Charles Dickens

English novelist and social critic (1812–1870)
(Redirected from Bleak House)

Charles John Huffam Dickens, FRSA (7 February 18129 June 1870) was the foremost English novelist of the Victorian era, as well as a vigorous social campaigner.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.
See also:
The Pickwick Papers (1836)
Oliver Twist (1838)
Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839)
Barnaby Rudge (1841)
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844)
A Christmas Carol (1843)
David Copperfield (1849-1850)
A Child's History of England (1852-1854)
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Great Expectations (1860-1861)


To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
It was a good thing to have a couple of thousand people all rigid and frozen together, in the palm of one's hand.
Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world brother.
Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
  • Mr. Augustus Minns was a bachelor, of about forty as he said — of about eight-and-forty as his friends said. He was always exceedingly clean, precise, and tidy: perhaps somewhat priggish, and the most retiring man in the world.
    • First lines of Dicken's first published work, originally titled "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" (1833), later published as "Mr. Minns and his Cousin"
  • There were two classes of created objects which he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror: they were, dogs and children. He was not unamiable, but he could at any time have viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an infant, with the liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at variance with his love of order; and his love of order, was as powerful as his love of life.
    • "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" (1833), later published as "Mr. Minns and his Cousin"
  • If any one were to ask me what in my opinion was the dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the Earth, I should decidedly say Chelmsford.
    • Letter to Thomas Beard (11 January 1835), in Madeline House, et al., The Letters of Charles Dickens (1965), p. 53
  • Love is not a feeling to pass away,
    Like the balmy breath of a summer day;
    It is not — it cannot be — laid aside;
    It is not a thing to forget or hide.

    It clings to the heart, ah, woe is me!
    As the ivy clings to the old oak tree.

    Love is not a passion of earthly mould,
    As a thirst for honour, or fame, or gold:
    For when all these wishes have died away,
    The deep strong love of a brighter day,
    Though nourished in secret, consumes the more,
    As the slow rust eats to the iron’s core.

    • Lucy's Song in The Village Coquettes (1836); later published in The Poems and Verses of Charles Dickens (1903)
  • To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
  • The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the land,
    In England there shall be dear bread—in Ireland, sword and brand;
    And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand,
    So, rally round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
    Of the fine old English Tory days;
    Hail to the coming time!
    • The Fine Old English Gentleman (1841)
  • Wherever religion is resorted to as a strong drink, and as an escape from the dull, monotonous round of home, those of its ministers who pepper the highest will be the surest to please. They who strew the Eternal Path with the greatest amount of brimstone, and who most ruthlessly tread down the flowers and leaves that grow by the wayside, will be voted the most righteous; and they who enlarge with the greatest pertinacity on the difficulty of getting into heaven will be considered, by all true believers, certain of going there: though it would be hard to say by what process of reasoning this conclusion is arrived at.
    • American Notes (1842), Ch. 3
  • I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are, on the whole earth besides, so many intensified bores as in these United States. No man can form an adequate idea of the real meaning of the word, without coming here.
    • Comment while on an American tour (March 1842), as quoted in Dickens (1949) by Hesketh Pearson, Ch. 8
  • O let us love our occupations,
    Bless the squire and his relations,
    Live upon our daily rations,
    And always know our proper stations.
  • I was present, myself, at the execution of Courvoisier. I was, purposely, on the spot, from midnight of the night before; and was a near witness of the whole process of the building of the scaffold, the gathering of the crowd, the gradual swelling of the concourse with the coming-on of day, the hanging of the man, the cutting of the body down, and the removal of it into the prison. From the moment of my arrival, when there were but a few score boys in the street, and those all young thieves, and all clustered together behind the barrier nearest to the drop – down to the time when I saw the body with its dangling head, being carried on a wooden bier into the gaol – I did not see one token in all the immense crowd; at the windows, in the streets, on the house-tops, anywhere; of any one emotion suitable to the occasion. No sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes. I should have deemed it impossible that I could have ever felt any large assemblage of my fellow-creatures to be so odious.
  • La difficulté d'écrire l'anglais m'est extrêmement ennuyeuse. Ah, mon Dieu! si l'on pouvait toujours écrire cette belle langue de France!
    • The difficulty of writing English is most tiresome to me. My God! If only we could write this beautiful language of France at all times!
