Charles Dickens and his manipulation of the language

Few writers in the history of English literature are as read, recognized, and quoted as Charles Dickens. He gave us our more most recognized secular Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, one that we cannot escape during the Christmas season.

Dickens planted indelibly in our brains characters such as Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield. The dialogue he created help to build these characterizations and made them memorable.
But we don’t often recognize about Dickens is that he was a master of language manipulation. Now there are a couple of new books the take a look at just what Dickens did with the language.

Those books, The Artful Dickens: The tricks and ploys of the great novelist by John Mullin and The Case of the Initial Letter: Charles Dickens and the politics of the dual alphabet by Gavin Edwards, were recently reviewed by Annette Frederico in the Times Literary Supplement. She writes:

Mullan culls Dickens’s novels for illustrations of these various “feats of legerdemain”, as Dickens described his own writing. His method in each chapter is to define a specific feature and produce examples. Some readers will find that expedient, but Mullan is a brisk and observant writer. He is happy to be taken in by Dickens’s sorcery. In his last chapter, Mullan describes Dickens’s many offences against good writing: he is addicted to hyperbole, he makes too many lists, he uses the same tag lines, he is demotic and crude, and he is horribly, horribly repetitious. Horribly. As E. M. Forster said, Dickens ought to be bad. Yet Dickens is the seventh most frequently quoted English author in the OED.

. . . 

Like Mullan, Edwards argues that Dickens was a major innovator, particularly in the manipulation of upper- and lower-case letters and the capitalization of whole words for emotional effect. Nineteenth-century printers and compositors followed typographic conventions that had been in place since the early 1450s. But Dickens needed more emphasis and nuance than the rules allowed, and as a famous author, he could decide how a word might work if it dominated the space around it on the printed page. Source: Charles Dickens’s tricks, tenses, typefaces – and trains

In addition to this review, author Mullan recently appeared on the podcast Dan Snow’s History Hits, where he talked about researching and writing his new book. What Dickens did with the language is worth a closer look.

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Jim Stovall, (JPROF.com) a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self-publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker, and beekeeper -- among other things. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter at http://www.jprof.com .
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