'Dickensian' has become our word for the grim reality behind the facade of Victorian contentment. But this reality is achieved by brilliant distortions and exaggerations. Dickens is a master of the grotesque. His descriptions of London slums or Northern industrial towns are both utterly believable and utterly fantastical. And a novelist who has schoolmasters called McChoakumschild or Wackford Squeers obviously enjoys satirical portraits.
Watch the films above to see John Mullan discussing Dickens's use of caricature; and Simon Callow reading a description of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Filmed at the Dickens Museum, London.
Then explore the historical and literary sources below to find out more.
Historical & Literary Sources
Illustration of pupils at Dotheboys Hall from Nicholas Nickleby.
Illustration of Monmouth Street by George Cruikshank.
An original front cover for Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby.
Illustration of Marley's ghost from A Christmas Carol.