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Dickens: early pseudonymous works reviewed

Title page of the Quarterly Review, vol.59, 1837 [Rare Journals Collection]Title page of the Quarterly Review, vol.59, 1837 [Rare Journals Collection]Opening page of reviewOpening page of reviewClosing page of reviewClosing page of reviewThe Quarterly Review of October 1837 (59:484-518) carried a substantial review - over thirty pages long - devoted to a discussion of the works of 'Boz'. Much of its considerable length was composed - as many such reviews were at that time - to quotation from the author under review: in this case featuring extensive passages from Pickwick and Sketches by 'Boz'.

The review was unsigned, but was attributed by Dickens (in one of his letters) to a London journalist by the name of Abraham Hayward, who had apparently been disappointed that Dickens had declined his 'intimate acquaintance'. (Letters, 4 October 1837)

We give here the opening and closing pages, leaving out the many quotations which appeared in the review from Dickens himself.

The final page of this review has often been quoted, because it suggested that Dickens was an imitator, and that he was writing too much - that he was in danger of rising in popularity 'like a rocket' and 'falling like the stick'. There is a sense in which the second observation is not just sour grapes.

Dickens was indeed writing rather too much at the time: he started Oliver Twist before he had finished Pickwick, and Nickleby before he had finished Oliver Twist. It may be that his anxiety to marry and make a living, and fear of falling into debt like his parents, drove him to make agreements sooner than he wisely should have done. He did not take a break from novel-writing until after Barnaby Rudge; and certainly slowed down somewhat thereafter.

George Henry Lewes strongly criticised Hayward's piece as 'a blundering article' when he undertook to review Dickens's work that same year. He described the wide social breadth of Dickens's appeal, asserting that his readership extended from the aristocracy downwards.

Lewes himself had witnessed a butcher's boy with his tray on his shoulder reading Pickwick in the street. He could not have known that the young Queen Victoria herself recommended Oliver Twist to her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. (See Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist [K.Tillotson ed.] Oxford: Clarendon, 1966:400).

Lewes continued:

'Boz' should be compared to no-one as no-one has ever written like him - no-one has ever combined the nicety of observation, the fineness of tact, the exquisite humour, the wit, heartiness, sympathy with all things good and beautiful in human nature, the perception of character, the pathos, and accuracy of description, with the same force that he has done.... Boz has hit fame, not popularity, or in other words ... the admiration with which he is almost universally regarded, is well founded.' (National Magazine and Monthly Critic 1837 i:445-9)
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