    • Letter to John Foster (7 July 1850)
Frontispeice: Speeches Literary and Social by Charles Dickens (1870)
  • If the people at large be not already convinced that a sufficient general case has been made out for Administrative Reform, I think they never can be, and they never will be. ...Ages ago a savage mode of keeping accounts on notched sticks was introduced into the Court of Exchequer, and the accounts were kept, much as Robinson Crusoe kept his calendar on the desert island. In the course of considerable revolutions of time, the celebrated Cocker was born, and died; Walkinghame, of the Tutor's Assistant, and well versed in figures, was also born, and died; a multitude of accountants, book-keepers and actuaries, were born, and died. Still official routine inclined to these notched sticks, as if they were pillars of the constitution, and still the Exchequer accounts continued to be kept on certain splints of elm wood called "tallies." In the reign of George III an inquiry was made by some revolutionary spirit, whether pens, ink, and paper, slates and pencils, being in existence, this obstinate adherence to an obsolete custom ought to be continued, and whether a change ought not to be effected.
    All the red tape in the country grew redder at the bare mention of this bold and original conception, and it took till 1826 to get these sticks abolished. In 1834 it was found that there was a considerable accumulation of them; and the question then arose, what was to be done with such worn-out, worm-eaten, rotten old bits of wood? I dare say there was a vast amount of minuting, memoranduming, and despatch-boxing on this mighty subject. The sticks were housed at Westminster, and it would naturally occur to any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow them to be carried away for fire-wood by the miserable people who live in that neighbourhood. However, they never had been useful, and official routine required that they never should be, and so the order went forth that they were to be privately and confidentially burnt. It came to pass that they were burnt in a stove in the House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the House of Lords; the House of Lords set fire to the House of Commons; the two houses were reduced to ashes; architects were called in to build others; we are now in the second million of the cost thereof, the national pig is not nearly over the stile yet; and the little old woman, Britannia, hasn't got home to-night. ...The great, broad, and true cause that our public progress is far behind our private progress, and that we are not more remarkable for our private wisdom and success in matters of business than we are for our public folly and failure, I take to be as clearly established as the sun, moon, and stars.
  • I wish I were Commander in Chief of India. The first thing I would do to strike that Oriental race with amazement (not in the least regarding them as if they lived in the Strand, London, or at Camden Town), should be to proclaim to them in their language, that I considered my Holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested; and that I begged them to do me the favor to observe that I was there for that purpose and no other, and was now proceeding, which all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the earth.
    • You know faces, when they are not brown; you know common experiences when they are not under turbans; Look at the dogs - low, treacherous, merderous, tigerous villians … I wish I were Commander in Chief over there ! I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, “I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities"
    • On the Indian Rebellion of 1857, in a letter to Emile de la Rue (23 October 1857)
  • It was a good thing to have a couple of thousand people all rigid and frozen together, in the palm of one's hand.
    • About having a book, in a letter to Mrs. Richard Watson (7 December 1857)
  • I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.
  • Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine.
  • I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world, and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty can possibly be guided. As your brothers have gone away, one by one, I have written to each such words as I am now writing to you, and have entreated them all to guide themselves by this book, putting aside the interpretations and inventions of men.
  • (Carmine Crocco) In such a crowd, so numerous and composed of such heterogeneous elements, it might have appeared almost absurd to look for discipline; but perfect discipline there was, for, whatever his other qualities might be, Crocco most undoubtedly was a "ruler of men". His word in that band was law, and the punishment of disaffection was death.
    • All the year round, Vol.15 (1876), p. 281
  • The system here, is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement... I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers... I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay
The appearance presented by the streets of London an hour before sunrise, on a summer’s morning, is most striking even to the few whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less unfortunate pursuits of business, cause them to be well acquainted with the scene.
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  • The dignity of his office is never impaired by the absence of efforts on his part to maintain it.
    • Our Parish, Ch. 1 : The Beadle. The Parish Engine. The Schoolmaster.
  • He is not, as he forcibly remarks, ‘one of those fortunate men who, if they were to dive under one side of a barge stark–naked, would come up on the other with a new suit of clothes on, and a ticket for soup in the waistcoat–pocket:’ neither is he one of those, whose spirit has been broken beyond redemption by misfortune and want. He is just one of the careless, good–for–nothing, happy fellows, who float, cork–like, on the surface, for the world to play at hockey with: knocked here, and there, and everywhere: now to the right, then to the left, again up in the air, and anon to the bottom, but always reappearing and bounding with the stream buoyantly and merrily along.
