11 Charles Dickens Novels Worth A Read

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie

Victorian Writer, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, a man that would have been 205 years old today, is still a well-loved author famed for his eloquent descriptions of Victorian London.

No other author seems to have captured the filth and squalor of his time in quite the same poetic way. 

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (A Tale of Two Cities)

We have become a nation that loves a good costume drama or a modern day Dickenson adaptation but is it an age we would truly want to live in?  Yes, it sounds like, if you were one of the fortunate with money to spare, life could have been quite fanciful, but surely the stench of decay and the wretchedness of a pauper’s life  etched daily onto the faces of people passing you by, the grim permanently infused into their skin would cause you to rethink.  Plus, if you were unfortunate enough to have been born into a poor world, the chances of living a life of freedom outside of the workhouses would have been slim thanks to the Poor Law of 1834.

Could any of us honestly say that we would prefer to live during this time?

‘It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and the mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above.” (Oliver Twist)

Yes, it would be nice to switch off from the modern world occasionally but I think most of us would prefer to simply reminisce, through the eyes of Mr Dickens, than actually be part of that world ourselves.

So, if you are looking for that opportunity to unplug from the modern world, which Dickens novels should you be reading?

11 Charles Dickens Novels Worth A Read

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie

Great Expectations

#1 Great Expectations

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Orphaned Pip is apprenticed to do the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.”

In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

“Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.”

Pick up your own copy here

Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie

Oliver Twist

#2 Oliver Twist

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

Oliver Twist is a young and vulnerable orphan born into Victorian London’s miserable workhouses.

At a young age, Oliver decides to take his life into his own hands and runs away from the workhouse that has been his home for his entire life. Finding his way to London, Oliver quickly falls in with the Artful Dodger, who leads the innocent Oliver to the infamous criminal Fagin. As Oliver stumbles through the dangerous corners of London’s dark underbelly, he only has his wits to depend on as he tries to escape a life as one of Fagin’s underlings.

“Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.”

Pick up your own copy here.

#3 A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become entangled through their love for Lucie Manette.

From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

“A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.”

Pick up your own copy here.

#4 Bleak House

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, Bleak House

Bleak House

“And I am bored to death with it. Bored to death with this place, bored to death with my life, bored to death with myself.”

Originally published in month installments, this is a novel about England’s Court of Chancery and the long-running litigation of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which has far-reaching consequences for all involved. The litigation, which has already taken many years and consumed between £60,000 and £70,000 in court costs, is emblematic of the failure of Chancery.

“There were two classes of charitable people: one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.” 

Pick up your own copy here.

#5 The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie. The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers

“Poetry makes life what lights and music do the stage.”

Read about the captivating adventures of the poet Snodgrass, the lover Tupman, the sportsman Winkle  and, above all, the quintessentially English Quixote, Mr Pickwick, and his cockney Sancho Panza, Sam Weller.

From the hallowed turf of Dingley Dell Cricket Club to the unholy fracas of the Eatanswill election, via the Fleet debtor’s prison, characters & incidents sprang to life from Dickens’s pen, to form a popular work of ebullient humour & literary invention.

“There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.” 

Pick up your own copy here.

#6 Nicholas Nickleby

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby

“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

When Nicholas Nickleby is left penniless after his father’s death, he appeals to his wealthy uncle to help him find work and to protect his mother and sister. But Ralph Nickleby proves both hard-hearted and unscrupulous, and Nicholas finds himself forced to make his own way in the world.

His adventures gave Dickens the opportunity to portray an extraordinary gallery of rogues and eccentrics: Wackford Squeers, the tyrannical headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, a school for unwanted boys; the slow-witted orphan Smike, rescued by Nicholas; and the gloriously theatrical Mr and Mrs Crummles and their daughter, the ‘infant phenomenon’.

Like many of Dickens’s novels, Nicholas Nickleby is characterised by his outrage at cruelty and social injustice, but it is also a flamboyantly exuberant work, revealing his comic genius at its most unerring.

