Charles Dickens is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period, and one of the all-time greatest novelists. He created the greatest fictional characters in the Victorian period and quite a few of them are all-time greatest fictional characters. His characters have been so impressive that almost all of them have become an integral part of the British classics; to the extent that a few of them have even entered into the English dictionary. A Scrooge, for example, means a miser. Dickens’s characters are so abundant that they cover almost all walks of life. Creativity is a divine virtue. God created people and people, like Dickens, themselves created the fictional characters. How far he has been successful in doing so needs no verification, because the test of time has approved them. Had it not been so, these characters might have been tarnished and or even have vanished by now. Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin opines that Dickens was the greatest creator of characters in English literature after Shakespeare.
1. David Copperfield
In 1840s, Dickens started writing his autobiography, but it was unbearable for him and he burned what he had written. He expressed his inner self instead in his novel David Copperfield. As a first person narration, chapter eleven of David Copperfield reflects upon his troubled childhood and also reveals his mastery in painting the characters with words. The chapter is titled I begin life on my Own Account, and don’t Like it. His mastery is evident in the phrase ‘Mudstone and Grinby’s warehouse was at the waterside’¦ literally overrun with rats’¦ the squeaking and scuffling of the old grey rats down in the cellars; and the dirt and rottenness of the place; ‘¦ I know that a great many empty bottles were one of the consequences of this traffic, and that certain men and boys were employed to examine them against the light, and reject those that were flawed, and to rinse and wash them’¦ All this work was my work, and of the boys employed upon it I was one.’
2. Ebenezer Scrooge
Ebenezer Scrooge is a fictional character from Charles Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol. If not the very greatest, he is one of the greatest characters created by Dickens. Scrooge is an insensitive, cold-hearted, greedy, and miserly Londoner, and in Dickens’ words ‘The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice …’. At another place he refers to Scrooge as ‘… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”. Dickens stated that he was prompted to write the novel after seeing a grave marker describing Scrooge as a meal man, which he mistook for mean man. Scrooge hates Christmas and everything good. Scrooge is now an English dictionary word meaning ‘miserly’.
3. Samuel Pickwick
Samuel Pickwick is the protagonist of Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers. A distinguishing feature of these characters is that, unlike many others, Samuel Pickwick is a three dimensional character, who shows development and growth. He is an old, wealthy kind person and is also the founder of the Pickwick club. He suggested to the other three Pickwickians, Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr. Tracy Tupman, that they should experience the life beyond London and share their experiences with the club members. His adventurous journey by coach throughout the countryside is the theme of the novel and a true record of the English coaching inns in Dickens’ time.
4. Sam Weller
Sam Weller is the fictional character from Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Not only did this character make the novel a hit, after appearing in chapter 10, but he also brought Dickens into prominence at the age of 25 years. As narrated in chapter 10 of the novel, the protagonist, Mr. Pickwick, saw Sam Weller while he was working at the White Hart Inn. Mr. Pickwick took him as a personal servant to accompany him in his travels. Mr. Pickwick was an elderly, unworldly type of person, while Sam Weller was a smart boy with typical cockney wit and accent. Their relationship is considered similar to the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
5. Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist is the eponymous character from Dickens’ famous melodramatic novel. In quite a few respects, Oliver Twist does not seem to be a real person. He has been brought up in slums with a corrupt environment, yet instead of having an expected cockney accent, he speaks grammatically flawless king’s English. Dickens challenges the Victorian thinking that people are born evil. Oliver Twist, in spite of his illiterate environment, is good personified. He keeps his composure, even under worst circumstances, and does not accept evil. He is horrified when forced by Sikes and Crackit to assist in a robbery. Instead of being angry, he simply requests them to let him ‘run away and die in the fields’.
6. The Artful Dodger
The Artful Dodger is the nickname of Jack Dawkins, who is a character from Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. He is an expert pickpocket and he tried to train Oliver as a pickpocket but finds him lacking temperamentally. Therefore he pities Oliver, saying ‘What a pity ain’t a prig!’ He becomes Oliver’s closest friend but betrays him when he is caught by a mistake. Dickens describes him thus: ‘He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty ‘¦ He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment’¦He wore a man’s coat, which reached nearly to his heels’.
7. Sydney Carton
Sydney Carton is a main character in Dickens’ renowned novel, A Tale of Two Cities. He is a junior barrister, an introverted person, and a drunkard. His life is by no means enviable and he is conscious of its wastefulness. He is strongly in love with Lucie Manette, but his love is not reciprocated. Regardless of any return, he is persistent with it and ultimately sacrifices his life for the sake of his love. To save her husband, Charles Evermonde (who was commonly known as Charles Darnay) from being executed by guillotine, he substitutes himself for Darnay and is ultimately executed.
8. Madame Defarge
Madame Defarge is a fictional villainous character from Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities. She is wife of Ernest Defarge and is an untiring worker of the French Revolution. Her sister, brother, and father were killed by the previous generation of Evermondes. She is determined to avenge their death on the current Evermondes, including Charles Darnay, his wife Lucie Manette, and their child. In her quest for vengeance, she knits the coded names of all those whom she intends to kill during the French Revolution. In the end, she falls victim to her own planning and is killed.
9. Esther Summerson
Esther Summerson is a fictional character from Dickens’ novel Bleak House. She is the narrator of the story, who starts with low confidence on account of not thinking herself clever. However she gains confidence later on and is confident at setting scenes, narrating story, and describing characters. She never forgets to take others’ compliments as her own. On account of her illegitimate birth, she was raised secretly by Miss Barbary, which caused her to separate from Mr. Boythorn, who was heart broken and never recovered. Since she was deprived of a mother figure, she instinctively nurtured all around her.
Philip Pirrip, commonly known as Pip, is a fictional character from Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. Pip is one of the most memorable characters in the English language, and he was called Pip because, according to Dickens, ‘infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip”. He was raised by his sister, who was a martinet and twenty years older than him. Someone helped him escape poverty and he presumed that the benefactor was Estella’s mother, who might have wanted to elevate him to establish him as a match for Estella. The fact was, however, that the help came from a convicted prisoner, who died and the Crown confiscated his property. It was only then that the twenty-one-year old Pip realized that nice dress, well spoken English, and ample allowances did not make a gentleman.
Michelangelo said ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free’. Charles Dickens too, saw the unique characters in people, and wrote about them with the dedication, involvement, and dexterity of a great sculptor like Michelangelo. His fictional characters are like an album of the Victorian period, containing unique paintings and portraits in words.