    • Our Parish, Ch. 5 : The Broker’s Man
  • I used to sit, think, think, thinking, till I felt as lonesome as a kitten in a wash–house copper with the lid on.
    • Our Parish, Ch. 5 : The Broker’s Man
  • The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none.
    • Our Parish, Ch. 5 : The Broker’s Man
  • The appearance presented by the streets of London an hour before sunrise, on a summer’s morning, is most striking even to the few whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less unfortunate pursuits of business, cause them to be well acquainted with the scene.  There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about the noiseless streets which we are accustomed to see thronged at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely-shut buildings, which throughout the day are swarming with life and bustle, that is very impressive.
    • Ch. 1 : The Streets — Morning
  • Grief never mended no broken bones, and as good people’s wery scarce, what I says is, make the most on ’em.
    • Scenes, Ch. 22 : Gin-Shops
  • It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a man may live and die in London. He awakens no sympathy in the breast of any single person; his existence is a matter of interest to no one save himself; he cannot be said to be forgotten when he dies, for no one remembered him when he was alive. There is a numerous class of people in this great metropolis who seem not to possess a single friend, and whom nobody appears to care for. Urged by imperative necessity in the first instance, they have resorted to London in search of employment, and the means of subsistence. It is hard, we know, to break the ties which bind us to our homes and friends, and harder still to efface the thousand recollections of happy days and old times, which have been slumbering in our bosoms for years, and only rush upon the mind, to bring before it associations connected with the friends we have left, the scenes we have beheld too probably for the last time, and the hopes we once cherished, but may entertain no more. These men, however, happily for themselves, have long forgotten such thoughts. Old country friends have died or emigrated; former correspondents have become lost, like themselves, in the crowd and turmoil of some busy city; and they have gradually settled down into mere passive creatures of habit and endurance.
    • Characters, Ch. 1 : Thoughts About People
  • Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused — in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened — by the recurrence of Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is not to them what it used to be; that each succeeding Christmas has found some cherished hope, or happy prospect, of the year before, dimmed or passed away; that the present only serves to remind them of reduced circumstances and straitened incomes — of the feasts they once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet them now, in adversity and misfortune. Never heed such dismal reminiscences. There are few men who have lived long enough in the world, who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year. Then do not select the merriest of the three hundred and sixty-five for your doleful recollections, but draw your chair nearer the blazing fire — fill the glass and send round the song — and if your room be smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass be filled with reeking punch, instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on the matter, and empty it off-hand, and fill another, and troll off the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it’s no worse. Look on the merry faces of your children (if you have any) as they sit round the fire. One little seat may be empty; one slight form that gladdened the father’s heart, and roused the mother’s pride to look upon, may not be there. Dwell not upon the past; think not that one short year ago, the fair child now resolving into dust, sat before you, with the bloom of health upon its cheek, and the gaiety of infancy in its joyous eye. Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. Fill your glass again, with a merry face and contented heart. Our life on it, but your Christmas shall be merry, and your new year a happy one!
    • Characters, Ch. 2 : A Christmas Dinner
  • Minerva House … was "a finishing establishment for young ladies," where some twenty girls of the ages from thirteen to nineteen inclusive, acquired a smattering of everything and a knowledge of nothing.
    • Tales, Ch. 3 : Sentiment
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  • What is the odds so long as the fire of soul is kindled at the taper of conwiviality, and the wing of friendship never moults a feather! What is the odds so long as the spirit is expanded by means of rosy wine, and the present moment is the least happiest of our existence!
    • Ch. 2
  • She's the ornament of her sex.
    • Ch. 5
  • Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
  • To procure a refreshing sneeze at anytime by merely stepping out on the staircase (Fortunate location of Dick Swivellers "Chambers" above a Tabacconists)<
    • Ch. 7, The Comic World of Dickens. Prof.Bernard N.Schilling, Gloucester Mass. 1973. Page 137 [2]
  • Send forth the child and childish man together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.
    • Ch. 12
  • The very dogs were all asleep, and the flies, drunk with moist sugar in the grocer’s shop, forgot their wings and briskness, and baked to death in dusty corners of the window.
    • Ch. 27
  • In mind, she was of a strong and vigorous turn, having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to the study of the law; not wasting her speculations upon its eagle flights, which are rare, but tracing it attentively through all the slippery and eel-like crawlings in which it commonly pursues its way.
