His writing during these prolific years
was remarkably, various and resourceful. His self-assurance and artistic
ambitiouness had appeared in Oliver Twist. Though containing
much comedy, it is more centrally concerned with social and moral evil
(the workhouse and the criminal world), it culminates in Bill Sikes' murdering
Nancy and Fagin's the last night in the condemned cell at newgate.
In Nicholas Nickleby (reverted to the Pickwick shape and atmosphere) the indictment of the brutal Yorkshire Schools (Dotheboys Hall) continued the important innovation in English fiction seen in Oliver Twist, the spectacle of the lost or oppressed child as an occasion for pathos and social criticism.
David Copperfield. For its autobiographical
interest it has always been among his most popular novels and was Dickens'
own "favourite child". Dickens uses many early experiences that had meant
much to him: his period of work in the factory while his father was jailed,
his schooling and reading, his passion for Maria Beadnell, and his emergence
from parliamentary reporting into succeful novel writing.
Dickens was only eleven when sent to work at Warren's Blacking Factory. These three months changed Dickens as a person and shaped his outlook as a writer and social critic. It was at Warren's that Dickens met the boy on whom he would later base hte Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist. The misery of the Warren experience is reflected in several chapters of the semi-autobiographical David Copperfield.
Many of his broad novelistic images and themes-prisons, degraded conditions of labour, children lost in the city grew out of this traumatic childhood experience.
How he struck his contemporaries in these early years appears in R. H. Horne's "New Spirit of the Age" 1844. Dickens occupied the first and longest chapter as
...manifestly the product of his age...a genuine emanation from its aggregate and entire spirit... He mixes extensively in society, and continually. Few public meetings in benevolent cause are without him. He speaks effectively... His influence upon his age is extensive-pleasurable, instructive, healthy, reformatory...
He was indeed very much a public figure, actively
and centraly involved in his world and a man of confident presence.
Sometimes twenty London Theatres simultaneously were producing adaptations of his latest story, so even nonreaders became acquainted with simplified versions of his works.
He was proud of his art and devoted to improving it and using it to good ends.
His journalistic origins, his political convictions and readiness to act as leader of opinion, made him attempt or plan several periodical ventures in the 1840s.
The benevolent spirit aparent in his writings often found practical expression in his public speeches, fund-raising activities, and private acts of charity.