Where to Start with Charles Dickens
If you’re interested in reading classics but don’t know where to start here are a few tips on where to start with Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens is arguably England’s most famous literary genius – like Tolstoy is Russia’s and potential F. Scott Fitzgerald is America’s etc. I would put an argument in for Jane Austen though – classic literature needs to highlight more women! But I digress.
Charles Dickens wrote 15 novels and a wide variety of short stories, novellas and essays. If you’re looking to jump into his work, I don’t recommend you start with his actual novels though. Surprised?
Here is where to start with Dickens:
- A staple Christmas classic, there is always an adaptation going on somewhere nearby at Christmas. Be it the beloved Muppets Christmas Carol on TV to a modern-day adaptation of the famous story via Doctor Who and/or the local amateur dramatics. Familiarise yourself with the story, if you’ve somehow missed out on this growing up, and then attempt the novella. It is under 150 pages and is surprisingly easy to read, despite Dickens’ usual colourful prose.
- If classics scare you for their length – most 18th and 19th century do seem to hit over the 500 page mark in my experience – then try some of Dickens’ short stories instead. I personally recommend The Chimes. It’s another great Christmas story.
- Another short story, but this time exploring the world of the supernatural. The protagonist goes to meet with a signal-man who’s been seeing strange things, and of course, the protagonist is a skeptic but by the end… A great Autumnal read.
- Now for an opus. David Copperfield is arguably the most autobiographical of Dickens’ work, at least from the childhood portion of the story. David’s father dies before he’s born and his mother remarries and then dies fairly soon afterward as well. David is sent away to a blacking factory – as Dickens was as a young boy – to earn a wage but ultimately runs away in search of a better life. The story continues all the way until late middle-age and is full of a wide cast of fantastic and memorable characters. I highly recommend you watch the Daniel Radcliffe and Maggie Smith mini-series adaptation if you want to know more about the story first. Then listen to the audiobook narrated by Richard Armitage. He does an incredible job!
- For all of those at school-age, Great Expectations. This is a very popular A-Level text because the characters are all three-dimensional in the sense that they all have agendas and can be judged as either villains or heroes depending on your perspective. The novel is quite short for a Dickens’, but still a relatively heavy text. If you want to watch an adaptation, I recommend the 1999 TV movie with Ioan Gruffudd over any other!
Whilst Oliver Twist the musical is a classic in its own right it misrepresents the story of Oliver quite a lot! It’s a much darker tale than the musical would have us believe, and the musical is dark, to begin with! And if you’re interested in Bleak House I highly recommend you watch the BBC TV adaptation from 2005 before reading/listening to the book. It’s extremely long and heavy with legal jargon.
What Charles Dickens’ book would you recommend readers start with? Or are you more of a TV/Film adaptation kind of person? Let me know in the comments below.