    • Ch. 33
  • Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again.
    • Ch. 34
  • It was a maxim with Mr. Brass that the habit of paying compliments kept a man’s tongue oiled without any expense; and that, as that useful member ought never to grow rusty or creak in turning on its hinges in the case of a practitioner of the law, in whom it should be always glib and easy, he lost few opportunities of improving himself by the utterance of handsome speeches and eulogistic expressions.
    • Ch. 35
  • In love of home, the love of country has its rise.
    • Ch. 38
  • That vague kind of penitence which holidays awaken next morning.
    • Ch. 40
  • 'Who will wonder that Barbara had a headache, or that Barbara's mother was disposed to be cross, or that she slightly underrated Astley's, and thought the clown was older than they had taken him to be last night? Kit was not surprised to hear her say so--not he. He had already had a misgiving that the inconstant actors in that dazzling vision had been doing the same thing the night before last, and would do it again that night, and the next, and for weeks and months to come, though he would not be there. Such is the difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the play, or coming home from it.'
    • Ch. 40
  • If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.
    • Ch. 56
  • "Did you ever taste beer?" "I had a sip of it once," said the small servant. "Here's a state of things!" cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it — it can't be tasted in a sip!"
    • Ch. 57
  • You will not have forgotten that it was a maxim with Foxey — our revered father, gentlemen — "Always suspect everybody." That's the maxim to go through life with!
    • Ch. 66
  • He’s tough, ma’am,—tough is J. B.; tough and devilish sly.
    • Ch. 7
  • "I want to know what it says," he answered, looking steadily in her face. "The sea Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?"
    • Ch. 8
  • "Wal'r, my boy," replied the Captain, "in the Proverbs of Solomon you will find the following words, 'May we never want a friend in need, nor a bottle to give him!' When found, make a note of."
    • Ch. 15
  • Cows are my passion.
    • Ch. 21
  • The bearings of this observation lays in the application on it.
    • Ch. 23
  • …not an orphan in the wide world can be so deserted as the child who is an outcast from a living parent’s love.
    • Ch. 24
  • "Time was," he said, "when it was well to watch even your rising little star, and know in what quarter there were clouds, to shadow you if needful. But a planet has arisen, and you are lost in its light."
    • Ch. 46
  • If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you'd form some idea of what unrequited affection is.
    • Ch. 48
  • …vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!
    • Ch. 48

Bleak House (1852-1853)

  • Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit, has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to total disagreement as to all the premises.
    • Ch. 1
  • This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give--who does not often give--the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"
    • Ch. 1
  • [T]he evil of it is that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller’s cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.
    • Ch. 2
  • He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.
    • Ch. 2
  • "Oh, dear no, miss," he said. "This is a London particular." I had never heard of such a thing. "A fog, miss," said the young gentleman. "Oh, indeed!" said I.
    • Ch. 3
  • I expect a judgment. Shortly.
    • Ch. 3
  • “She means well,” said Mr Jarndyce, hastily. “The wind’s in the east.” “It was in the north, sir, as we came down,” observed Richard. “My dear Rick,” said Mr Jarndyce, poking the fire, “I’ll take an oath it’s either in the east, or going to be. I am always conscious of an uncomfortable sensation now and then when the wind is blowing in the east.”
    • Ch. 6
  • It is said that the children of the very poor are not brought up, but dragged up.
    • Ch. 6
  • I don’t feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I almost feel as if you ought to be grateful to me, for giving you the opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness.
    • Ch. 6
  • I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!
    • Ch. 6
  • Not to put too fine a point upon it.
    • Ch. 11, 19, 22
  • He wos wery good to me, he wos!
    • Ch. 11
  • He had a cane, he had an eye-glass, he had a snuff-box, he had rings, he had wristbands, he had everything but any touch of nature; he was not like youth, he was not like age, he was not like anything in the world but a model of deportment.
    • Ch. 14
  • Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man, with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system.
    • Ch. 19
  • What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? Oh, yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and upon yours.
    • Ch. 19
  • You are a human boy, my young friend. A human boy. O glorious to be a human boy!... O running stream of sparkling joy To be a soaring human boy!
    • Ch. 19
  • 'Don't you be afraid of hurting the boy,' he says.
    • Ch. 22
  • It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained.
    • Ch. 27
  • It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations.
    • Ch. 28
  • Never have a Mission, my dear child.
