George Orwell wrote an essay on Charles Dickens and Dickens’ writing in 1939. It was published in “Inside the Whale” in 1940. Orwell wrote essays on a number of authors, and his survey of the work of Dickens is considered among the finest ever written.
Orwell views the work of Dickens through his own idiosyncratic lens. Himself a commentator on the society of this time, he also reflected the reforms he thought due for society. In his essay, he feels that Dickens was less of a true reformer, and truly had minor interest in changing the nature of the institutions he wrote about so critically.
Instead, Orwell says, Dickens wrote more about a change of spirit, a change of attitude toward circumstances. He does not profess any political doctrine, but talks about individuals having a change of heart, as in “Oliver Twist”.
Dickens appears more than outraged by what he saw in terms of the life conditions of the poor in England in his times, as well as the class structure that promoted this. Orwell points out example after example of this, as well as pointing out that Dickens proposed no real alternatives.
As much as the essay is a thorough review of the works of Dickens and the mind and philosophy behind those works, the essay is much more. It gives a framework for the thoughts, ideas, and philosophies of Orwell himself. Orwell remains enamored of socialism and does recognize somewhat of a kindred spirit in Dickens. While not a reformer or revolutionary in Orwell’s eyes, Dickens and Orwell do share a hatred of tyranny. This is a fascinating work.