Charles Dickens and his characters still remain very popular in English literature. Very few writers are able to make their entire volume of work the lynchpin of the literary world itself. Even now, people call certain characters ‘Dickensian’ when they read books and watch movies. For an author, there can be no greater compliment.
Listing down 10 popular Charles Dickens characters is not an easy task. This is for the simple reason there are too many great characters Dickens penned during his literary career.
His body of work is as influential to literature as other giants like Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, Virginia Woolf, and so on.
When we talk about Dickens, especially his characters, we also have to talk about their melodramatic nature. Dickens, along with other writers of his generation like Trollope, wrote about the Victorian era they lived in.
However, every piece of Dickens’ writing alluded to the corrupt and cruel establishment of the era. This style led to the creation of many popular characters now associated with Charles Dickens.
For writers, studying Charles Dickens is almost a compulsion. The popularity he gained in the masses through his writing makes him a model every writer can aspire. In this piece, I put together the ten most popular Charles Dickens characters writers and readers should know. Prepare for a few surprises!
1. Betsy Trotwood (David Copperfield)
Maybe this is coming from a personal place than an objective one, but it doesn’t matter. Betsy will always be Aunt Betsy for me, the woman who saved David from a cruel stepfather.
In Betsy Trotwood, Charles Dickens shows us the good we’re capable if we only choose to do the right thing. Despite losing interest in David when he was born because she wanted a niece, Betsy takes David in and saves him from his stepfather.
Perhaps the best aspect of Betsy is her independent nature. She doesn’t hang around the whims of a man in the house. She is extremely resourceful and capable of making decisions based on her own instincts. For all those looking for independent women characters in Victorian age literature, look no further than Aunt Betsy herself.
2. Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
In many Charles Dickens top 10 lists, Scrooge is generally at number one. Here, he winds up at number two but still arguably remains the best-written character in English literature.
Stingy, malicious, cruel, and generally mean, Scrooge is many things. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge plays the boogie man that encapsulates everything wrong with Victorian society.
Yet, Dickens doesn’t let him remain evil and lecherous. In Scrooge, Dickens finds a character he can set on a path of real transformation.
Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most popular Charles Dickens characters for one simple reason. He symbolizes the ability of people to change.
Dickens shows somebody as bad as Scrooge can come back to the side of good and walk down a path of reformation. In the best Christmas book ever written, we find the best Charles Dickens character ever written as well.
3. Miss Havisham (Great Expectations)
Miss Havisham is one of the greatest characters ever writer period, let alone one penned by Charles Dickens. The woman who can freeze a rose in the glowing sun with a single breath, Miss Havisham has only one true enemy – love.
Of all the villains Dickens has written in his career, it is Miss Havisham that scares me the most. Her malicious intent comes from a place of deep hatred. Spurned at the altar at her wedding, Miss Havisham only lives to ruin love for everyone else.
Miss Havisham is an immortal figure in Dickens lore. I can still imagine her sitting on a creaking chair in her dark decaying mansion, plotting how she can disrupt another romance.
Here’s a Havisham quote to end –
“Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces – and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper – love her, love her, love her!”Miss Havisham, Great Expectations
4. Jack Dawkins aka The Artful Dodger (Oliver Twist)
Dickens had the habit of creating some strange characters and using their eccentricity to bring more life into his stories. Jack Dawkins, more fondly called the Artful Dodger, is one such popular from Charles Dickens.
In Oliver Twist, Dawkins is Oliver’s close friend who tries and fails to make a good pickpocket out of him. Dickens smartly uses Dawkins to highlight how the oppressive Victorian establishment ruined the life of good-hearted boys like Dawkins.
Perhaps the greatest quality of Dawkins lies in the legacy he left behind. As one of the most popular Charles Dickens characters, the Artful Dodger became an inspiration for writers of forthcoming generations. In literature and ever society, the Artful Dodger is a term used for people with a fleck of flamboyance and a penchant for notoriety.
5. Pip (Great Expectations)
Pip is the protagonist of Great Expectations and easily one of the most impressive Charles Dickens protagonists. If you find Oliver Twist a little too naïve and childish, Pip and Great Expectations is the right book for you.
Pip is yet another orphan Dickens chooses as his protagonist. His journey from being a scared and timid boy in the first few pages to a man in the final scene reflects the plot of the story as well. Throughout the plot, Pip has to deal with antagonists. From his indifferent sister Georgina to the malevolent Miss Havisham herself, Pip has to fight the odds from the beginning. And he does.
6. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol)
Tiny Tim only appears for a few moments and yet leaves an indelible mark on English literature. The fate of the poor boy marks the point in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is made to confront his worst actions.
If the entire scene in Bob Crachit’s house was a storytelling masterclass, then the appearance of Tiny Tim is the secret ingredient making this possible. This is the part where Scrooge gets to realize the true consequences of his misdeeds.
Like Scrooge, Tiny Tim is one of the popular Charles Dickens characters and definitely one which represents the writer’s talent as a storyteller. In Tiny Tim, we see Dickens returning to doing what he does best – ratcheting up the emotional punch of a story.
7. Joe Gargery – (Great Expectations)
How can anyone not love Joe? A meek Pip only has one true ally in his life and Joe plays that role to perfection. While Pip’s own sister is a grade A b***h, Joe is a ray of sun in poor Pip’s life.
Joe’s easygoing nature, his caring attitude towards Pip, and his ability to bring a generally good vibe makes him essential on this list. Charles Dickens makes Joe the only support system in Pip’s life and in doing so makes him one of his most popular characters.
8. The Ghosts of Christmas (A Christmas Carol)
Overall, the concept of ghosts on Christmas is a stroke of genius from Dickens. Generally, Dickens has plain-hearted characters to use as protagonists. However, in A Christmas Carol, Dickens uses old Scrooge as his protagonist and embarks on a journey to redeem this malevolent man in one night.
The Ghosts of Christmas! The concept partly because it’s Christmas and the ‘anything can happen on Christmas’ vibe plays well into the narrative. The other thing which makes the Ghosts work as characters is Scrooge’s phenomenal depravity. To pull such a cruel man from the depths of evil, the use of Ghosts seems justified.
9. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities)
The lynchpin of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’ epic revolves around Sydney Carton.
We are introduced to Carton as a talented barrister who manages to get a prisoner acquitted in court for the crime of treason against England. The incident sets our dear Carton on a journey of lifetime during the tumultuous French Revolution years. For the sheer joy it is about Carton, he is rightfully one of the most popular characters Dickens ever wrote.
10. Madame Defarge (A Tale of Two Cities)
If the French Revolution years bring up images of chaos in our minds, the Madame Defarge embodies the same chaos in A Tale of Two Cities. Like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, Charles Dickens creates one of his most popular and memorable characters in Madame Defarge.
In her quest for revenge against the Evrémondes, Madame Defarge ends up creating chaos for others. Her actions make her the most formidable antagonist in the plot. Her devotion to the French Revolution only underlines her qualities as a force of chaos.
Final Words – Popular Charles Dickens Characters
Charles Dickens was a great writer, but we remember his stories primarily because of his memorable characters. Writers are remembered through the lives their characters led.
When we remember Charles Dickens, we remember the many popular characters he wrote. Some of them are in the list above. Some others are not. Even still, writers today can learn many lessons from Dickens and his approach to writing popular characters.
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