    • Ch. 30
  • Take care, while you are young, that you can think in those days, 'I never whitened a hair of her dear head, I never marked a sorrowful line in her face!' For of all the many things that you can think when you are a man, you had better have that by you, Woolwich!
    • Ch. 34
  • The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.
    • Ch. 39
  • My experience teaches me, Lady Dedlock, that most of the people I know would do far better to leave marriage alone. It is at the bottom of three fourths of their troubles.
  • Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.
    • Ch. 47
  • Your sex have such a surprising animosity against one another when you do differ.
    • Ch. 54, Mr. Bucket to Mademoiselle Hortense
  • We are not rich in the bank, but we have always prospered and we have quite enough. I never walk out with my husband but I hear the people bless him. I never lie down at night, but I know that in the course of that day he has alleviated pain and soothed some fellow creature in the time of need. Is not this to be rich?
    • Ch. 67
  • Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
    • Bk. I, Ch. 1
  • Oh my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown! Oh my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an ironhanded and a grinding despotism! Oh my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men! I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as One united power, and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labour of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity, and upon the holy and eternal privileges of Brotherhood!
    • Bk. II, Ch. 4
  • There is a wisdom of the Head, and … there is a wisdom of the Heart.
    • Bk. III, Ch. 1
Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
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  • A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside; and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact, in one of the spice islands of the Indian Ocean.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 1
  • I am the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything; for whom what could not be weighed, measured, and priced, had no existence.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 2
  • The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • The Barnacles were a very high family, and a very large family. They were dispersed all over the public offices, and held all sorts of public places. Either the nation was under a load of obligation to the Barnacles, or the Barnacles were under a load of obligation to the nation. It was not quite unanimously settled which; the Barnacles having their opinion, the nation theirs.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • A person who can't pay, gets another person who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs, to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don't make either of them able to do a walking match.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 23
  • I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy. But I know what I have seen, and what I have looked in the face in this world here, where I find myself. And I tell you this, my friend, that there are people (men and women both, unfortunately) who have no good in them—none. That there are people whom it is necessary to detest without compromise. That there are people who must be dealt with as enemies of the human race. That there are people who have no human heart, and who must be crushed like savage beasts and cleared out of the way.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 11
  • I revere the memory of Mr. F. as an estimable man and most indulgent husband, only necessary to mention Asparagus and it appeared or to hint at any little delicate thing to drink and it came like magic in a pint bottle; it was not ecstasy but it was comfort.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 24
  • "Papa is a preferable mode of address," observed Mrs General. "Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company — on entering a room, for instance — Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 5
  • Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving HOW NOT TO DO IT.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 10
  • Once a gentleman, and always a gentleman.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 28
Main article: Great Expectations
You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. … Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.
  • Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies.
    • Ch. 2
  • Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together...
    • Ch. 27
  • Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.
    • Ch. 40
  • You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since, — on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation, I associate you only with the good; and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!
    • Ch. 44
  • Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape.
    • Ch. 59
  • Money and goods are certainly the best of references.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 4
  • Professionally he declines and falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 5
  • He do the Police in different voices.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 16
  • I want to be something so much worthier than the doll in the doll's house.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 55
  • I don't care whether I am a Minx or a Sphinx.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 8
  • "And if it's proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts," Miss Jenny struck in, flushed, "she is proud."
    • Bk. III, Ch. 2
  • That's the state to live and die in!...R-r-rich!
    • Bk. III, Ch. 5
  • We must scrunch or be scrunched.
    • Bk. III, Ch. 5
  • 'No one is useless in this world,' retorted the Secretary, 'who lightens the burden of it for any one else.'
    • Bk. III, Ch. 9


  • "Well, every one for himself, and Providence for us all--as the elephant said when he danced among the chickens."

Quotes about Dickens

Alphabetized by author
  • He had a fear of the dead, and of all inanimate things, rising up around him to claim him; it is the fear of the pre-eminently solitary child and solitary man.
  • The English writers who had a big influence on me during my adolescence were Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf.
  • My own experience in reading to be bounced between violent admiration and violent distaste almost every couple of paragraphs, and this is too uncomfortable a condition to be much alleviated by an inward recital of one's duty not to be fastidious, to gulp the stuff down in gobbets like a man.
