One of the few areas of the life of Charles Dickens that’s been explored by most of his biographers is the writer’s faith. Some of the major biographies over the years barely mention it. It was generally known that he was no fan of the established church, but he did occasionally attend Anglican and even a few Baptist services. And he was interested in Unitarianism for a relatively short time.
In 2012, Gary Colledge of Moody Bible Institute published God and Charles Dickens, which made the case, and a good one, for the writer having a rather conventional Christian faith. And in 2017, Keith Hooper published an in-depth study of Dickens’s writings and his various causes to further support that case.
Hooper’s Charles Dickens: Faith, Angels and the Poor is an excellent study of the man, his life, and both his journalism and novels to draw out what the man believed about God, the church, and Christianity. Like Colledge, he makes his case for Dickens having a rather conventional case, even if he did not put much stock in the established church to represent that Christianity.
Hopper considers Dickens’s early life – his family, his upbringing, the constant uprooting created by his father’s work (or lack of it), and his education. He also reviews what opportunities Dickens had to attend church and receive religious instruction, and notes that his faith was more substantive than that of his parents’. He then discusses Dickens’s early writings – like Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and his journalism – and notes how keenly aware the author was of Victorian social conditions. Dickens had little use for how far too many churchmen considered the different social classes – as an order ordained by God – and because of it their acceptance of horrid conditions for the poor.
As Hooper points out, the Christian faith for Dickens was the faith as exercised in the service of needy, the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. It was a faith, as narrated in books like Oliver Twist – that often depended upon “angels,” humans (usually women) who would often sacrifice much to help those in need. The later novels contained less of Dickens’s sense of social justice but it was still incorporated within them. Hooper also tackles one of the largest questions about Dickens – his treatment of his wife and his relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan, which did no justice to his faith.
Hooper received a Ph.D. from the University of Exeter for his work on Charles Dickens. He is a speaker. English tutor, writer and frequent lecturer on Victorian literature. He has also published a short story, the first in a related series of stories, entitled Mercerian Nights, Part 1: The Asymmetry of Existence (2016).
Charles Dickens: Faith, Angels and the Poor is an important addition to our understanding of the author, what he wrote, and what he believed.
Top Illustration: Oliver Twist being taught how to pick a pocket.