to convincingly solicit funds is described and lampooned.


"The Begging-Letter Writer" was published in Household Words on May 18, 1850.


In "Whole Hogs," Dickens savagely attacks the temperance movement (in which his friend and illustrator George Cruikshank was active), and fanatics in general-people who saw everything in stark black or white.


"Whole Hogs" was published in HW on August 23, 1851.


"That Other Public," published in HW on February 3, 1855, was Dickens' attack on corruption. By dividing the public into two publics-"one that is worldly wise and all-seeing and another that can be hoodwinked," Dickens was able to condemn the Cabinet (pg. 85).


In early April 1855, Dickens wrote Forster a brief letter about the idea to write a story called "Thousand and One Humbugs."


Dickens published "The Thousand and One Humbugs" in HW on April 21, 1855, framing it as "factual."


Dickens continued "The Thousand and One Humbugs" a week later, on April 28.


Dickens published the third and last installment of "The Thousand and One Humbugs" on May 5.


William Henry Wills (1810-1880) was Dickens' subeditor on HW and AYR. Dickens wrote him a letter regarding Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), a social reformer and novelist who had written a pamphlet representing the Natural Association of Manufacturers, in answering a series of articles by Henry Morley in HW about the negligence of manufacturers in preventing accidents. Morley was to write an answer to Miss Martineau's pamphlet.


"Our Wicked Mis-statements" was Morley's reply to Miss Martineau. Dickens provided edits in a letter to Wills dated January 6, 1856.


Morley's "Our Wicked Mis-statements" appeared in HW on January 19, 1856. On the evidence of the previous letter, Dickens revised much in this article, as Robert Rathburn noted in "Dickens' Periodical Essays and Their Relationship to the Novels," University of Minnesota dissertation, 1957, p. 264.


On March 1, 1856, Dickens published a piece in HW titled "Why?" where he asked many rhetorical questions about the nature of British behavior.


In his article "Proposals for a National Jest-Book," Dickens ironically asks that a national jestbook be compiled to preserve the more humorous parliamentary debates, court proceedings, etc. Dickens proposes some sample jests in his article which reflect the attitudes behind social comment in novels such as Bleak House and Little Dorrit.


On March 7, 1857, Dickens published "Stores for the First of April" in HW.


On January 2, 1858, Dickens published "Deep Design on Society," musing on the number of facts in the world of which no one is aware.


On May 1, 1858, Dickens published "Please to Leave your Umbrella" in HW.

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