  • I write about the black experience, because it's what I know. But I'm always talking about the human condition, what human beings feel and how we feel. Given these circumstances, a human being will react this way: he'll be happy, will weep, will celebrate, will fall. So my books are popular in Asia, in Africa, in Europe. Why would I, a black girl in the South, fall in love with Tolstoy or Dickens? I was Danton and Madame Defarge and all those people in A Tale of Two Cities. I was Daphne du Maurier and the Bronte sisters in a town where blacks were not allowed to cross the street. I was educated by those writers. Not about themselves and their people, but about me, what I could hope for.
  • I was always interested in fair play, probably from reading the works of Paul Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and Charles Dickens as a child. I was always concerned about justice and injustice. To the extent that I could understand the issues, I was always on the side of the underdog. I'm on the same side today.
  • There is no contemporary English writer whose works are read so generally through the whole house, who can give pleasure to the servants as well as to the mistress, to the children as well as to the master.
  • He describes London like a special correspondent for posterity.
    • Walter Bagehot, in Charles Dickens in National Review (7 October 1858)
  • When one begins looking for influences one finds them by the score. I haven't thought much about my own, not enough anyway; I hazard that the King James Bible, the rhetoric of the store-front church, something ironic and violent and perpetually understated in Negro speech — and something of Dickens' love for bravura — have something to do with me today; but I wouldn't stake my life on it. Likewise, innumerable people have helped me in many ways; but finally, I suppose, the most difficult (and most rewarding) thing in my life has been the fact that I was born a Negro and was forced, therefore, to effect some kind of truce with this reality. (Truce, by the way, is the best one can hope for.)
  • You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian. His role is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are. He has to tell, because nobody else can tell, what it is like to be alive.
    • James Baldwin in "Doom and glory of knowing who you are" by Jane Howard, in LIFE magazine, Vol. 54, No. 21 (24 May 1963)
  • Of Dickens, dear friend, I know nothing. About a year ago, from idle curiousity, I picked up The Old Curiousity Shop, & of all the rotten vulgar un-literary writing...! Worse than George Eliot's. If a novelist can't write, where is the beggar?
    • Arnold Bennett, Letter to George Sturt, 6 February 1898, in Charles Dickens: The Critical Heritage ed. P. Collins (1995)
  • Dickens is greatest when most personal and lyrical, and... he is most lyrical when he puts himself in a child's place, and sees with a child's eyes. In the centre of his best stories sits a little human figure, dreaming, watching life as it might watch the faces in the fire.
  • It does not matter that Dicken's world is not lifelike; it is alive.
  • Dickens was personal in a more godlike sense; he could multiply persons. He could create all the farce and tragedy of his age over again, with creatures unborn to sin and creatures unborn to suffer. That which had not been achieved by the fierce facts of Cobbett, the burning dreams of Carlyle, the white-hot proofs of Newman, was really or very nearly achieved by a crowd of impossible people. In the centre stood that citadel of atheist industrialism: and if indeed it has ever been taken, it was taken by the rush of that unreal army.
  • But already the Utilitarian citadel had been more heavily bombarded on the other side by one lonely and unlettered man of genius. The rise of Dickens is like the rising of a vast mob. This is not only because his tales are indeed as crowded and populous as towns: for truly it was not so much that Dickens appeared as that a hundred Dickens characters appeared.
  • He had no learning; he was not misled by the label on the bottle—for that is what learning largely meant in his time. He opened his mouth and shut his eyes and saw what the Age of Reason would give him. And, having tasted it, he spat it out.
  • That is the truth in the suggestion that Dickens was sentimental. It means that he probably felt most sociable when he was solitary.
  • A mere sympathy for democratic merry-making and mourning will not make a man a writer like Dickens. But without that sympathy Dickens would not be a writer like Dickens; and probably not a writer at all.
  • This is the artistic greatness of Dickens, before and after which there is really nothing to be said. He had the power of creating people, both possible and impossible, who were simply precious and priceless people; and anything subtler added to that truth really only weakens it.
  • The twin root facts of the revolution called Dickens are these: first, that he attacked the cold Victorian compromise; second, that he attacked it without knowing he was doing it—certainly without knowing that other people were doing it. He was attacking something which we will call Mr. Gradgrind. He was utterly unaware (in any essential sense) that any one else had attacked Mr. Gradgrind. All the other attacks had come from positions of learning or cultured eccentricity of which he was entirely ignorant, and to which, therefore (like a spirited fellow), he felt a furious hostility.
