From as far back as history can remember, people have fallen in love with words. Over time the fashion, language, style and genre of books have been influenced by the changing winds of culture and literary revolution.
But there are always authors that will stand out for their own explicit or subtle reasons. And amongst the heaps of loved and rejected works, there are two authors who have somehow managed to continuously fight their way to the top. Readers all around the world like to claim that they adore, nay worship the accomplishments of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
In our society, we are not considered adequately cultured unless we can claim a sufficient acquaintance with a text attributed to this pair of scribblers. But, what is it about these two writers that render them so addictive and compelling?
In the case of Jane Austen, people have been captivated by her six novels for over three hundred years. Her stories sensitively but boldly encase the themes of family, feminism and romance and twist flimsy perceptions of ideal or even real relationships. Austen’s love stories and controversial characters have transcended changing cultures and have remained relatable, intelligent and reflective. However, her charming Mr Rights and conniving Mr Wrongs have become hallmarks of love for men and women across the world.
Dickens on the other hand was undeniably authentic and raw as he wrote fifteen lengthy and intensely meaty novels, along with more than a dozen short stories and essays. Dickens is famous for his dramatically thrilling stories which throw the reader into a tangled but inviting plot, which not only flirts, but fully marries the twists of: relationships, poverty, wealth, lies and scandalous secrets. However, Dickens is probably best known for his wildly diverse and eccentric characters. I feel like I want to embrace and kiss half his characters on the cheek, whilst kicking the other half into the Thames because of their rotten souls. His work is always crazily complicated, but always enchantingly memorable and worth getting to know.
However, for some reason, despite the immortality of these authors, most readers can’t seem to get to grips with both of them as a set pair. They often love and praise the work of one, whilst heavily criticising the other.
I would like to suggest, that even although this is fair, and all readers are entitled to their own taste, both authors and their efforts have provided fresh and personal flavour to literature, and we will soon see why.
One argument given by readers is that Dickens wrote more works than Austen and therefore has more to offer. In some ways this is true, for as we have already seen, Dickens gives his name to a substantial amount of work, whereas Austen only published six novels. I would like to suggest that quantity does not equal quality, and even although Austen wrote less than Dickens, that does not reflect the worth of her contributions. Also, one might point out that Dickens lived twenty years longer than Austen and therefore, he had more time to scribble away.
A second issue that is raised, is the belief that Austen’s novels only appeal to women, whereas Dickens is relevant to a wider range of readers. It is true that Austen tends to attract a dominantly female following, probably due to centralised female characterisation and romantic story-lines. However, even although Austen’s characters and stories may lack action, they provide an intriguing source of information about 18th century life and customs which are applicable and meaningful to all generations and cultures.
A third comment given is that Dickens writes more exciting novels, whereas Austen’s work is bland and predictable. Dickens is indeed famous for his bizarrely tense and layered stories. Yet, I think that is it essential to note the context in which these authors were writing. Dickens had an eventful and harsh childhood, which was followed by a busy adulthood as a London celebrity. Dickens was not just a man who wanted to tell a good story whilst exposing the corruptions and inequalities of Victorian England. No, he was a sensational columnist. Dickens’s work was created in order to entertain a mob of readers who were hungry and desperate for plots which genuinely rival Eastenders.
On the other hand, Austen’s motive and style leaves much to be admired. This woman had a very sheltered life which was limited in experience, education, knowledge and excitement. Therefore, I find it incredible that a woman with such little awarded to her, managed to write so passionately and accurately about the core concepts of life. In my eyes, the beauty of Austen is that she takes boring everyday existence and makes it fascinating, real and touching. Beyond that, she has documented the reality and fanciful emotions of love and relationships in such a way that her words have been sought for comfort and instruction for three hundred years. She understood that cultures change, but sentiment remains fundamentally steadfast and relatable.
So, to finish this article, I would like to give readers my own opinion to think upon. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and tastes. That is why you don’t have to like Austen and Dickens, or even like either of them. But, it is worthwhile to properly and consider them both in their individual and natural field of expertise and purpose.
I truly believe that Charles Dickens and Jane Austen are both geniuses. They wrote in different times with opposing styles, themes, audiences and concerns. Each has their own strengths and individual triumphs. Both writers have been clever and unique enough to master the art of narration from very different and estranged angles. But my thoughts are that we should treasure them both as exquisitely talented authors who wrote classical gems that are worth having on your bookshelf.
By Caroline Malcolm