Monday, April 16, 2012

Charles Dickens' strengths and weaknesses


 Charles Dickens

I'm back from spring break and I'm going to switch gears a little. I was studying the life of Charles Dickens and I discovered that he had some very admirable character traits:
  1. He was incredibly hard working. He often worked to the point of exhaustion and beyond in writing his books and giving readings on them.
  2. He was a very generous man. He was known to always give to charities, did charitable work himself and when he separated from his family he provided abundantly for them.
  3. He was self-educating and gave his whole heart to his writing and his character development.
  4. He was a talented performer and people loved to hear his readings of his books.
  5. He loved his fans and paid much attention to them and sacrificed for them.
I found one major flaw, though, in Dickens character that greatly saddened me: he didn't put family first. He seemed to really be in love his wife when he married her and they had 10 children together but they were very different and over time their relationship worsened. Instead of becoming really invested in her and in the marriage, Dickens spent more and more of his time on his writing and his public engagements and commitments and less and less time on family and home.

They were only married 22 years before he finally left his wife and children. Separation was bad enough, but then he made the situation worse by trying to publicly justify his behavior. Because they had 10 children, this meant that there were many small children left at home. He saw little of them the rest of his life, excepting his two daughters that took his side in the separation and lived with him. He was disappointed in his many sons because "they struggled to find their place in the world."

In the meantime, he fell in love with a young woman (18 years old when he met her, compared to Dickens' 46 years) and over the last 12 years of his life spent much time with her. Divorce at that time wasn't an option so he tried to keep the relationship a secret but most people knew.

Learning these things about Dickens' personal life were quite disappointing to me especially because he created so many heroes in his books that actually had more solid characters than he did. I know he may have been frustrated with his marriage but he chose not to make his children his first priority. What's more fascinating about that is that he was always disappointed his own parents for not being there for him. He wouldn't put family first and failed in his most important work.

I'll always admire his writings and enjoy and learn from them but as for the man behind the work, I wonder how much more he could have been had he followed the examples of the men and women he wrote about.

3 comments:

Bonnie Parks said...

It is interesting how much we want the authors whose books we love to be morally good themselves. I'm with you; that's sad to hear about Dickens's family life. We learn from and want to follow the examples of some of his characters, and we want that feeling toward him as well.

Kim said...

It makes me wonder if it would have changed any of his writing or characters if he had been more family focused.

Audrey said...

I've wondered that too. The question I think of is: Do we have more influence for good when we are good?