  • But we should get the whole Victorian perspective wrong, in my opinion at least, if we did not see that Dickens was primarily the most successful of all the onslaughts on the solid scientific school; because he did not attack from the standpoint of extraordinary faith, like Newman; or the standpoint of extraordinary inspiration, like Carlyle; or the standpoint of extraordinary detachment or serenity, like Arnold; but from the standpoint of quite ordinary and quite hearty dislike.
  • The art of Dickens was the most exquisite of arts: it was the art of enjoying everybody. Dickens, being a very human writer, had to be a very human being; he had his faults and sensibilities in a strong degree; and I do not for a moment maintain that he enjoyed everybody in his daily life. But he enjoyed everybody in his books: and everybody has enjoyed everybody in his books even till to-day. His books are full of baffled villains stalking out or cowardly bullies kicked downstairs. But the villains and cowards are such delightful people that the reader always hopes the villain will put his head through a side window and make a last remark; or that the bully will say one more thing, even from the bottom of the stairs. The reader really hopes this; and he cannot get rid of the fancy that the author hopes so too.
    • G. K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913) [University of Notre Dame Press, 1963], Ch. II: The Great Victorian Novelists, p. 60
  • Dickens did not merely believe in the brotherhood of man in the weak modern way; he was the brotherhood of man, and knew it was a brotherhood in sin as well as in aspiration.
    • G.K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913), Ch. II: The Great Victorian Novelists, p. 62
  • No gypsy on earth is a greater vagabond than myself.
  • And on that grave where English oak and holly
    And laurel wreaths entwine,
    Deem it not all a too presumptuous folly,
    This spray of Western pine!
  • One of Dickens’s most striking peculiarities is that, whenever in his writing he becomes emotional, he ceases instantly to use his intelligence. The overflowing of his heart drowns his head and even dims his eyes; for, whenever he is in the melting mood, Dickens ceases to be able and probably ceases even to wish to see reality. His one and only desire on these occasions is just to overflow, nothing else. Which he does, with a vengeance and in an atrocious blank verse that is meant to be poetical prose and succeeds only in being the worst kind of fustian... Mentally drowned and blinded by the sticky overflowings of his heart, Dickens was incapable, when moved, of recreating, in terms of art, the reality which had moved him, was even, it would seem, unable to perceive that reality.
    • Aldous Huxley. Collected Essays. Vulgarity in Literature.
  • The greatest of superficial novelists... It were, in our opinion, an offense against humanity to place Mr Dickens among the greatest novelists.
    • Henry James, review of Our Mutual Friend in The Nation (21 December 1865)
  • There is a heartlessness behind his sentimentally overflowing style.
  • I'm teaching Dickens now in my English class [at Berkeley], and the narrator is always an even distance away from the other people. The nineteenth-century God is not that far away-he is not right next door either-but he keeps an even, middle distance away from people.
  • One day I realized my whole life has taught me Freudianism is nonsense. My father was a sociopath and an alcoholic, and I had a terrible childhood. I didn't grow up to be a criminal or have any of the problems that I'm supposed to have. Look at Ted Bundy, who had a normal childhood but grew up to be what he was. I made a conscious decision to stop writing Freudian characters because I realized that the best characters I've ever read are in Dickens, and he never heard of Freud. I've gotten some reviews where people say my characters aren't deep enough because we don't know why they are the way they are. One of my editors once said, "We don't know what's in this guy's past that made him what he is now." He wanted me to go back and show how his parents abused him. Trite Freudian stuff. In Dickens, the idea was that character is what you do, and that's what defines you. I think that makes sense. I believe in free will and individual choice and that we make our own lives as we go along.
  • I see the line of my stories being awfully simple. It's not that I want to write mysteries, I'm talking about something more like what Dickens did, pulling strands together, weaving something I'm not very good at that. I just plunge ahead. Or I do it by trickery, by zig-zagging.
  • Not much of Dickens will live, because it has no little correspondence to life. He was the incarnation of cockneydom, a caricaturist who aped the moralist; he should have kept to short stories. If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them. The world will never let Mr. Pickwick, who to me is full of the lumber of imbecility, share honors with Don Quixote.
  • George Meredith, in Edward Clodd, Memories (1916)
  • A splendid muse of fiction hath Charles Dickens,
    But now and then just as the interest thickens
    He stilts his pathos, and the reader sickens.
  • Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it.
    When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of Dickens’s works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as ‘almost’ a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as ‘almost’ a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or ‘the poor’, as Chesterton would have put it).
  • When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.