“The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”

Pick up your own copy here.

#7 The Old Curiosity Shop

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, The Old Curiosity Shop

the Old Curiosity Shop

“It is a pleasant world we live in, sir, a very pleasant world. There are bad people in it, Mr. Richard, but if there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.”

Little Nell Trent lives in the quiet gloom of the old curiosity shop with her ailing grandfather, for whom she cares with selfless devotion. But when they are unable to pay their debts to the stunted, lecherous and demonic money-lender Daniel Quilp, the shop is seized and they are forced to flee, thrown into a shadowy world in which there seems to be no safe haven.

 “The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven.” 

Pick up your own copy here.

#8 David Copperfield

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, David Copperfield

David Copperfield

“Procrastination is the thief of time…”

David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy & impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist.

Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone, his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood, the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep, the frivolous, enchanting Dora and the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.

“My advice is, never do to-morrow what you can do today.” 

Pick up your own copy here

#9 A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie

A Christmas Carol

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

The imaginative and entertaining tale relates Ebenezer Scrooge’s eerie encounters with a series of spectral visitors. Journeying with them through Christmases past, present, and future, he is ultimately transformed from an arrogant, obstinate, and insensitive miser to a generous, warm-hearted, and caring human being.

 A Christmas Carol has come to epitomize the true meaning of Christmas.

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused” 

Pick up your own copy here.

And here is a couple you may not have heard of…

#10 Mrs Lirriper

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie

Mrs Lirriper

Mrs Lirriper is an involving story of people thrown together by chance that moves from the squalors of Victorian London to the sunnier climes of southern France.

Recently widowed, Mrs. Lirriper devotes her energies to attending to the needs of her assorted lodgers but when a newborn child is abandoned to her care, her responsibilities grow to new levels.

She enlists long time lodger, the Major, into the role of guardian and the two develop an increasing affection for the boy. In an effort to entertain the growing lad, they relate the stories of their fellow lodgers, little knowing that they are about to embark on their own real-life tale of impending death, guilty secrets, and mysterious legacies.

Pick up your own copy here.

#11 Pictures From Italy

Charles Dickens, Victorian London, Author, Novelist, Writer, books, Travelling Book Junkie, Pictures of Italy

Pictures of Italy

In 1844, Charles Dickens took a break from novel writing to travel through Italy for almost a year and Pictures from Italy is an illuminating account of his experiences there.

He presents the country like a magic-lantern show, as vivid images ceaselessly appear before his and his readers’ eyes.

Italy’s most famous sights are all to be found here – St Peter’s in Rome, Naples with Vesuvius smoldering in the background, the fairy-tale buildings and canals of Venice – but Dickens’s chronicle is not simply that of a tourist.

Avoiding preconceptions and stereotypes, he portrays a nation of great contrasts: between grandiose buildings and squalid poverty, and between past and present, as he observes everyday life beside ancient monuments.

Pick up your own copy here.

Charles Dickens may no longer be with us but through his creative prose and dedication to writing about his own time we have all been able to get a glimpse of what life would have been like during the 1800’s.

Have you got a favourite Charles Dickens novel?  Are there any other authors, similar to Charles Dickens, that you believe deserve more recognition?

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  • Elizabeth says:

    David Copperfield is one of my favorite books! There’s just something about it that keeps me returning to it again and again. And also the film version with Maggie Smith as Betsy Trotwood is wonderful. I definitely wouldn’t want to live in those times, but the characters are so endearing. Meanwhile, I just can’t bring myself to Like Great Expectations and I wasn’t able to get into A Tale of Two Cities, but I want to like them both. This post has inspired me to perhaps try one of his other books.

    • I absolutely love Maggie Smith – I saw her live years ago in Talking Heads and since then I have made a point of watching everything she is in.

      I do find that, no matter how much you like an author, there are some books you just done enjoy, no matter how renowned the author is! 🙂

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