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|A Contemporary Review|
From The Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal:
For October 1838 ... January 1839
These excerpts from the quarterly Edinburgh Review discussed Oliver Twist during its serialized publication. Also included in this edition were "The Despatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington during his various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818," a "Narrative of a Voyage Round the World, during the Years 1835, 36, and 37," and "An Attempt to Develop the Law of Storms by means of Facts, arranged according to Place and Time; and hence to point out a cause for variable Winds, with a view to practical use in Navigation."
Mr. Charles Dickens... is the most popular writer of his day. Since the publication of the poems and novels of Sir Walter Scott, there has been no work the circulation of which has approached that of The Pickwick Papers. Thirty thousand copies of it are said to have been sold ... But Oliver Twist, a tale not yet completed, is calculated to give a more favourable impression of Mr. Dickens's powers as a writer of fiction than anything else which he has yet produced..
"[Oliver Twist] is coming forth in monthly numbers, illustrated with prints... the author has called in the aid of the pencil, and has been contented to share his success with the caricaturist. He has put [it] forth in a form attractive, it is true, to that vast majority, the idle readers -- but one not indicative of high literary pretensions, or calculated to inspire a belief of probable permanence of reputation. [It seems], at first sight, to be among the most evanescent of the literary ephemerae of [its] day - [a] mere humorous specimen of the lightest kind of light reading, expressly calculated to be much sought and soon forgotten - fit companions for the portfolio of caricatures - 'good nonsense,' - and nothing more. This is the view which many persons will take of Mr. Dickens's writings - but this is not our deliberate view of them..
We think him a very original writer - well entitled to his popularity - and not likely to lose it - and the truest and most spirited delineator of English life, amongst middle and lower classes, since the days of Smollett and Fielding. He has remarkable powers of observation, and great skill in communicating what he has observed - a keen sense of the ludicrous - exuberant humour - and that mastery in the pathetic which, though it seems opposed to the gift of humour, is often found in conjunction with it. Add to these qualities, an unaffected style, fluent, easy, spirited, and terse - a good deal of dramatic power - and great truthfulness and ability in description. We know no other English writer to whom he bears a marked resemblance...
... Oliver Twist, a tale not yet completed, is calculated to give a more favourable impression of Mr. Dickens's powers as a writer of fiction than any thing else which he has yet produced. There is more interest in the story, a plot better arranged, characters more skillfully and carefully drawn, without any diminution of spirit, and without that tone of humorous exaggeration which, however amusing, sometimes detracts too much from the truthfulness of many portions of The Pickwick Papers. The scene is laid in the humblest life: its hero is a friendless, nameless, parish orphan, born in a workhouse; at a time when workhouses were not subjected, as now, to the control of a central superintending board, and when attention was comparatively little directed to the condition of the poor...
Unfinished as this tale still is, it is the best example which Mr. Dickens has yet afforded of his power to produce a good novel; but it cannot be considered a conclusive one. The difficulties to which he is exposed in his present periodical mode of writing are, in some respects, greater than if he allowed himself a wider field, and gave his whole work to the public at once. But he would be subjected to a severer criticism if his fiction could be read continuedly - if his power of maintaining a sustained interest could be tested - if his work could be viewed as a connected whole, and its object, plan, consistency, and arrangement brought to the notice of the reader at once. This ordeal cannot be passed triumphantly without the aid of other qualities than necessarily belong to the most brilliant sketcher of detached scenes...
If (Mr. Dickens) will endeavour to supply whatever may be effected by care and study - avoid imitation of other writers - keep nature steadily before his eyes - and check all disposition to exaggerate - we know no writer who seems likely to attain higher success in that rich and useful department of fiction which is founded on faithful representations of human character, as exemplified in the aspects of English life.
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