  • In Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself. In its attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling. Before I was ten years old I was having Dickens ladled down my throat by schoolmasters in whom even at that age I could see a strong resemblance to Mr. Creakle, and one knows without needing to be told that lawyers delight in Sergeant Buzfuz and that Little Dorrit is a favourite in the Home Office. Dickens seems to have succeeded in attacking everybody and antagonizing nobody.
    • George Orwell, in "Charles Dickens" (1939), also in Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1940)
  • If Dickens were alive to-day he would make a trip to Soviet Russia and come back with a book rather like Gide's Retour de L'URSS.
    • George Orwell, in "Charles Dickens (1939), A Collection of Essays
  • North and South (by Elizabeth Gaskell) is really a very fine piece of work. A lot of North and South has that whole awful industrial growth in it, and she does naturally a lot better by her ladies than Dickens does, so it's really worth reading for that.
  • Who calls him spurious and shoddy
    Shall do it over my lifeless body.
    I heartily invite such birds
    To come outside and say those words!
  • I was exposed to Dickens, Dumas, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant, Balzac.
  • Dickens was a pure modernist — a leader of the steam-whistle party par excellence — and he had no understanding of any power of antiquity except a sort of jackdaw sentiment for cathedral towers. He knew nothing of the nobler power of superstition — was essentially a stage manager, and used everything for effect on the pit. His Christmas meant mistletoe and pudding — neither resurrection from dead, nor rising of new stars, nor teaching of wise men, nor shepherds. His hero is essentially the ironmaster.
    • John Ruskin, in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton (17n June 1870)
  • When people say Dickens exaggerates, it seems to me they can have no eyes and no ears. They probably have only notions of what things and people are: they accept them conventionally at their diplomatic value. Their minds run on in the region of discourse, where there are masks only, and no faces; ideas and no facts; they have little sense for those living grimaces that play from moment to moment on the countenance of the world.
    • George Santayana, "Dickens," Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)
  • One of the greatest books ever written in the English language was called Little Dorrit, and as soon as Englishmen realised that Little Dorrit was true there would be a revolution.
    • George Bernard Shaw, in "Charles Dickens and Little Dorrit (1908), in The DIckensian, Vol. 4, p. 323
  • Little Dorrit is a more seditious book than Das Kapital. All over Europe men and women are in prison for pamphlets and speeches which are to Little Dorrit as red pepper to dynamite. Fortunately for social evolution Governments never know where to strike. Barnacle and Stiltstalking were far too conceited to recognize their own portraits.
  • The soul of Hogarth has migrated into the body of Dickens.
  • When I was a child I devoured Dickens. I think there is hardly any volume of Dickens' work that I have not read. There was something that fascinated me about the kind of life he depicted and I remember that in school I read literally all Dickens' novels. I think there was a kind of exotic nature - the transitional life of Victorian England that he captured was to me so exotic.
    • Wole Soyinka in Talking with African Writers by Jane Wilkinson
  • He had a large loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes. He felt sure a better feeling, and much greater union of classes, would take place in time. And I pray earnestly it may.
  • He had his literary weaknesses, Charles Dickens, but they were all dear, big, attractive ones, virtues grown a bit wild and rank. Somehow when you put him -- with his elemental humor, his inexhaustible vitality, his humanity, sympathy, and pity -- beside the Impeccables, he always looms large.
  • His eye brings in almost too rich a harvest for him to deal with, and gives him an aloofness and a hardness which freeze his sentimentalism and make it seem a concession to the public, a veil thrown over the penetrating glance which left to itself pierced to the bone. With such a power at his command Dickens made his books blaze up, not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people on the fire.
    • Virginia Woolf, "David Copperfield" (1925), The Moment and Other Essays (1947)
  • In fact, the real problem with the thesis of A Genealogy of Morals is that the noble and the aristocrat are just as likely to be stupid as the plebeian. I had noted in my teens that major writers are usually those who have had to struggle against the odds -- to "pull their cart out of the mud," as I put it -- while writers who have had an easy start in life are usually second rate -- or at least, not quite first-rate. Dickens, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Shaw, H. G. Wells, are examples of the first kind; in the twentieth century, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Beckett are examples of the second kind. They are far from being mediocre writers; yet they tend to be tinged with a certain pessimism that arises from never having achieved a certain resistance against problems.
  • Of all the Victorian novelists, he was probably the most antagonistic to the Victorian age itself.